Dorothea Brande on Becoming a Writer

Books being the original internet, I’ve followed an analog hyperlink from Ray Bradbury’s lovely Zen writing manifesto to discover another treasure trove of wisdom — Dorothea Brande’s (1893–1948) altogether indispensable Becoming a Writer. I’ve ravenously devoured all of it and want to share one fragment that seems to me of profound importance, for it not only applies to the art of writing but also to the art of living.

Noting that every piece of writing is an essay in persuasion, while you hold your reader’s attention, to see the world with your eyes, Dorothea Brande writes:

Here are a few questions for a self-examination which may suggest others to you. It is a by no means exhaustive questionnaire, but by following down the other inquiries which occur to you as you consider these, you can come by a very fair idea of your working philosophy:

Do you believe in a God? Under what aspect? (Hardy’s ‘President of the Immortals,’ Wells’ ’emerging God’?)
Do you believe in free will or are you a determinist? (Although an artist-determinist is such a walking paradox that imagination staggers at the notion.)
Do you like men? Women? Children?
What do you think of marriage?
Do you consider romantic love a delusion and a snare?
Do you think the comment ‘It will all be the same in a hundred years’ is profound, shallow, true or false?
What is the greatest happiness you can imagine? The greatest disaster?

And so on. If you find that you are balking at definite answers to the great questions, then you are not yet ready to write fiction which involves major issues. You must find subjects on which you are capable of making up your mind, to serve as the groundwork of your writing. The best books emerge from the strongest convictions — and for confirmation see any bookshelf.

Becoming a Writer is excellent and necessary in its entirety. Complement with Ray Bradbury on Zen in the art of writing.

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