Books on Writing Process/Being a Writer
Matt Bell: Refuse to Be Done: How to Write and Rewrite a Novel in Three Days, 2022
Susan Bell, The Artful Edit: On the Practice of Editing Yourself, 2007
Dorothea Brande, Becoming a Writer, 1934
This book started out with a great premise: that difficulty in writing arises not from lack of knowledge of technique, but from deeper emotional or personality issues. Basically, the subconscious has blocks which impede the writer; she is held up by self-consciousness, “misapprehensions about writing,” or she may be “waiting for the divine fire of which [s]he has heard to glow unmistakably.” Or she may be “too shy to write as fully and emotionally as [s]he needs to write if [her] story is to come to life.”
Brande’s response is to split our idea of a writer in two: there’s the conscious artisan, who is “discriminating, temperate, and just”; and the emotional, unconscious side. Put another way, the waking writer and the sleeping writer. Neglect the second part of the self, Brande says, and you cannot be successful, period.
I love this idea, and I was excited to see it explored. However, unfortunately for her, Brande was writing in the 1930s, and psychology wasn’t exactly advanced. The fascination of her premise is let down by the bluntness of her tools, which are a general notion of the unconscious as explained by Freud, and a vague and tenuous description of how it influences the conscious mind. (Brande brings in an experiment concerning holding a key on a string above a piece of paper and letting the unconscious move the hand this way and that, which is somewhat interesting but not exactly helpful.)
The solutions she proposes are incredibly vague, with sentences like: “you must teach the unconscious to flow into the channel of writing.” Well, okay then! To be fair, she had so little at her disposal that she really ended up being ahead of her time in a lamentable way. She does have a couple of concrete exercises, like writing for a certain stretch after just waking up (to better capture the processes of the unconscious), but these are quite few, and not so much given to the writer as assigned to them with great rigidity. Despite her own main premise, Brande’s advice for the writer tends to be more in line with the industrialized, productivity-obsessed culture she came from; God knows that's understandable. But the harshness and rigidity of her advice often left me cold. At some points she even seems to be scolding the unconscious for being “lazy.”
The final blow came when I Googled Dorothea Brande and found out she was married to a well-known fascist, and espoused fascist beliefs herself. Welp, so much for that. The book definitely has some interesting ideas in it, and I don’t regret reading it (it’s pretty short), but I wouldn’t say it shaped my writing habits in any appreciable way.