Several recent books for writers to consider.
Wake Up & Live! by Dorothea Brande. Tarcher/Penguin 192 pp., $15.95 paperback. Also available in ebook and audiobook versions. Originally published 1936; reissued September 13, 2013. (FYI: In the public domain.)
Guest Review by Lanie Tankard
True creativity often starts where language ends.
—Arthur Koestler, The Act of Creation
Writer’s block is an expression introduced by psychoanalyst Edmund Bergler in 1947.
Certainly all kinds of tips and rules abound for polishing the craft of writing:
• Show, don’t tell.
• Develop your characters.
• Use dialogue.
Yet at some point, most writers get blocked. Then what?
Creativity is the ability to generate original notions or think of different slants. Which techniques can jumpstart new ideas?
Barbara Diane Barry suggests artistic expression as a solution in her new book Painting Your Way Out of a Corner: The Art of Getting Unstuck.
She established a program called Art for Self-Discovery in New York City, and offers ways to get the creative juices flowing again for anyone—writer or not.
One method is a painting journal, tapping into a side of the brain usually left idling by those who put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. Eons ago, written stories did not originate in words, but rather in pictures. Cave drawings, hieroglyphics, symbols, and ideograms were all ways of telling tales. Barry’s exercises, such as The Painted Word and Branching Out, make it easy for a reader to pull from such ancient forms and begin painting.
Barry presents concepts from psychology and neuroscience to stretch your imagination’s “weak muscles.” She refers to books such as My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor. She draws on archetypes and myths as well as fMRI.
By losing control, Barry says, you can “invent with abandon” if you eschew perfection. A necessary element of creativity is to “do nothing,” she stresses. Applauding mistakes, Barry believes they lead to new possibilities, pathways, and perceptions. Her motto is: Let Accidents Happen, and her painting journal idea is a useful one for writers to try.
Here is a video of Barry discussing her book:
Two relevant concepts not brought up are Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow and Edward de Bono’s Lateral Thinking. De Bono believes creativity “involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way.”
Dorothea Brande’s principle for freeing creativity
That’s just what writer Dorothea Brande did a generation ago when she put forth a guiding principle for the development of creativity. Her 1936 book, Wake Up and Live!, is now in the public domain and was reprinted in a handy paperback last fall.
Brande also utilized psychological tactics honed from a successful editorial career in an earlier 1934 book, Becoming a Writer, in which she fashioned a prescient strategy for those who place words on a page.
Brande took a no-nonsense approach. “Clear out,” she counsels in Wake Up and Live!, “all the fears of looking ridiculous.” In the upbeat spirit of her time, when Dale Carnegie’s How To Win Friends and Influence People and Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking motivated readers, Brande’s book inspired authors. She realized the connection between persona and writer’s block, believing “it takes energy to fail.”
Harnessing Hans Vaihinger’s “As If” philosophy for her foundation, Brande cultivated a powerful mantra:
She supplies a set of questions to ask oneself before sending a work into the world—a final checklist before launch. Brande’s Twelve Disciplines could give writers who have run aground a few novel activities to try. Obviously parts of the book are dated, yet it still retains a strong viewpoint relevant today.
Act as if it were impossible to fail.
Dorothea Brande references Freud while Barbara Diane Barry quotes Jung, but the mindset matters little here. These two additions to an author’s first-aid kit are both therapeutic in the treatment of writer’s block.
Lanie Tankard is a freelance writer and editor in Austin, Texas. A member of the National Book Critics Circle and former production editor of Contemporary Psychology: A Journal of Reviews, she has also been an editorial writer for the Florida Times-Union newspaper in Jacksonville. [Photo by Jim Susman, AIA.]