#takeaway keys from the book “BECOMING a WRITER” by Dorothea Brande (first published in 1934, currently republished)
Dorothea Brande was teaching a creative writing course. Her focus was: a) the imaginative power of the writer’s mind; b) the belief that “genius can be taught.”
#1 On Imitation
- You can imitate but you should not adopt the philosophies, the ideas, the dramatic notions of other writers. Always go back to the source from which the author originally drew the idea (if you are able to find it). Any ideas are yours to use only when you have made them your own by full acquaintance and acceptance.
NOTE: imitating technical excellence is just fine, tho. Especially how to spend words in the first paragraph, smooth transitions between described activities in the book, the clues that the author of the book drops into the sentence/chapter, or which allows him to revert or move on to the true action.
I’d like to mention here a great blog, mainly this post – RECONFIGURING MY BLOG . . . AND MY REALITY? by Harold Stearley, where he shares an exciting finding of “solipsism” and talking about the digital world and how easy it is – to steal the original ideas. 😯🤔
- Pick up fresh words. Always be on the alert for new words, vivid verbs, and synonyms.
#2 Learning to see again
- The blindness of habit. Too many of us allow ourselves to go wrapped in our personal problems, walking blindly through our days with our attention all given to some petty matter of no particular importance (for example, scrolling Insta for hours watching reels? 😂😉 got ya!). That means most of us are only intermittently aware about everything we see and hear (every sense of alert becomes rarer and rarer with years). We are the world of neurotics! Problems of tech/soc media are so deeply buried in our being that we often can’t tell what the problem is really, what are we contemplating about… As a result, the sign of that neurosis: a) our personal ineffectiveness in this world; b) nothing can break through, we are too damn preoccupied! It should be some spectacular event or a catastrophe happening under our eyes. 😶
- Being spineless, being unaware, being dull is a real danger to a writer. If you don’t look for new daily observations, fresh sensations, new ideas, then you’ll endlessly rewrite the wonder of our youth or years we had any feelings at all.
- Causes of repetitiousness. Everyone knows an author (too many on the market) who seems to have, somehow, only ONE STORY to tell. The characters may be given diff names, situations… nevertheless, we feel each time we read a new book by that author that we have heard the same thing before. Well, it might work for a while, but if we continue to use the same episodes and items over and over, we lose effectiveness.
- Recapturing the “innocence” of the eye. Merely deciding that you’ll see the situation with new eyes is not enough and more complicated than you might think. Turn yourself into a stranger in your own streets. And remember the words of Henry James: “TRY TO BE ONE OF THE PEOPLE ON WHOM NOTHING IS LOST.”
#3 The Source of Originality
- The elusive quality. Every book, every teacher, every editor will tell you that the great key to success is originality. They often say, “Be original, like W. Faulkner! Look at Stephen King, if you give me something like that, then – woooow!!!” Poor you goes home and tries with all his might to write: “a marvelous kinda-Faulkner story” or “a perfect almost-King novel,” totally forgetting that we, each of us, are unique in this pool of life. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country’s history; no one underwent just your experiences and reached just your conclusions with the exact set of ideas you must have. If you are willing to say precisely what you think of any given character or situation, if you can tell the story as it appears only to you of allllll people on earth – you’ll inevitably have a piece of work which is already ORIGINAL. But that simple thing the average writer cannot do! Partly because he’s used to see the world through someone else’s eyes – he’s using the eyes of Faulkner, Woolf, Hemingway, King, etc.
- Solution? Right here:
Your loving and my loving, your anger and my anger, are sufficiently alike for us to be able to call them by the same names: but in our experience and in that of any two people in the world, they will never be quite completely identical! Agnes Mure MacKenzie, The Process of Literature
#4 The Writer’s Recreation
- Too much reading is very bad, indeed. All of us are so habituated to words that we cannot escape them even if we are left alone. We will very soon be talking to ourselves “subvocally,” as the behaviorists say. The easiest thing in the world to prove it: try to starve yourself for a few hours in a wordless void. Stay alone – resist the temptation to take up any book – flee from phone chats – media – tv … and you’ll almost surely find yourself a) planning to tell the neighbor what you think of him, b) examining your behavior yesterday and giving yourself advice for the next time; c) trying to recapture the words of the song you listened this morning; d) turning over the plot of a story – in general, to fill the wordless vacuum.
- If you want to stimulate yourself to write – amuse yourself in wordless ways. Example from the book: One very well-known writer sits for 2 hours a day on a park bench. Alone. He says that for years he used to lie on the grass of his back garden and stare at the sky, but some member of the family seeing him so alone and aimless, always tried to come out, sit beside him for a nice talk. Sooner or later, he himself would begin to talk about the story he had in mind, and, to his astonishment, the urgent desire to write disappeared as soon as he had got it thoroughly talked out. 🤔 Now, he can be found every afternoon in the park, staring at the pigeons. 😬
- Find your own stimulus! Only experiment will show what your best recreation is, but books, theater, taking pictures, or talking about the story is going to distract you. Usually, a variety of time-filling silent hobbies works the best: knitting, horseback riding, long walk alone, fishing, scrubbing a floor, etc. – any rhythmical, monotonous, and wordless action, because it puts the person into a light state of hypnosis.
#5 The Artistic Coma
- The true genius may live his life long without ever realizing HOW he works. He will know only that there’re times when he must, at all costs, have solitude, time to idle, or to dream. Often he himself believes that his mind is empty. Sometimes we hear of gifted authors who are on the verge of despair because they feel they are going through a “barren” period, but suddenly the time of silence is past, and they must write. That strange, aloof, detached period has been called “THE ARTISTIC COMA” by observers shrewd enough to see that the idleness is only a surface stillness. Something is at work, but so deeply and wordlessly that it hardly gives a sign of its activity. The necessity in solitude, in rambling leisure, in long speechless periods, is behind most of the charges of eccentricity and boorishness that are leveled at men of genius.
#6 The Writer’s Magic
- Learn to hold your mind as still as your body. When you succeeded, try holding a story idea, a character, in your mind, and letting your stillness center around that.
- If you are planning to read, be sure to choose books which are unlike your own work as much as possible.
- In the end, remember, no human being is so poor as to have no trace of genius…
Next post – The Story of Harmless Bullet. Day 7.