“The root problems of the writer are personality problems: He or she cannot get started, or starts a story well then gets lost or loses heart, or writes very well some f the time, badly the rest of the time, or writes brilliantly, but after one superb story or novel cannot write again, or writes brilliantly while the creative writing course lasts but after it is over can no longer write. The root problems, in other words are problems of confidence, self-respect, freedom: The writer’s demon is imprisoned by the various ghosts in the unconscious.”
John Gardner, Introduction to Becoming a Writer by Dorothea Brande
Becoming a Writer is a classic handbook; written in the 1930s, it’s never been out of print. It is still being read and recommended after 80 years, for one simple reason: It deals with the soul of the writer, not writing craft and technique. In fact, its entire premise is that unless those who write or want to write bring the conscious and unconscious aspects of their personality into harmony with each other, the results will be less than desired. Dorothea refers to these to aspects as “the artist” and the artisan.”
As Dorothea puts it, the artist, “the author of genius does keep till his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness of a child, the ‘innocence of eye’ that means so much to the painter, the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes and to old scenes as if though they were new…this freshness of response is vital to the author’s talent.
“But there is another element to his character, fully as important to his success. It is adult, discriminating, temperate, and just. It is the side of the artisan, the workman and the critic rather than the artist. It must work continually with and through the emotional and childlike side, or we have no work of art.
“The writer’s first task is to get these two elements of his nature into balance, to combine their aspects into one integrated character. And the first step toward that happy result is to split them apart for consideration and training!”
Dorothea’s focus is the care and feeding of this “dual personality” — the child and the adult, the artist and the artisan. In fact, well before brain research identified the role of the right and left brain in creative endeavors, she was helping her students tap their “inner writer” — what she called “writer’s magic” for greater joy and success. She believes it is possible to “train both sides of the character to work in harmony” — and that the first step is to “teach yourself not as though you were one person, but two.”
Becoming a Writer, a pithy guide packed with inspiration and advice has this as its goal: freeing both the artist and artisan to do their best work. A fascinating concept, and well worth exploring. If it strikes a chord with you, you can easily find a copy of Becoming a Writer. I’ll also be sharing some of her advice here from time to time as we all write on.