Writers only use words, as even parrots do…

#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.” John Gardner wrote a foreword for this book. I used his humorous phrase as the title for this post.

 PART I

 #1 The Four Difficulties

No one can write successfully without some measure of technical mastery and an ability to analyze the virtues and defects in his own work or the work of others. Until… the root problems are human, such as:

  • The difficulty of writing at all (aaaa, this is Ray – every damn day!😂)
  • The “One Book Author” (the vibe is gone…)
  • The Occasional Writer
  • The Uneven Writer

Almost everyone who buys books on fiction writing, or takes classes in the art of the story, suffers from one or another of these troubles.

#2 What writes are like

  • False and real artists (as a monster, as a versatile genius, as a suffering martyr, or boulevardier from the last century). In general, a writer is “more” than average in his tastes and less at the mercy of the ideas of the crowd. There’s a grain of truth in all of this: the author of genius does keep the “innocence of eye” – the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new (as well as to the old) scenes. This freshness of response is vital to the author’s talent!
  • Two sides of a writer are not always psychopathic. 😯 That means that a good writer is not an unlucky fellow who should be in a psycho ward, or, at the happiest outcome, a hysterical creature. Every author has a dual personality that makes him such a bewildering and tantalizing figure, but in 99%, there’s no scandal or danger in his character.

There’s always the workaday man who walks, and the genius that flies.

Of course, there’s a possibility one personality will take over, but it is possible to train both sides of the character to work in harmony, and the first step – always teach yourself not as though you were one person, but two!

#3 The Advantages. The process of Story Formation

  • Creative writing is a function of the whole man: the unconscious must flow freely and richly, providing the author with “types of all kinds” – scenes, characters, emotional responses; the conscious should control, combine, differentiate. The unconscious is shy and elusive; the conscious is opinionated and arrogant. By isolating these two sides of the mind, by creating some transparent barrier and being your own best friend, you can succeed.
  • Learn which authors are your meat and which are your poison. 😉
  • The arrogant Intellect. Take over it, pal! Or at least learn how to control it, OR it will be forever offering pseudo-solutions for you: tampering with motives, making the characters “literary,” and finding more issues.

Exercise: You are sitting near the door. Get up. Go through that door. From the moment you stand on the threshold, turn yourself into your own object of attention. What do you look like standing there? How do you walk? What, if you knew nothing about yourself, could be gathered of your character, your background, your purpose just there at just that minute? There’s no deep, dark, esoteric purpose behind this exercise. It is a primer lesson in considering oneself objectively.

#4 Teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing

  • Displacing old habits. We all know they will not be displaced easily (if ever), especially if they get any warning that such plans are afoot. They will FIGHT for their existence! In the end, you give up… 😏
  • Writing on impulse. If you’d like to learn to write easily and smoothly, the best way is to rise an hour before than you usually rise. Without talking, walking, reading – begin to write. Write anything that comes into your head (the excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet). Continue each morning without rereading what you have already done. After 2-3 days double your “output.” You’ll find that there’s a certain number of words that you can write easily, without strain. When you have found that limit, begin to push it ahead by a few sentences, a paragraph. The result: the actual labor of writing no longer seems arduous or dull.

#5 Writing on Schedule

  • Engaging to write. In the morning, after you have dressed, decide for yourself when you will take the time for writing – plan only 15 minutes, no more.
  • A debt of honor. If you decided you’ll write your 15 minutes at 4 pm, then at 4 pm you must write! No excuses can be given! Your agreement is a debt of honor – you have given yourself your word, and there’s no retracting from it. What to write in 15 min? Anything at all. 🕺🕺
  • You will do this from day to day, but each time you are to choose a different hour. The important thing is not the clock time, but that at the moment, on the dot of the moment, you are to be writing. You teach yourself that no excuse of any nature can be offered when the moment comes. The goal: this will begin to “look like a business” to the unconscious (the unconscious is incorrigibly lazy in its busy-ness and does not like the rules).
  • If you repeatedly fail at this exercise, give up your writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write. 😱

!!Note: the author, Dorothea Brande, advises you first to succeed in two habits: early morning writing and writing by agreement with yourself. It will give you – fluency and control. Only then can you start reading your text – BUT as the work of a stranger…

#6 Reading as a Writer

Most would-be writers are bookworms, and many of them are fanatical about books and libraries. But there’s often a deep distaste at the idea of dissecting a book, or reading it solely for style, or construction, or to see how its author has handled his problems, described heroes, and so on. The only way to read as a writer is to go over everything TWICE. 😬 When you have learned to read critically, you will find the pleasure is far deeper than it was when you read as an amateur.


Part II is coming later this week.

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34 Responses

  1. masercot says:

    Nice list, Ray. I like how you bring the self into the fiction writing experience.

  2. Thank you for sharing Victoria. I enjoyed the piece.
    “Every author has a dual personality that makes him such a bewildering and tantalizing figure” Indeed.

  3. Sorryless says:

    As a writer I find that it’s important to have the eye of a critic but the soul of a monk.

  4. B says:

    Writing on impulse, that should be me, however hysterical it may seem at times but nb’s perfect, right?

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Sometimes we can create truly ingenious work of art on “impulse” 🙂 so – YES!

  5. I’m in a trough between towering waves of a completed novel and several begun but not yet followed through. I spent 6 years writing my first novel and now find myself catching up with all the things I let slip away while writing. I don’t know where I’m going yet, but I hope I’m not a one novel writer. Flash poetry on Instagram seems to be my forte for now. At least I have to think tight. The lack of success with HK left me demoralized. I can climb back, but that first rung of the ladder is just out of reach even as I stretch with all my yearning to grab a handhold. 🥊😒

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      I believe you are not one novel writer, but nothing bad in that, tho.
      What do you mean by “the lack of success”? :)) To succeed (in commercial way) => you have to write exactly what market needs :)) plus, push the book with lots of money & media bubbling (= it means to give away lots of time I personally don’t have… + picturing each step* 🤦‍♀️ ) => we can call it marketing 😉😄.

      • I think marketing is the demoralizing part! And I agree about the lack of time to devote to marketing. My work commute eats away an extra hour in the evening, and rising any earlier would soon impact my work. Still, if we want something bad enough, we find ways to achieve it. Hmmm, back to work 🙂

        • Victoria Ray NB says:

          yep, rising earlier is a nightmare, agreed!! and marketing is so time consuming for indie, crazy… but the creative process is what counts 🤓📚 we wont give up 🕺🕺

  6. This is a terrific post, VR. I am so happy that I don’t suffer from only one book, the occasional writer, and the uneven writer. I have a discipline that requires 1000 words on my WIP each day no matter what. I guess that makes me a writer. I do struggle sometimes with not wanting to write at all. It is those days that the discipline steps in and gives me a whack on the head. I enjoyed the advice here. Thanks

  7. Eilene Lyon says:

    Somedays I just can’t find the discipline. So many teachers go with this 15 minute daily exercise, and I do make it many times. But I lean toward the instructor who says – sure you can take time off! They’re harder to find, but they are out there. Thanks for sharing these tips.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      agreed with every word… I tried 15 minute too 😉 I can do it weekly (here & there) but every day – no thanks

  8. kinkyacres says:

    I am sure glad I am just a novice reader!

  9. poorvi kumar says:

    very well written post ! and i agree ! i sometime find it hard to open my computers s just start writing anything at all !

  10. Nice to practice writing for fifteen minutes in the morning and having an agreement to write and actually follow it. Thank you for these tips!

  11. alexraphael says:

    SO much good advice here.

  12. Great advice, I especially like getting dressed first! Often I will start writing first thing and by 3pm Im still in pyjamas! Haha 15mins is perfect amount of time! I will try this.

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      Yes, some thoughts are truly helpful even now (considering the book is from 1934)

  13. Yeah they are, some things are timeless

  14. librini says:

    I am Reading it now ♥️

    • Victoria Ray NB says:

      wow! cool 🙂 its an interesting book, worth to check :))