As author and teacher John Gardner points out in the foreword to Dorothea Brande’s classic book Becoming a Writer, it is not just technique that writing students need. Beginning writers (as well as more experienced writers) need also to understand important aspects of their personality in reference to the writing process. For instance, students must figure out why they might start but not finish a project, or why they might write well some of the time but cannot create good material at other times. Those are some of the root problems that might cause writers to stall or outright fail. The material in Brande’s book offers inspiration for solving such challenges, taking students deep within themselves to find solutions and to continue on the path to becoming writers.
Although, as Gardner points out, learning technique is important, many instructional manuals allow technique to overshadow the deeper elements that writers must grasp in order to improve and sustain their practice. Because Brande emphasizes the causes of and the solutions to the root problems writers often face, her book is as relevant today as when it was first published in 1934.
Brande helps writers to understand the different dimensions of their personality. She provides guidance in getting writers to know the characteristics of their conscious and subconscious minds, their creative selves and their internal critics, their intellect and their imagination. She suggests practices that are based on discipline as well as those that cultivate writing in the flow. She also encourages writers to clear their vision and attune their senses so that they can experience the world around them in a fully engaged manner. In one of her latter chapters, Brande discloses that the surest way of becoming a successful writer is to be original. And the best way of making sure writing is original is for writers to dig down as far as they must to find their own truths. “If you can discover what you are like,” Brande states, “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.”