25th April 2013

Stilling the mind

pillow_brande2I sat in my car the other day – one of those school run moments, waiting to pick up my son, and sometimes the first time in the day when I get time to just sit – and I thought ~ I just want my head to be still, to stop chattering and looping and turning things over… I just want some space.

When I got home, there was a package in the letter box.  It was a book I had ordered having read a blog recommendation about it from another writer.  The writer (apologies… I can’t remember who it was) had said something to the effect of… if you read one book about writing, read this.  Enough said!  I ordered it.

As a rule, I don’t do books about writing.  I think to learn how to write you must write and you must read, you must experience things, observe, listen, remember and feel, you must live – these things will furnish you with enough.  But, after many years of writing, I thought ~ why not?  When I pulled the book from the envelope and read the back, the following words hit me:
‘Brande (taught) students how to see again, how to hold their minds still, how to call forth the inner writer.’
I had one of those hairs on the back of the neck moments… how odd, how apt.

Dorothea Brand new bookThe book is ‘Becoming a Writer’ by Dorothea Brande, published originally in 1934 (this version, 1981).  I read the first third of the book in one sitting, and then put it aside, as she suggests, to do the exercises that she gives you… not written exercises, but exercises in thinking.   What jumped out at me most is that becoming a writer doesn’t happen before you begin, but happens during the journey.  I have written for over 30 years, and I am now reading a book entitled ‘Becoming a Writer’!   Doesn’t that seem a little odd?  But had I read it before now, would it have made sense to me?  Would I have really appreciated its intentions and sentiments?  No, I wouldn’t.  Having read the first third and completed the first exercise, which involves using ‘the fiction maker’s eye on yourself’, I sat down to write a new novel and, from somewhere, pulled out a title, two main characters and 1,500 words – my mind, indeed, had been stilled, and inspired, enough, to allow this to happen.

There is so much to say about this book, about the author’s sentiments and insight, that it is difficult to know where to start.  So I shall give you a few titbits that I hope will get you thinking:

‘As soon as possible he must learn to trust his own feeling for the story, and to relax in the telling, until he has learned to use the sure, deft stroke of the man who is master of his medium.’

‘The author of genius does keep until his last breath the spontaneity, the ready sensitiveness, of a child, the “innocence of eye” that means so much to the painter, the ability to respond freshly and quickly to new scenes, and to old scenes as though they were new…’

‘Because of the tendency of the unconscious to see things in types, it is the unconscious, in the long run, which dictates the form of the story.’

And so it goes on…  full of these enlightened insights that take your mind to another place entirely and that seem to hit at the root of what writing, of what creating story, is really all about.  You can find this treasure on Amazon here.  Go buy it!

Have you read, and can you recommend, any books on writing that have really helped you as a writer?

About Abi Burlingham

I write children's books and paint pictures inspired by nature, animals, trees etc, mostly in acrylics. I am a crisp addict.
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20 Responses to 25th April 2013

  1. Hi Abi – I mention this lovely book in three posts on my blog. For me, so much about writing, as about everything in life, is in the way we think about it, and books like this one which suggest different angles always feel more useful than ones that focus on techniques. Written in the thirties and still in print – says it all really!

  2. Jane McLoughlin says:

    I agree. A wonderful book, which I’ve recommended to many people. Really helpful, especially when “stuck” or insecure or wanting to change gears.

  3. Oh you’re so right, Jenny… I bet I read about it in one of your posts then! If that’s so, then thank you for putting me in touch with an amazing book, and writer.

  4. Martin Day says:

    All sounds good to me, Abi. I myself have come to believe that everything I do (not just writing) is much clearer and authentic if I am understanding who I truly am and fully inhabit that. (…And if that sound;s a but mystic then I guess it is!)

  5. Teresa says:

    Lovely post Abi.I haven’t heard of this book but will now look it up. Thanks. xx

  6. I haven’t read any books on writing recently, but this one sounds like a great one! I love how much it inspired you and helped you write right away!

  7. Emma Pass says:

    Lovely post, Abi! This sounds like a great book – I will have to get hold of it.

  8. Of fab! Thanks, Emma. One to add to your collection 😉

  9. Annette says:

    I have read about many people – writers – who recommend this book. I must try it. My personal favourite has to be Stephen King’s On Writing: he gives such practical, blunt advice – I love it.
    Great post, Abi x

  10. Ooh, I shall try that one too, Nettie – I have heard writer’s recommend it before. Many thanks x

  11. It’s amazing how much of writing comes from the unconscious…little tidbits that leap out at you and form lives of their own! Sounds like a fascinating book Abi!

  12. Martin Shone says:

    Hello, Abi,
    I have sold most of my writing books on eBay but the ones I wouldn’t sell along with Dorothea Brande’s book are these… Stephen King’s On Writing, The Writer’s Journey by Christopher Vogler, The Hero With a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell and finally Short Circuit edited by Vanessa Gebbie.

  13. What a lovely collection! I’ve just ordered the Stephen King one, Martin – both you and Nettie have recommended it now, so it MUST be good 😉

  14. I’ll add my vote to On Writing by Stephen King. If anyone asks me to recommend a book about writing, this is the one I suggest. It’s full of practical advice but, mainly, it’s an entertaining read. And, y’know, if Stephen King can’t dish out a few writing tips, then who can?

  15. Oh fab, and how right you are! I’ve got it on order so should be here in a day or two 🙂

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