by Anna Campbell
Today's review is something of an experiment! Watch out - if you don't wear protective clothing, you'll turn bright orange!
Well, maybe not...
When the lovely Dishes and I talked about doing a monthly review, we thought it might be fun to shake up the romance mix with the occasional research/nonfiction book.
So I thought today I might talk about my favorite how-to book. I know this is primarily a readers' site but we get a lot of aspiring writers here too - and I've found readers are often interested in how writers put the books together.
Are you ready, Igor, my strangely handsome lab assistant?
They'd sold out of ugly evil minions when I went to the Frankenstein's Helper shop and so I was left choosing between Igor Boreanaz, Igor Armitage and a discounted Igor Day-Lewis (this model dates from his Last of the Mohicans days - he was a remainder, you know the LAST, which is why he was so cheap). Because I always keep the Dish budget in mind, I took the IDL but he keeps losing things and shouting "I WILL FIND YOU" which is a tad distracting when I'm working on major scientific research in the lab, especially as he turns the shower on full-tilt every time he yells. And he keeps shooting the lab rats - sheesh!).
Oh, enough idle persiflage! Dorothea would NOT approve!
Wonderful Aussie historical romance writer Anne Gracie put me onto BECOMING A WRITER by Dorothea Brande. And I'm so glad she did. The book was originally published in 1934 and I think the fact that it's still available speaks for itself.
Dorothea Brande was an editor and writing tutor when she wrote BAW in response to what she saw as a need for a book that addressed the deeper issues writers face, beyond writing techniques. As she said, a lot of problems for writers are psychological and nothing to do with whether they can put a plot together or handle deft changes of point of view. Over and over, you need to know how to focus your mind and get over a writing slump and keep your writing fresh.
The book is short (my edition is 186 pages including an eight-page introduction by John Gardner and an index and the print is HUGE! I read it in a couple of hours) and concise and contains practical exercises for getting your mind on track for writing. Dorothea addresses herself to the beginner writer but I've been writing for many years and I still found her advice invaluable. Some of the exercises have since become familiar - like morning pages and making an appointment with your muse so you sit down to write at a specific time every day. Training muses can be almost as hard as training Igors! She also has wonderful advice about getting away from words now and again. As Dorothea says, we're continually surrounded by words in speech, in the media, in books. We need to do something non-verbal to refresh alternate parts of our brains so when we sit to write we're fresh and we can hear our own words in contrast to someone else's.
I've read hundreds of writing how-tos (well, I would, wouldn't I?). This one stands out as a book that really has helped me to write. I suspect if you're engaged in any sort of creative endeavor, this book offers pertinent advice.
So do you have a special technique for focusing your mind on a task you must do and you WANT to do but somehow you can't find the discipline to sit down and complete? More importantly, any hints for managing an out-of-control Igor?