I read most writing books cautiously because I know everyone finds their own way to a successful career.
Having said that, you can learn a few tricks and take another look at the way you do things as compared to others when you read books on writing.
Also, if a writer I really respects mentions a writing book that helped them, I usually take notice.
And this was the case with Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande.
In an interview in The Guardian, Hilary Mantel gives her “Ten Rules for Writing” and she recommends everyone read Becoming a Writer and “Then do what it says, including the tasks you think are impossible.
You will particularly hate the advice to write first thing in the morning, but if you can manage it, it might well be the best thing you ever do for yourself.”
So I read it. It was first published in 1934, but the advice is still surprisingly helpful.
Brande is not going to teach you to write with the book. Instead she attempts to teach you how to change your life, to look at yourself and your surroundings, to make successful writing more likely. What are some of the things Brande recommends?
1. She recommends that for you to make a success at writing you must recognise that there are two sides to you: the unconscious and the conscious, and both are important in your writing.
A genius writer is able to turn the unconscious on when needed, at the beginning creative stage of writing, and turn the conscious on when needed, during the editing stages.
The unconscious is where your stories are formed.
The partitioning of the conscious mind from the unconscious is imperative.
The conscious mind is the mind that deals with the realities of the world.
It will stop you in your tracks with criticism if you allow it to participate in that initial work.
If you can partition off the conscious mind and allow the unconscious to work while developing your story, the story in its rough draft will be more authentic.
2. She advises not to speak about your work.
The unconscious does not differentiate between the words that are written and the words that are spoken.
Once you tell your story, the unconscious sees that story as finished and may not visit it again.
You will lose an important time in the gestation of a story.
3. Pay attention to what you read while writing.
Some authors will stimulate your writing but some may hamper it. “..See which authors are your meat and which are your poison,” advises Brande.
4. You must train the unconscious to come willingly to the writing game.
Her exercise for doing this involves writing immediately upon waking.
You should wake up thirty minutes to an hour earlier if you must be off to work, and begin writing. Do not talk.
Do not read anything. Just write.
Write anything that comes into your head.
Do not worry about the content, it is not important.
Write until your time is finished or until you have written everything you can.
The next day, do not re-read what you have written, just begin writing again. Though the writing is not meant for anyone’s eyes but your own, you will be surprised what comes out of this exercise.
You may find bits and pieces that can be used in some of your writing for public consumption.
Do this every day to re-invigorate your unconscious mind.
5. Write according to a schedule and commit yourself to what she calls “a debt of honour”.
You should set a time in which you commit yourself to sitting down and writing. Once you have made that commitment, it cannot be broken. Ever.
If you say I will write from 10 am – 11 am, then even if you are hungry or you want to watch a TV programme, at exactly 10 am you should be at your desk writing.
No excuses. At the end of this chapter, Brande advises that if you break the “debt of honour” repeatedly, then you should give up your desire to become a writer.
She says such behaviour shows that your desire to become a writer is not strong enough and you should rather find an alternative creative outlet.
This is just a bit of her advice in the book.
It’s an excellent book that I will definitely re-read.