About Me

Monday, November 9, 2009

Morning Squirrels and Dorothea Brande: Becoming A Writer

7:12 am

I meant to go back to sleep, after getting my husband and son off to work and school; but I looked out my kitchen window, and just saw a squirrel with a nut running along the six foot tall wooden fence separating our house from the bad neighbor behind us (his fence). I wonder where the squirrel got what looks like a peanut; not a seed- who's feeding him?- though it may be a palm tree seed- can you eat them? I looked again, and he's perched on a fence post, holding the remains between his paws, and finishing eating it. He runs back in the direction he'd come, possibly for more. A whistling wind is blowing the oak leaves and palm fronds. It's been windy now for days, and they say it's not due to Hurricane Ida. It looks like it will be a blue sky day, with scattered clouds.

I've been reading Dorothea Brande's Becoming a Writer (Tarcher/Putnam, 1981), a classic book on writing, first published in 1938, recommended to me a while back by Brigindo. There are chapters where I argue with Brande's tone, and her "you must do this" attitude, though, in general, she rails against such concepts (except when it involves her own ideas of what's what)- and I say this as if she's living, though she died in 1948. She recommends writing every morning, before you've read anything, listened to anything, and I suppose, done much of anything else, to see what pours out of you in your own voice, and using that as a starting point to evaluate not only how you write but who you are- or, you are not a writer! (You are a bad girl, and deserve many spankings.) Other than that, I'm finding her ideas about the link between the conscious and the unconscious, as you write, to be extremely useful, mostly because it solidifies my own thinking about the writing process, and her concepts about why it is important to write. Here's a choice quote, from her chapter, titled: The Source of Originality:

"It is well to understand as early as possible in one's writing life that there is just one contribution which every one of us can make: we can give into the common pool of experience some comprehension of the world as it looks to each of us. There is one sense in which everyone is unique. No one else was born of your parents, at just that time of just that country's history; no one underwent just your experiences, reached just your conclusions, or faces the world with the exact set of ideas that you must have. If you can come to such friendly terms with yourself that you are able and willing to say precisely what you think of any given situation or character, if you can tell a story as it can appear only to you of all the people on earth, you will inevitably have a piece of work which is original." ~ Dorothea Brande

There are many other encouragements sprinkled throughout this book. Here are two more choice quotes from the same chapter, under the sub-heading, Honesty, the Source of Originality:

"If you can discover what you like, if you can discover what you truly believe about most of the major matters of life, you will be able to write a story which is honest and original and unique." ~ Dorothea Brande

"... We all continue to grow... In order to write at all we must write on the basis of our present beliefs. If you are unwilling to write from the honest, though perhaps far from final, point of view that represents your present state, you may come to your deathbed with your contribution to the world still unmade..." ~ Dorothea Brande

And this, under the sub-heading, Trust Yourself:

"... It is not the putting of your character in the central position of a drama which has never been dreamed of before that will make your story irresistible... How your hero meets his dilemma, what you think of the impasse-- those are the things which make your story truly your own; and it is your own individual character, unmistakably showing through your work, which will lead you to success or failure. I would almost be willing to go so far as to say that here is no situation which is trite in itself; there are only dull, unimaginative, or uncommunicative authors. No dilemma in which a man can find himself will leave his fellows unmoved if it can be fully presented." ~ Dorothea Brande

I'm adding Dorothea Brande's book to my bibliography of recommended books on writing fiction.

8:10 am

My phone alarm has just rung, and I scurry in my gown and robe across the house from the computer room to my bedroom to turn it off. I've accomplished a lot in this hour. Now it's time to add to that bibliography, work on a critique for a fellow writer, and perhaps, if I'm smart, take a walk. I'll put Dorothea Brande out of my mind, or she'll be telling me what to do, admonishing me to notice things and let them meld with my psyche.


  1. How interesting. I've not read the book in many years. I don't remember it as bossy but I wonder if my older self would also find her so? I think I was much more open to being told what to do back then than I am now. I'm thinking that's a good thing.

  2. Hi Brigindo,
    I didn't mean to sound brusque! I think I caught that tone from Dorothea! Seriously, I am grateful you led me to her. I picked up the book, with my discount, for only $6 instead of $10. I've learned a lot from her, and if I'd just listen, I will become a better writer! I've got a couple more short chapters to go.

  3. What a lovely post on writing - from the opening narrative to the excellent advice from Dorothea. She is a might stern...but very knowledgeable about the writing process. There is good advice here. I would imagine, if taken, one could improve on technique and skills. Thanks, Annie! ;)

  4. Thanks! The beginning was just a ramble. Her tone is based on her strong convictions, and her advice is valuable. It's really only a few statements in one chapter that particularly grated. I highly recommend the book, and I'm glad Brigindo recommended it. (As if there's something wrong with noticing things and melding your observations into your psyche!)