I first bought and read Dorothea Brande‘s writing guide, Becoming a Writer, many years ago. A dated bookplate inside the front cover tells me that I was 30 at the time, and I suspect I was seeking practical advice on how to harness my lifelong love of writing and turn it into something more productive and artistic than allowed by my day job in PR.
It didn’t provide the practical list of tips that I had been expecting, it took a much more valuable approach, exploring the dual importance of the conscious and unconscious mind, and how they work together in the creative writing process.
When this book was first published in 1934, this will have been a radical approach. Brande talks of contemporaries such as Freud and Edith Wharton, which at first comes as a surprise when her writing seems in many ways fresh and modern. She also recommends meditation, although she doesn’t call it that, to flush out the contribution of the unconscious mind.
Still As Inspiring on Second Reading
Having forgotten much of what was in this book, remembering only the impact it made on me as a formative, influential book, my affection and admiration were confirmed. I was also heartened to realise that in the intervening years I have been practising much of what she recommends, allowing ideas to simmer in my unconscious mind, often to emerge later via a writing experience similar to taking dictation.
I still have much to learn however. For example, she is an advocate of not trying to revise your work too early, so as not to impose the conscious critic on the unconscious, before the process of creation has really ended. I must admit I find it really hard to write on without looking back, but I see this as the next stage in my development as a writer.
As Fresh as from Her Typewriter
Although the text is dated in some respects, e.g. her language occasionally sounds a little archaic to the 21st-century ear, and she praises typewriters as the height of writing technology (she proposes you have two, one portable the writing on the move!), this is a timeless classic which I recommend wholeheartedly to anyone at any stage of their writing career, from anxious aspiring novice to seasoned bestseller. The edition I read is now out of print (which is a shame, because I love that cover!) but there are plenty of copies for sale secondhand in various editions, so don’t hesitate to snap one up.
The only downside is, it has renewed my whim to buy a vintage typewriter! I got rid of my last one reluctantly, and only then because it had become impossible to buy new ribbons for it, the typewriter’s equivalent to ink cartridges, in case you’re too young to know that. I trust you’re not too young as not even to know what a typewriter is – described memorably by my young daughter once as “that thing with a keyboard that goes ping”, as she mimed the carriage return!