It’s an astonishing thing that Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer has been in almost continuous print since 1934, but not a surprising one. The challenges facing a writer are not so different today as they were between the wars, and Brande offers a no-nonsense antidote to accumulated myths which writers tend to surround themselves with instead of getting on with their output. Taking what she calls the ‘four difficulties’ of writing, she cuts right to the root of the problems with a forthrightness and wit which is hard to resist and her passion for her subject shines through.
In the first few pages we learn that the technicalities of writing can be taught, that genius can be learned, that almost anyone can write – and though all these things take discipline, practice and concentrated hard work “there is a magic, and that is teachable”. Becoming A Writer is all about writer’s magic.
And before you can dismiss this as mysticism she lays out a compelling argument taking on self-delusion, pessimism, laziness, procrastination, the ‘one-trick’ writer, self-consciousness (anything sounding familiar here?) and sets out a series of exercises which help a writer to cut through to their own creative flow.
Brande takes the view that, though the most brilliant technique can be learned, most writers don’t realise there is a whole other bunch of problems they need to overcome before the learned elements can even find a foothold and good writing can result:
“First there is the difficulty of writing at all. The full abundant flow that must be established if the writer is to be heard from simply will not begin. The stupid conclusion that if he cannot write easily he has mistaken his career is sheer nonsense”
Forgive it if the text is somewhat dated, it’s over 80 years old after all, but they were made of sterner stuff back them. If you’ve hit a wall, or you just feel a different approach might refresh your writing, or if you just wish someone would give you a slap and remind you how exciting it is to write at any level whilst dishing out down to earth advice on what to do about it – then stop making excuses and get your hands on this excellent book.