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Becoming a Writer, Dorothea Brande – review and applications


I have no doubt that this will be the most useful and inspirational book about writing that I shall ever read. Many books describe an individual writer’s process and many others give technical help on the minutia of style, technique, character and plot. This one concentrates on very general tools and exercises to stimulate your mind and design your life, your very existence, around the task of writing.


It’s boot camp for writers. If I had not already learned to quiet my critical mind when accessing my imagination, and if I had not already mastered the stilling of one’s brain through meditation, I believe I would be terrified to take this journey with Brande. It is all-consuming and some of the demands (ones I will experiment with for my next novel) seem cruel and restrictive. The worst being a ban on reading anything while writing your work. I will let you know whether I fail or succeed in that task, and if I succeed what benefits it brings.

“[I]t is to be noticed that successful writers, when talking about themselves as writers, say little about curling up in a corner with a good book. Much as they may love reading (and all authors would rather read than eat), they had all learned from long experience that it is the wordless occupation which sets their own mind busily at work.”

Even if you feel unable to follow the strict regiments set out for any significant period of time, I can see how short term adherence could be effective in dismantling what we call writer’s block.


In short, I recommend purchasing and reading the book, taking from it what you find personally useful and running with that. Beware, she will make you feel like you should do more than you want to. She has a prescriptive view of what sacrifices a writer must make. This is a text of tough love.


I marked my favourite pages for reference, but I won’t share them all. Here is one:

“The use of dialogue in fiction … should be reserved for the culminating moments, and regarded as the spray into which the great wave of narrative breaks in curving toward the watcher on the shore.”

As a writer of genre fiction I love dialogue and I believe I am rather good at it. Following this advice will mean being strict with myself and I look forward to seeing what effects this will produce in my writing.


In sports the idiom “No pain no gain” is a given. This guide to becoming a writer is the literary equivalent.

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