Dorothea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer:” 6 Tips for Entrepreneurs

Written by Sean Murphy. Posted in 1 Idea Stage, Blogging, Books, skmurphy

Dorothea Brande wrote “Becoming a Writer” in 1934. The book remains in print today, offering valuable tips for both writers and entrepreneurs.

Doreathea Brande’s “Becoming a Writer”
Offers Six Tips for Entrepreneurs

  1. Creativity Requires a Craftsman, a Critic, and a Genius
  2. Contemplation and Meditation Improve Your Thinking
  3. Morning Pages
  4. Schedule Time to Wrte
  5. Establish a Habit of a Good, Steady, Satisfying Flow of Work
  6. Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open

Creativity Requires a Craftsman, a Critic, and a Genius

Brande believes that writers have three aspects: a craftsman and a critic under conscious control and a “genius” that acts as a source of inspiration, intuitive leaps and useful shifts in perspective.  I think these line up with Michael Gerber‘s view in “The E-Myth” that three aspects are needed for a new business: a technician, a manager, and an entrepreneur.

  1. craftsman (corresponds to technician in E-Myth): this is the aspect of the writer or entrepreneur at work taking full advantage of whatever skills they have to produce something.
  2. critic (corresponds to manger in E-Myth): this is the aspect a writer or entrepreneur relies to improve a draft or a plan.
  3. genius (corresponds to entrepreneur in E-Myth): the source of inspiration for a new written work or a new business.

Most of the methods of training the conscious side of the writer—the craftsman and the critic in him—are actually hostile to the good of the unconscious, the artist’s side; and the converse of this proposition is likewise true. But it is possible to train both sides of the character to work in harmony, and the first step in that education is to consider that you must teach yourself not as though you were one person, but two.

Contemplation and Meditation Improve Your Thinking

“Genius is to mind as mind is to body: to think clearly still your body, to unlock genius still your thoughts.”
Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

I think meditation is an under-appreciated habit that really does strengthen your concentration, patience, and capacity for productive reflection.

Morning Pages

Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before; a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically.

The best way to do this is to rise half an hour, or a full hour, earlier than you customarily rise. Just as soon as you can—and without talking, without reading the morning’s paper, without picking up the book you laid aside the night before—begin to write.

Write anything that comes into your head: last night’s dream, if you are able to remember it; the activities of the day before, a conversation, real or imaginary; an examination of conscience. Write any sort of early morning reverie, rapidly and uncritically. The excellence or ultimate worth of what you write is of no importance yet. As a matter of fact, you will find more value in this material than you expect, but your primary purpose now is not to bring forth deathless words, but to write any words at all which are not pure nonsense.”

Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

Julia in “Artists Way at Work” outlined this process and called it morning pages, without ever mentioning Dorothea Brande’s name or giving her any credit.

Schedule Time to Write

“SUCCEED, OR STOP WRITING

Right here I should like to sound the solemnest warning that you will find in this book: If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy as early as late.

These two strange and arbitrary performances—early morning writing, and writing by prearrangement—should be kept up till you write fluently at will.”

Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

You have to be able to schedule time to work on your business while you still have a day job and follow through. If you tell yourself it will be easier when you quit your day job and start bootstrapping full time you could not be more wrong: there are more demands on your time and once you no longer have a regular paycheck the timer is running on when you exhaust your savings, which only compounds the pressure on you to get our business off the ground.

Establish a Habit of a Good, Steady, Satisfying Flow of Work

“If you are going in for a lifetime of writing, it stands to reason that you must learn to work without the continual use of stimulants, so find what ones you can use in moderation and what must be dropped. Bursts of work are not what you are out to establish as your habit, but a good, steady, satisfying flow, rising occasionally to an extraordinary level of performance, but seldom falling below what you have discovered is your own normal output. A completely honest inventory, taken every two or three months, or twice a year at the least, will keep you up to the best and most abundant writing of which you are capable.”
Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

This passage reminds me of Anthony Trollope’s observation that, “A small daily task, if it be really daily, will beat the labors of a spasmodic Hercules.” I think software entrepreneurs in particular can fall victim to the belief that they can compress a week’s worth of work into a weekend. For the most part this merely enables procrastination followed by a combination of burnout, poor performance, and missed objectives.

Keep Your Eyes and Ears Open

  1. The genius keeps all his days the vividness and intensity of interest that a sensitive child feels in his expanding world.
  2. Many of us keep this responsiveness well into adolescence;
  3. Very few mature men and women are fortunate enough to preserve it in their routine lives.
  4. Most of us are only intermittently aware, even in youth, and the occasions on which adults see and feel and hear with every sense alert become rarer and rarer with the passage of years.
  5. The most normal of us allow ourselves to become so insulated by habit that few things can break through our preoccupations except truly spectacular events—a catastrophe happening under our eyes, our indolent strolling blocked by a triumphal parade; it must be a matter which challenges us in spite of ourselves.
  6. Too many of us allow ourselves to go about wrapped in our personal problems, walking blindly through our days with our attention all given to some petty matter of no particular importance.
  7. The true neurotic may be engrossed in a problem so deeply buried in his being that he could not tell you what it is that he is contemplating, and the sign of his neurosis is his ineffectiveness in the real world.
    Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer” (first paragraph of Chapter 11 “Learning To See Again” re-arranged as ordered list)

This passage reminded me of a great book by Gordon Mackenzie: “Orbiting the Giant Hairball.” He also talks in practical terms about fostering creativity and learning, but his focus is on the workplace. Mackenzie makes the point early on that if you go to a class of first graders and ask how many are artists, everyone jumps to their feet.  By the sixth grade only one or two in a class of thirty will even raise their hand.

It’s a challenge to retain the sense of wonder and careful observation you had as a child. Normally the opening line from Shunryu Suzuki’s “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind” that “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few” is used to extol the benefits of expertise. Suzuki’s meaning is that it is hard for a beginner to empty their mind to prepare for meditation. But Brande actually points out the advantages of the flip side: a beginner, or someone who can recapture the wonder of a child, can once more see many possibilities.

Turn yourself into a stranger in your own streets

“You know how vividly you see a strange town or a strange country when you first enter it. The huge red buses careening through London, on the wrong side of the road to every American that ever saw them–soon they are as easy to dodge and ignore as the green buses of New York, and as little wonderful as the drugstore window that you pass on your way to work each day. The drugstore window, though, the streetcar that carries you to work, the crowded subway, can look as strange as Xanadu if you refuse to take them for granted. As you get into your streetcar, or walk along a street, tell yourself that for fifteen minutes you will notice and tell yourself about every single thing that your eyes rest on. The streetcar: what color is it outside? (Not just green or red, here, but sage or olive green, scarlet or maroon.) Where is the entrance? Has it a conductor and motorman, or a motorman-conductor in one? What colors inside, the walls, the floor, the seats, the advertising posters? How do the seats face? Who is sitting opposite you? How are your neighbors dressed, how do they stand or sit, what are they reading, or are they sound asleep? What sounds are you hearing, what smells are reaching you, how does the strap feel under your hand, or the stuff of the coat that brushes past you? After a few moments you can drop your intense awareness, but plan to resume it again when the scene changes.
Dorothea Brande in “Becoming a Writer

She accomplishes several things in this paragraph. She points out how new experiences allow us to see all of the details in a new situation: every strange aspect is salient. She also demonstrates that adding the right details makes the passage not only interesting but convincing. Any time you are writing for customers and you need to increase your credibility, add the key details that highlight the customer’s operating reality. It’s important when interviewing customers that you probe for the details they may gloss over due to familiarity–your “stupid question” can unlock a fundamental insight.

“A visited city lacks the ley lines of habit. The tourist and I do not walk down the same street.”
Greg Norminton in “The Lost Art of Losing

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