From the time I was 10 years old, when my mother bought me an old Royal typewriter from a yard sale, I knew I wanted to be a writer. One of my favorite memories is sitting at the coffee table, my typewriter before me, punching out stories based upon a favorite cartoon. I suppose that would be a first foray into fan-fiction. As time passed, I grew up and entered high school. Nothing had changed; I still wanted to be a writer.
During this time, I got my hands on a copy of a book titled “Becoming A Writer” by Dorothea Brande. You might not be familiar with this book. It’s not one that writers mention constantly when they discuss our craft and the works on such artistry. They mention titles like Stephen King’s “On Writing”, Ray Bradbury’s “Zen and the Art of Writing” or “Writing Down the Bones” by Natalie Goldberg. In fact, you may have never heard of Dorothea Brande, she was born in 1893 and died in 1943. Her writing career spanned from the Roaring 20’s to just before World War II.
In 1934, “Becoming A Writer” was published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons of New York. The modern copy that you find in today’s bookstores will have a foreword by Bestselling Author John Gardner, of “Grendel” and “The Sunlight Dialogues” fame, once called a literary outlaw by Barry Silseky. In that foreword, Gardner writes that “The root problems of the writer, whether the writer is young or old, just starting out or much published, are no different today than in 1934, when Becoming A Writer was first published.” He’s right.
Ms. Brande’s methods and style are what I call clear, simplistic and straightforward. Reading her work, I do not get the sense that she has placed herself above me, or feels that she is superior to me in any way. The language she uses is plain, with an engaging voice more like a close friend or an older sister might use. She also does not spend a great deal of time going over example after example. She presents her ideas and then walks the reader through the method of putting those ideas into action.
My senior year of high school I first picked up her book. The desire to be a writer still blazed within me and I was planning on going to college for a degree in Journalism. As I began to prepare, I also began to work towards competing in a regional talent contest. Using the advice that Ms. Brande wrote of in her book, I worked feverishly every day on a short story to enter into the competition.
One of the biggest pieces of advice that Ms. Brande puts forward is the necessity, constantly to write. To write every day. I took her lessons to heart and at the end of my senior year; I had won first place in the writing portion of the talent competition. I was elated. I’ve kept that copy of her book amongst all of my writing tomes. It is there, to this day, almost twenty-two years later. A well-worn, beaten, coffee-stained paperback with a pink cover. Every now and then, when I need a kick in the pants or a friendly hand to guide me in the right direction, I picked it up and read one of the short chapters.
Life, of course, got the better of my plans. I joined the Marine Corps and then the Navy, devoting a full career to military service. I’ve been all around the world. I’ve been in all four oceans, most of the seven seas and set foot on every continent but Antarctica. I have not been published, but because of the words of an author, gone fifty years before I read her work, I write on. I take time to put pencil to paper, or fingers to keyboard and write something every day.
If you have $10-$20 available, I encourage you to find a copy of this book. Be it on-line, in a store, or wherever you can find it. It is 173 pages of some of the most brilliant, thoughtful and straightforward advice on writing that you will find. It has encouraged me to hang onto the dream of a bright-eyed, ten-year-old boy and continue to put words on paper in the hopes of making people smile, cry, laugh or even all three at once. Maybe it will have a similar effect on you. Enjoy!