Cover of book Becoming a Writer

Becoming a Writer

by: Dorothea Brande

Check out the book on Amazon | your public library.
Amazing book with some practical tips on how to get into the 'mood' of writing, rather than technical aspects of writing. All I write are emails, and blog posts. But this helped me tremendously with some techniques.
38 Highlights | 24 Notes
  • There is an earlier and healthier idea of the artist than that, the idea of the genius as a man more versatile, more sympathetic, more studious than his fellows, more catholic in his tastes, less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd.
    Note: artist definition
  • It is the side of the artisan, the workman and the critic rather than the artist. It must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work of art.
    Note: sides of the artist
  • At such moments, the conscious and the unconscious conspire together to bring about the maximum effect; they play into each other's hands, supporting, strengthening, and supplementing each other, so that the resulting action comes from the full, integral personality, bearing the authority of the undivided mind.
  • But it is possible to train both sides of the character to work in harmony, and the first step in that education is to consider that you must teach yourself not as though you were one person, but two.
    Note: sides of the artist
  • But the genius, you must remember, is the man who by some fortunate accident of temperament or education can put his unconscious completely at the service of his reasonable intention, whether or not he is aware this is so.
  • The unconscious is shy, elusive, and unwieldy, but it is possible to learn to tap it at will, and even to direct it. The conscious mind is meddlesome, opinionated, and arrogant, but it can be made subservient to the inborn talent through training.
    Note: conscious mind vs unconscious
  • There will be a prosaic, everyday practical person to bear the brunt of the day's encounters. It will have plenty of virtues to offset its stolidity; it must learn to be intelligently critical, detached, tolerant, while at the same time remembering that its first fuunction is to provide suitable conditions for the artist-self. The other half of your dual nature may then be as sensitive, enthusiastic, and partisan as you like; only it will not drag those traits out into the workaday world. It distinctly will not be allowed, by the cherishing elderly side, to run the risk of being made miserable by trying to cope emotionally with situations which call only for reason, or of looking ludicruous to the un-indulgent observer.
    Note: sides of the artist
  • So practice a wise taciturnity. When you have completed a fair first draft you can, if you like, offer it for criticism and advice; but to talk too early is a grave mistake.
  • A far better idea is to realize from the start that you are subject to certain caprices of action, and to study yourself objectively until you find which of your impulses are sound and which are likely to lead you into bogs of inertia and silence. At first you will find it a great bore to be forever examining yourself for tendencies and habits; later you will find it second nature. Still later you will come to enjoy it rather too much, and the same critical attention will have to be given to the task of turning your scrutiny away from your own processes when your analysis has passed the stage where it bears beneficial fruits. In short, you will have to learn to be your own best friend and severest critic - mature, indulgent, stern and yielding by turns.
    Note: #know-thyself
  • Only observation will show you the effect of any group or person on you as a writer.
    Note: observation
  • You will have to find other acquaintances, persons who, for some mysterious reason, leave you full of energy, feed you with ideas, or, more obscurely still, have the effect of filling you with self-confidence and eagerness to write.
  • Watch for a while, and see which authors are your meat and which your poison.
  • The most enviable authors are those who, quite often unanalytically and unconsciously, have realized that there are different facets to their nature and are able to live and work with now one, now another, in the ascendant.
    Note: cycling between the conscious and unconscious mind
  • But in changing habits, you will find yourself getting your results far more quickly and with less “backwash” if you engage your imagination in the process instead of calling out the biggest gun of your character equipment first.
    Note: engage imagination in habit change before will power
  • Old habits are strong and jealous. They will not be displaced easily if they get any warning that such plans are afoot; they will fight for their existence with subtlety and persuasiveness. If they are too radically attacked they will revenge themselves; you will find, after a day or two of extraordinarily virtuous effort, all sorts of reasons why the new method is not good for you, why you should alter it in line with this or that old habit, or actually abandon it entirely.
    Note: anthropomorhy of habits, habits are people too
  • But a journalist's career does teach two lessons which every writer needs to learn - that it is possible to write for long periods without fatigue, and that if one pushes on past the first weariness one finds a reservoir of unsuspected energy - one reaches the famous “second wind.”
  • The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can - and without talking, without reading the morning's paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before - begin to write. Write anything that comes to your head: last night's dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all which are not pure nonsense.
    Note: morning pages, writing with the unconscious in ascendant, #morning-pages
  • You will discover that now you have a tendency to cast the day's experiences into words, to foresee the use that you will make of an anecdote or episode that has come your way, to tranform the rough material of life into fictional shape, more consistently than you did when writing was a sporadic, capricious occupation which broke out time to time unaccountably, or was undertaken only when you felt you had a story firmly within yor grasp.
    Note: #morning-pages
  • After you have dressed, sit down for a moment by yourself and go over your day before you. Usually you can tell accurately enough what its demands and opportunites will be; roughly, at least, you can sketch out for yourself enough of your program to know when you will have a few minutes to yourself. It need not be a very long time; fifteen minutes will do nicely, and there is almost no wage slave so driven that he cannot snatch a quarter of an hour from a busy day if he is in earnest about it. Decide for yourself when you will take the time for writing; for you are going to write in it.
    Note: planning your day, exercise-2
  • Now this is very important, and can hardly be emphasized too strongly: you have decided to write at four o'clock, and at four o'clock write you must! No excuses can be given.

    Write as you write in the morning - anything at all.
    Note: exercise-2
  • You are going to do this from day to day, but each time you are to choose a different hour.

    The important thing is that at the moment, on the dot of the moment, you are to be writing, and that you teach yourself that no excuse of any nature can be offered when the moment comes.
    Note: extending exercise-2
  • This will begin to “look like business” to the unconscious, and the unconscious does not like these rules and regulations until it is well broken in to them; it is incorrigibly lazy in its busy-ness and given to finding the easiest way of satisfying itself.
    Note: extending exercise-2
  • Right here I should like to sound the solemnest word of warning that you will find in this book: If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late. These two strange and arbitraty performances - early morning writing, and writing by prearramgement - should e kept up till you write fluently at will.
  • For one thing, you know whether it was easier to teach yourself to write on and on, or whether writing by prearrangement seemed more natural. Perhaps for the first time you see that if you want to write you can write, and that no life is actually so busy as to offer no oportunities if you find them.
    Note: #know-thyself
  • The physical mechanism of writing should have ceased to be tiring and begun to take its place as a simple activity.
  • You will remember that one of the conditions set was that you should not have read one word before beginning the morning's task, nor, if at all possible, so much as spoken until you have finished. This is the reason. We all live so surrounded by words that it is difficult for us to discover, without long experience, what our own ryhtms are, and what our own rhythms are, and what subjects do really appeal to us. Those who are sensitive enough to want ardently to become writers are usually a little too suggestible for their own good. Consciously or not, they may have fallen into the temptation of imitating an established author. It may be a genuine master of writing: it may be (and too often is) the author whoe work is having the greatest vogue at the moment.
    Note: exercise-1
  • The best way to escape the temptation is to imitate is to discover as early as possible one own's tastes and excellences.

    What on the whole, do you write, when you set down the first things that occur to you? Try to read, now, as though you had the work of a stranger in your hands, and to discover there what the tastes and talents of this alien writer may be.
    Note: #know-thyself
  • In my experience, the pupil who sets down the night's dream, or recasts the day before into ideal form, who takes the morning hour to write a complete anecdote or a passage of sharp dialogue, is likely to be the short story writer in embryo. Certain types of character sketching, when it is brief and concerned with the general (or even obvious) traits point the same way. A subtler analysis of characters, a consideration of motives, acute self-examination (as distinct from romaticizing one's actions), the contrasting of different characters faced by the same kind of dilemma, most often indicate a novelist. A kind of musing introspectiion or of speculation only sketched in is found in the essay writer's notebook, although with a grain of drama added, and with the particularizing of an abstract speculation by assigning the various elements of the problem to characters who act out the idea, there is promise of the more meditative type of novelist.
    Note: #know-thyself, what kind of writer are you?
  • Next set yourself to discover if you can see any connection between a good morning's work and the conditions of the evening before. Can you tell whether or not the good writing came after you had spent an active day, or a quiet one? Did you write more easily after going to bed early, or after a short sleep? Is there any observable connection between seeing certain friends and the vividness or dullness of the next morning's work? How did you write on the morning after you had been to a theater, or to an exhibition of pictures, or to a dance? Notice such things, and try to arrange for the type of activity whch results in good work.
    Note: #know-thyself, #observe
  • Bursts of work are not what you are out to establish as your habit, but a good, steady, satisfying flow, rising occasionally to an extraordinary level of performance, but seldom falling below what you have discovered is your own normal output. A completely honest inventory, taken every two or three months, or at least twice a year at the least, will keep you up to the best and most abundant writing of which you are capable.
  • At first you will find that the only way to read as a writer is to go over everything twice. Read the story, article, or novel to be studied rapidly and uncritically, as you did in the days when you had no responsibility to a book but to enjy it.

    First make a short synopsis of what you have read. Now pass a kind of summary judgement on it: you liked it, or didn't like it. You believed it, or were left incredulous. You liked part of it, and disliked the rest.

    Go on to enlarge these flat statements. If you liked it, why did you?
    Note: reading as a writer, #how-to-read
  • The genius keeps all his days the vividness and intensity of interest that a sensitive child feels in his expanding world.
  • The truth is that we all have a tendency to remember things which we saw under the clear, warm light of childhood, and return to them whenever we wish to bring a scene to life.
  • Merely deciding that you will not be oblivious is hardly enough, although every writer should take the recommendation of Henry James, and take it as a vow: “Try to be one of the people on whom nothing is lost.” By way of getting to that desirable state, set yourself a short period each day when you will, by taking thought, recapture a childlike “innocence of eye.” For half an hour each day transport yourself back to the state of wide-eyed interest that was yours at the age of five
  • Another time speculate on the person opposite you. What did she come from, and where is she going? What can you guess about her from her face, her attitude, her clothes? What, do you imagine, is her home like?
    Note: exercise
  • Remember that part of the advice is to put what you notice into definite words before you abandon it to the manipulation of the unconscious.
    Note: exercise
  • This is one reason for the inexhaustible resources of the true genius. Everything that ever happened to him is his to use. No experience is so deeply buried that he cannot revive it; he can find a type-episode for every situation that his imagination can present. By the simple means of refusing to let yourself fall into indifference and boredom, you can reach and revive for your writing every aspect of your life.
  • If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say p