Dorothea Brande (1893 – 1948) was an American author, lecturer and magazine editor. Her book Becoming a Writer, was published in 1934. Brande says the book is about the writer’s magic. The book is actually a treasure trove, filled with suggestions on how a writer can get over his/herself and begin writing.
In the previous post, we discussed Brande’s method that “teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing” through the practice of early morning writing.
In this post, we outline the next steps which are geared towards helping writers carve out more writing time. Brande assures us that once the first two steps are practiced daily, there will be many discoveries:
- You will begin to express the day’s experiences into words
- You will tend to know ahead of time how you will be able to use an anecdote or episode
- You will be able to transform the rough material of life into fictional shape – and you will be able to do this more consistently than before
After you have reached this point, Brande says you are ready for the next steps. I must admit I have not yet met these criteria, but I am looking forward to moving on.
Writing by Prearrangement
When you feel it’s time to move on to the next steps, you stop early morning writing and proceed to writing by prearrangement. But if you want to continue with early morning writing, why not? It’s a great writing exercise.
Here is the first step towards creating more writing time for yourself:
After you have dressed, sit down for a moment and go over the day before you. Usually you can tell accurately enough what its demands and opportunities will be; roughly, at least, you can sketch out for yourself enough of your program to know when you will have a few moments to yourself. It need not be a very long time; fifteen minutes will do nicely, and there is almost no wage slave so driven that he cannot snatch a quarter of an hour from a busy day if he is in earnest about it. Decide for yourself when you will take that time for writing; for you are going to write in it. If your work falls off, let us say, after three-thirty in the afternoon, the fifteen minutes from four o’clock until quarter past four can safely be drafted as time of your own. Well then, at four o’clock you are going to write, come what may, and you are going to continue until the quarter-hour sounds. When you have made up your mind to that you are free to do whatever you like to do or must do.
Write sense or nonsense, limericks or blank verse; write what you think of your employer or your secretary or your teacher; write a story synopsis or a fragment of dialogue, or the description of someone you have recently noticed. However halting or perfunctory the writing is, write. If you must, you can write, “I am finding this exercise remarkably difficult,” and say what you think are the reasons for the difficulty. Vary the complaint from day-to-day till it no longer represents the true state of affairs.
Brande emphasizes that one must hold true to one’s promise to one’s self: “Your agreement is a debt of honor, and must be scrupulously discharged; you have given yourself your word and there is no retracting it. If you must climb out over the heads of your friends at that hour, then be ruthless; another time you will find that you have taken some pains not to be caught in a dilemma of the sort.” She says go to a washroom if you must or lean against a wall if that is what will help you write. No matter what happens, you must keep the appointment to write.
When I first read the next step, I felt it was more like the kind of writing practice I’ve been so used to. But it isn’t – what I still do when I’m on the road is I snatch moments to write. Brande’s next step on the other hand, is also per-arranged, except that you make writing dates with yourself at different times of the day.
EXTENDING THE EXERCISE
For you are going to do this from day-to-day, but each time you are to choose a different hour. Try eleven o’clock, or a moment or two before or after lunch. Another time, promise yourself to write for fifteen minutes before you start for home in the evening; or fifteen minutes before you dine. The important thing is that at the moment, on the dot of the moment, you are to be writing, and that you teach yourself that no excuse of any nature can be offered when the moment comes. While you are merely reading this recommendation you may be quite unable to see why it is put so emphatically. As you begin to put it into practice you will understand. There is a deep inner resistance to writing which is more likely to emerge at this point than in the earlier exercise. This will begin to “look like business” to the unconscious, and the unconscious does not like these rules and regulations until it is well broken in to them; it is incorrigibly lazy in its busy-ness and given to finding the easiest way of satisfying itself. It prefers to choose its own occasions and to emerge as it likes. You will find the most remarkable series of obstacles presented to you under the similitude of common sense: Surely it will be just as satisfactory to write from 4:05 to 4:20? If you break out of a circle you are likely to be cross-questioned, why not wait till the circle breaks up by itself and then you take your fifteen minutes. In the morning you could hardly foresee that you were going to work yourself into a headache that day; can work done under the handicap of a headache possibly be fit to do? And so on and so on. But you must learn to disregard every loophole the wily unconscious points out to you. If you consistently, doggedly, refuse to be beguiled, you will have your reward. The unconscious will suddenly give in charmingly, and begin to write gracefully and well.
That certainly sounds promising and I can’t wait to try writing by prearrangement once I’m well into early morning writing.
Still to come…the benefits of early morning writing and writing by prearrangement, and then the third step in Brande’s technique to writing more effortlessly.