Old Words Made New: Dorothea Brande’s Classic on Writing & Creativity

I’ve been re-reading Dorothea Brande’s book , On Becoming a Writer. Hard to believe the Chicago woman was born in 1893  and published her classic on writing and creativity in 1934. It’s an easy read and you could almost get through it at one sitting.

What makes the book refreshing is that it’s not about the nuts and bolts and techniques of writing but more about the temperament and attitude of the would-be writer or, as John Gardener says in his introduction: ‘This book is all about the writer’s magic.’

I first read this book about five years ago and can see that I have most underlines in the Chapter ‘Learning to see again’.  Brande recommends that, for a half an hour each day, we transport ourselves back to the  state of the wide-eyed innocence that was ours at the age of five or so. She calls this ‘the experience of fresh seeing’, like turning yourself into a stranger in your own street so that you are seeing and hearing everything through fresh eyes.

But it’s not just the fresh seeing that is important for Brande, it’s letting the unconscious work its magic on this material through assimilation and accretion, allowing it in its own time to feed into one’s writing. She believes that the unconscious is the home of shape and form and can see types and patterns that the intellect misses.

So today I’ll practice ‘fresh seeing’ and start with the fierce magpies in the chestnut tree in my back garden and the blackbirds that I know will be doing their best to steal what’s left of the loganberry crop.