Wednesday, 1 October 2014


Ooops! I'm dashing on to today's ABBA page, half out of breath! 

A rare and unexpected holiday has shoved the Things That Need Doing Right Now into a complex squidge of pages, people to contact and panic. 

So this post - sorry! - is just about my computer's current post-it note.
Maybe a month ago,Nick Green - thank you, Nick! - mentioned a second book by Dorothea Brande. As I have always been curious about how artists and writers work, I investigated.

Brande, an American editor, was the author of "Becoming A Writer". Originally published in 1934, her first book gained extra popularity when the novelist John Braine claimed in his foreword to the 1983 edition that Brande's advice cured his writer's block. Maybe that was the moment when the whole modern genre of "writing about writing" toddled to its feet and started walking and talking?

What is the essence of this second book? Basically - in "Wake Up and Live"  - Brande suggests that whenever we think and act in negative ways, we use up too much of the energy we could be putting into our art, our writing and living. Whenever we feel low or lack confidence, we slide into a constant cycle of giving time and attention to all those things that we can't do, all the failures and frets and fears.

We worry about all we haven't done or all that others seem to be succeeding at - and this was way before Facebook and Twitter! - and end up sapping the energy that we should be spending on the work itself. The book as a whole isn't one I'd recommend, but this particular point made sense to me. 

Brande also went on to say that before going into an important interview, an awkward meeting or a scary party, people are advised to pause, present their best self and enter the room acting as if they have confidence. Yes, ACTING as they can do it.
So that's what you, the writer or artist, do. You go to your work acting as if you were the person you'd like to be, imagining you are your best version of yourself, giving your energy to the positive side of yourself.

Each morning, now the holiday laundry is done, I'm going to approach my work in progress, take a moment to push away all that sad energy-draining stuff and try imagining myself as the writer I might be.

This is how Brande puts it:  

Eight words that might help. Eight words that inspire me more than the usual daily litany of self-doubt. The words are perfect for my desk right now.

Penny Dolan


Dianne Hofmeyr said...

Lovely energising post Penny on a bleak, rainy day in South Africa. I hear its glorious in the UK.

My husband reminds me before I give a talk etc:
"I know what I know and I'm happy to be here." Perhaps like your 8 Magic Words, we can take on the same mantra when we sit down in front of the laptop.

And now I will be happy to be here at my sea house even if the sea is churned and grey and the rain is hosing down!

Joan Lennon said...

That's good advice - and from Dianne's husband as well. Now, off to follow it!

Nick Green said...

I don't think that was me who mentioned this book, Penny! I just have that kind of face.

Ann Turnbull said...

Just what I needed to be told this morning, Penny. Thank you!

Penny Dolan said...

Thanks. Glad you all welcomed this positive thought as much as I did, and do.

One strand of Brande's thinking is that we go into our task already burdened by all the negatives, dragging this stuff with us, which of course makes it much harder to work on whatever one is doing now.

Dianne, I shall scribble your husbands' mantra on the top of my notes for tonight's writers group talk tonight.

Nick, if it wasn't you, sorry, but it still seems a good face to have!

Susan Price said...

Thanks, Penny. I'm off on a long drive tomorrow, to do a day-long 'workshop' in Canterbury. This post was just what I needed. I shall take your words, and Dianne's with me!

Maeve Friel said...

According to Hilary Mantel, On Becming a Writer by Dorothea Brand is the only book on writing that you need. See her rules for writers here.

Patrice Aggs said...

Love the bit about the holiday laundry. Mine's on the washing line right now

Sue Purkiss said...

Wise and useful words!