Content Tagged ‘Dorothea Brande’

Writer, know thy own demon

July 27, 2016 | 12 Comments

Mystery & manners at the brink

March 16, 2016 | 4 Comments

Standing in my father’s library as a teenager, I opened Dorothea Brande’s slender 1934 book Becoming a Writer. I read:

“Do you believe in God? Under what aspect (Hardy’s “President of the Immortals,” Wells’s “emerging God”?)

“Do you believe in free will or are you a determinist? . . .

“Do you think the comment “It will all be the same in a hundred years” is profound, shallow, true or false?”

Suffice it to say, these and other questions in her quaint quiz stumped me as a kid. And not just because her examples were, even then, dated. But Brande (1893–1948) gave me the sense that knowing or groping toward Truth is pretty much writers’ job description. This starts as personal truth, offered to all to test against theirs. Trying to figure out bedrock truths appears to be simply a human task.

A friend, recalling my rookie reporter apprenticeship under his wing 36 years ago, called bullshit on such assertions.

“It reminds me of several conversations we had, with you tortured by the Meaning of Life and humanity’s Big Questions and my saying why should it have meaning? I was more concerned about whether the fish were biting or whether there was good barbecue or beer somewhere.”

Okay, I’ve got an itch, hard to scratch. Yet I know my mentor’s method is to exaggerate his way to truth. I’m a lot older now, and, while still puzzled, do finally know one or two things for sure.

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Creating creativity

January 22, 2014 | 7 Comments

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.

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Perils of persona

December 12, 2013 | 11 Comments

Ten Notions About Persona in Nonfiction:

1. “Truth is subjectivity.”—Søren Kierkegaard, Concluding Unscientific Postscript.

Every human experience is first passed through the scrim of emotion. A vital tool in our kit. Consider the jury system.

Art is made from emotion, about emotion, elicits emotion.

But for making art from experience, like Kierkegaard did, craft is required. Techniques that tell the reader a wiser intelligence is at work to wrest something shapely from the quotidian, from chaos, from mere moods. Part of this craft of presentation is the creation of a palatable, truth-telling persona. Witty or somber. Earnest or flip. Glimpsed in the margins, or all over everything like white on rice.

This is an approved practice. Rock solid. Take it to the bank.

2. “A sensibility we construct into some kind of figure is what keeps the reader going.”—former Atlantic editor Richard Todd, to a workshop I attended.

This emphasizes Persona 1: the person telling the story, someone come to testify or entertain. Both, really, always.

Often as well there’s Persona 2: the former self in the experience being depicted or discussed. Behind these, there’s the writer creating each persona. Is that Persona 3? Or is that “you”?

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The promise of new bookcases

November 27, 2013 | 15 Comments

You told your mate that for every new physical book you bought, two would leave the house—carted to the used bookstore, or to the library, or even secreted in the trash. Yet this has not quite happened. The jig was up when she caught you culling her old books more heavily than you pared your own.

In the basement are six full bookcases, pine painted white, each four feet tall and three feet wide. Eighteen feet of books. Your how-to library and oddments, many small thin paperback novels and plays from the spouse’s days as an English teacher. Some children’s books. This library could use another hard sorting—or complete dispersal. But all those gardening and farming and dog and chicken and sheep and cattle books are old friends. Some were your father’s. They reflect long-gone prior lifetimes. Youth itself.

Upstairs, on the main floor of this house, built in 1939, just off the foyer there’s a tidy room with real built-in bookcases. The house’s own small but dignified library: dark, solid walnut shelves. Now a sitting room-TV room-library. The show library. Here are the big hardback novels. And Dad’s leather-bound Britannica Great Books—54 unread volumes. Also a complete set, as resonant as a train whistle from your childhood, of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And The Riverside Shakespeare. Books as decoration, as aspiration, as comforting totems.

Like the three oversized paperback iterations of Stewart Brand’s The Whole Earth Catalog—1970s pre-Internet subject-surfing fodder. The iconic black-covered original edition is crumbling from heavy use, high-acid newsprint, and cheap binding.

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