I am a big fan of Dorothea Brande, author of Becoming a Writer. Ms. Brande wrote her book back in the 30’s and, other than some quaint discussion of whether typewriters are more distracting that writing by hand (because when I consider how distracting my computer and the Internet are, I just about give up considering writing on this thing), I think her advice is some of the best available still. She begins with the assertion that writing classes do not help many or most struggling writers because the classes deal with structure, style, etc., but those are facets of writing that many aspiring writers don’t even get to because they can’t get anything written, whether it’s called writer’s block, or lack of time, or lack of confidence.
There are other things she talks about, but her writing premise as I understand it is this: if you cannot or will not make yourself write when you need to or are available to, then stop calling yourself a writer. Find another avocation or call your scribblings something else, but stop beating yourself over the head about being a writer, because you are not.
If this seems harsh, I think it is because she gives two seemingly easy tasks to test your mettle. (I wanted to put a pun in there – something about quill or pencil or other bad rhyme, but I couldn’t think of one. Insert your own.). One, get up a half hour early and write. Don’t talk to anyone, don’t have coffee, don’t do anything but sit down and write. Ms. Brande makes some suggestions – record a dream before it fades, or a bit of scene or dialogue you are thinking about, or anything else. She suggests that you write as long as it flows, but that you increase your time as you get used to this schedule. (If you’ve read The Artist’s Way, you may recognize this advice. In that book, it’s thirty minutes a day as a sort of memory/anxiety dump to clear your head for the day.)
Ms. Brande’s second requirement is that you make specific, short appointments with yourself to write and that you keep your appointment, even if it means excusing yourself out of some other activity. And the times change, so that you get used to writing for fifteen minutes at eleven o’clock one day and four o’clock another. If you can do both of these things, basically making yourself write on command and with precedence over other activities, then you can call yourself a writer, you will be a writer, and now you can go on to the other challenges of crafting your stories. I’m not sure how long these exercises are supposed to last, but I’m guessing that if you do it for the twenty-one days that modern psychologists tell us we need to establish a habit then you’re in.
So, today I am a writer, this blog being the second part of today’s obligatory exercises. I plan to be one tomorrow, too. Whether I’ve got the moxie to continue to practice being one, only time will tell (start humming bad 80’s tune here); more updates to follow.
(Note: This blog is being simulcast at our web site: www.keepwriting.org.)