Monday Musings: Advice from Dorthea Brand, Eighty Years Later


by Kathleen Valentine

DBThis afternoon, while searching for something else, I came across an old copy of Dorthea Brand’s 1934 classic book Becoming A Writer. I had not thought about it in years and, because it was a lovely day here, I took it out to my back porch and began re-reading parts of it. I am not sure whether it is because I am now much older and have been writing for a long time, but I found the book surprisingly dated. Now I am wondering if that is just me, or if it is possible for a book such as this one to become dated.

To be fair, there was some good advice in it. One of the chapters, on learning to see, was something we cannot be reminded of too often. It has long been said that a writer is someone who misses nothing—a thought that I agree with. As an exercise, prompted by Brand’s suggestions, I decided to spend some time looking at the bushes that separate our backyard from the cemetery beyond them. This is quite a large bunch of bushes that have grown up over the years that run the length of the yard. From the ground they are towering and many people do not even know there is a cemetery back there, but from my perch on the second floor the view is different.

As I studied the bushes, I immediately picked out the multiflora rose bushes that smell so lovely in Spring, then the privet bushes with their lacy leaves. Other than those I counted the wild choke cherries that the squirrels get drunk on and stagger around the yard. But there were more. By the time I got done, making note of differences I’d counted a total of seven different bushes, some which I cannot identify. It was a good exercise and I learned that, though I’ve looked at those bushes for years, I’ve never really seen them.

In another chapter she talked about the method of writing. Obviously a lot has changed since 1934 and I could not help but smile at her annoyance with the use of typewriters (typewriters?) For writers accustomed to writing long-hand, the mechanics of pushing down those keys, watching the letters fly up and whack against the ribbon, then see the platen advance, was, apparently, arduous. Not to mention the fact that you had to then use your hand to mechanically return the carriage so you could type the next line. I can only imagine what Ms Brand would think of contemporary keyboards.

But to me the most interesting chapter was about originality. She made some excellent points about staying true to one’s own voice. She also pointed out some examples of writers who tried too hard to be original and wound up sounding pretentious in the process.

Which led me to wonder, do most writers think about being original these days? I wonder about that specifically when it comes to genre books. It seems that so many authors aim to produce the next Harry Potter, or the next Fifty Shades, or the next Game of Thrones. I often see books advertised as “if you liked The DaVinci Code, you’ll love this.” Has this type of advertising always been prevalent?

I have several vintage writing books that I love—especially those by John Gardner—and I know at one time I must have learned a lot from Dorothea Brand if I kept her book all these years. I am a firm believer that we can always learn something new and today I learned there are at least seven different kinds of bushes out back. I really should find out what they are.

Thanks for reading.


Focus Friday: Groovy Cool Writing Techniques



New Release by Cinta Garcia de la Rosa
available March 1, 2015

Get an advance review copy to read.

When you look at a blank page that insists on being blank, or after thousands of attempts to write the typical boy-meets-girl story in a more original way, I’m sure that you have also exclaimed, “I’m not creative!” And maybe you have wondered what the difference between a creative and a non-creative person is. Or maybe you want to know whether a person’s personality or profession play a role in that.

I have good news for you: we are all creative. You can be creative in the kitchen, creating delicious meals. You can be creative in the artistic field, drawing beautiful pictures. You can even be creative as a homemaker, creating a wonderful and cosy home for your family. It’s not all about writing.

Creativity is not a talent that only some chosen people possess and others can only envy. It’s an ability and, as such, you can learn it, develop it, and use it. Everybody can learn to be creative. Don’t roll your eyes, I am serious! You can do it with practice.

Every creative process has three phases: previous, conception, and subsequent. Creators usually consider the previous moment as the most important of the three. We “write” the most during the hours previous to actually putting words on paper or on screen. This is also when we can have negative thoughts about our writing (“I can’t do it”, “I’m not good enough”) or when we can choose to postpone everything. So it’s necessary for us to combine two attitudes:

Disposition. To create it is necessary to believe, to see ourselves as creative people. Only if we believe in ourselves we will be willing to create something new. When writers believe they have everything they need, the fear to fail disappears and they let themselves flow.

Avoid thoughts like “I haven’t lived enough experiences,” “I don’t have a great imagination,” “I can only speak of what I have lived,” “I won’t be able to catch the reader’s attention”… Run away from negative thoughts! You don’t need them!

We write with anxiety when we lack self-confidence: what if the challenge of the novel I have in my mind is beyond my talent? If you have those thoughts and feel stressed, please stop!

Take ten deep breaths: this will help you to relax and find the flow your brain needs to work better with less energy. Breathe. Breathe so deep that the air gets to your belly button, helping you to find balance. Slowly.

Next, admit that everything you are looking for is inside yourself. The creative person that you are is waiting somewhere. There is a diamond in the rough you must find — a diamond that exists for sure and is called creativity.

Breathe. Trusting the creative process, your creative self, will revive your flow.

Believe in yourself: the text is a reflection of the self. Dive into the blank page like in a refreshing swimming pool on a hot day. Look for the idea that is shining at the bottom of the pool. Visualise the diamond! Repeat: “I believe in myself, I believe in my creative self”. Make of that sentence your personal mantra. Breathe. Now you are in the best disposition for creating, for finding your diamond, polish it, and make it shine.

About the Book

Groovy Cool Writing Techniques is a collection of essays developing techniques for improving writing in a creative way. Every person is creative; they only need to light that spark inside, so the magic can begin. A picture, a walk in the streets, your own childhood memories… Everything can hold stories. You just need to find the way to tell those stories in a creative way. This book can help you.

Author photo via Rosa StormAbout the author

Cinta Garcia de la Rosa has loved the written word since she was five years old and reads at least one hundred books every year. She has a B.A. in English with minors in Literature, Art, and Creative Writing from Oxford. She is an award-winning author who spends her time in the United States and Spain with her amazing husband. Along with writing, her career encompasses beta-reading, editing, proofreading, and translating Spanish/English. Cinta has published children’s books and contemporary short stories under her real name, and she also publishes horror stories under the pen name Rosa Storm.

In 2014, the Funny Adventures of Little Nani was a gold medal winner in the Children’s category of the International Readers’ Favorite Book Awards.

You can stalk her here:

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