On Dorothea Brande’s becoming a Writer: Chapter Ten, On Imitation

So, I’m back.

For the first time in almost a year I am blogging.

Lots to catch up on but will never do that in the space of a single blog post. But suffice it to say, I have been writing regularly, in mostly the short story format. I have also recommenced redrafting my novel and it is going, but only barely. I have become a regular member of Cork Creative Writers Group and have found the gang there have become a great source of inspiration and reflection as I go forward.

So back to it.

Imitation is seen by many people as a cheap enterprise or a poor way to become better at something. Why don’t you be yourself, some ask? Find your own voice and stop trying to be someone else.

But Ms Brande greatly disagrees.

However, to clarify, she is talking here about the technical nous of other writers and closer examination of ‘a passage…which seems to you far better than anything of the sort you are yet able to do…’

We then tear this passage apart ‘word for word’ and attempt to compare it to something similar in our own work and in doing so recognise the smooth transitions our imitated author uses to do the things that we handle less expertly. I have begun to do this with some of Kevin Barry’s work (oh look its him again), namely the short story ‘Party at Helen’s’. I have so far maybe read it a dozen times and at least six of those with a pencil and this has revealed many things that I would not have noticed as a causal reader.

The main one of these is how organic that story seems in its opening pages. There is also the way in which the story knits each character into the flow of events so deftly, which is really worth reviewing. And, I guess the really intimidating thing was his use of particular words in certain sentence that hit so perfectly. There is lots I can learn from him and I have maybe half of that story copied out in order to get even more intimate with it.

Brande also talks about the word count and how it can be used to realise that a good writer ‘has a just sense of proportion.’

And yet, the next section is concerned with how to spend words. She writes that you can give the wrong section of your story too much attention whereas the more capable writer will she it more evenly or target what will make the story better. I am thinking of a lot of the different versions of my work where I could really review this.

There is also a lot to be said for her comments on ‘Counteracting Monotony’. By reviewing those we are to imitate we can see (with good writers, at least) a beautiful music to the sentences and the rhythms that may not always be present in aspiring writers work. I have noticed that a lot of the organic rhythms to what I write is often lost in my edits as I hack away at the language and don’t build up to certain things or link two things together too quickly. But if I am honest, cadence and such is not always something I am conscious of when I read and this is perhaps why it is necessary to get closer to what I read.

On page 109 there is an outstanding exercise on getting better at this particular aspect of writing by inventorying the number of words in each sentence and furthermore the syllables ‘the fourth [word] is an adjective of four syllables..’I have seen this practice suggested a number of times in a different manner and to my shame it is not yet something I have attempted.

She closes the chapter with a piece on fresh words and how to watch out for what some disparagingly call ‘vivd verbs’, which basically refers to the importance of uniformity of tone and language within the particular piece. An example of this incongruity was revealed to me at a recent meeting of our writers groups when someone spotted it in the following except:

‘I rattled in the oul username and password that still worked even in late July. A strange orthodoxy of language taunted and aroused those tiny bulbs. Hard-drives stuttered and burped.’

How I didn’t notice this the first time around is amazing to me now. I have a sentence, thought, in a casual vernacular that then seeps into a sentence that uses the word ‘orthodoxy’.

But I continue to learn, and there is much to absorb.

Yours in Writerly Imitation,

Ciaran J. Hourican

On Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer: Chapter 9, Reading as a Writer

This is a chapter that has long been on my mind.

In case you haven’t ever learned anything about me: I love books. Reading is as elemental to my experience as food. I obsess about books. I have way more of them than I need or will probably ever finish. I worry about not reading enough Science Fiction or being too immersed in Literary Fiction. I have about three books on speed reading and although I don’t exactly read fast I have slightly improved my pace of late.

However, here is the central tension that has emerges from this chapter. Re-reading. As in like, reading the book you’ve just finished again. Now there’s an obstacle to reading faster if ever I saw one. Not long ago I read American novelist Francine Prose’s book Reading as a Writer. And further to what Brande preaches she strongly suggests that readers slow down, arguing that by steaming ahead we are missing out on the good stuff: the nuance of rhythm and structure and sentences.

I have had the suspicion for some time now that there is more to literature than mere entertainment. That stories are dependent on much more than what happens next. However, Brande identifies a deep distaste for dissecting books early on in this chapter that I was once party to. Listening to one of my old lecturers chime on about post-histiographic meta-fiction in college I found myself imagining him in his spare time titillating his bookcases in slowly expanding y-fronts.

This chapter is instrumental in the larger context of the book in that it informs the direction of the aforementioned periodical inventories of your writing. Based upon what these inventories unearth our reading can then take on a more strategic focus. We can earmark writers who are really good at doing things that we struggle with.

In essence here each novel now becomes a specimen and not merely a means of amusement. However, Brande emphasizes the fact that despite the obvious apprehension there might be for revealing the magic that our literary shaman produce the pleasure of reading in this way is far deeper.

She presents this chapter as a basic series of questions.

Having first read the novel we are to attempt to identify what precisely it was we liked about it and then to elaborate on this liking into specifics. What did we like and why? In this vein I recall Roddy Doyle once writing in the Guardian that in Ireland books are either brilliant, fuckin’ brilliant or absolutely fuckin’ brilliant; combinations of superlatives I stand guilty or issuing on more than one occasion.

Also of note here are the utility of bad books in furthering this process. In this vein we can now ask ourselves what was it that was so bad about them? And where did the author fail? We might also identify what we would have done differently.

The questions are almost endless in their scope.

Were the characters drawn uniformly and with consistency.

What were the stand out scenes?

Inventory them: what was so good about them and why?

Was the dialogue natural?

Did the tone remain even?

Did the pacing shift for more dramatic scenes?

Were there clues to the ending?

How subtle were they?

And also, perhaps my favourite: what was the character trait that brings about the major complications?

Was it brought in smoothly or subtly or lugged in by the ears? (I think I might lug at times-yikes!)

How do the characters get from one scene to another?

How does the author mark the passing of time?

Do they alter their vocabulary and emphasis when centering their attention first on one character and then on another?

Do they re-use words or phrases?

Is [the author] telling only what would be apparent to one character and allowing the story to dawn on the reader through this character?

Is the narrative first person, omniscient or otherwise?

Brande concludes that you can do enjoyment and criticism simultaneously and I believe her.

However, what of the problem or quantity? How am I to read all of the books I want if I now have to re-read them as well? I guess there is no easy answer to that other than acceptance. Do I want to be sort of familiar with four books or properly intimate with one. Obviously, on paper I would pick the latter. But my instinct to consume rapaciously is a stubborn one. I seldom see books by particular authors that I don’t resolve to read at some point in the sad hoping of being able to say nothing more than ‘that was fuckin’ brilliant’. But this urge to read and read mindlessly is in a sense the artist child running wild without any dedication or focus. If I want to get published I have to develop new habits and discard old ones. There is a daunting sense of growth attendant to this.

Finally, I have compiled an interesting list of books from thinking about which ones would be worthy of being re-read that I wanted to include here. Many of them I hadn’t really thought of until I asked myself this question. Perhaps it is testament to their significance. They are as follows:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

NW by Zadie Smith

Saturday by Ian McEwan (Which has been my first re-read)

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

Ulysses by James Joyce (which I will probably read at least another ten times in my life if I’m lucky, given that it just might be the greatest novel ever produced.)

The Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan

The City and the City by China Mieville

State of Wonder by Anne Patchett (which I just finished last night and has been echoing with vague answers to each of the questions in this post.)

Yours in Writerly Re-Reading

Ciaran J. Hourican

[Note: it has been too long since I posted on this site so I am publicly setting myself the goal to post another entry before I return to work on January 5th 2015.)


Changing Principles

We are making a few changes here at Cj Hourican.com, in case you haven’t already noticed.

However, the principled change that forms the object of this post will hopefully prove far more significant than anything superficial.

It occurred to me over the past few months that I have been neglecting to practice something very significant in not only maintaining this blog, but also becoming a better writer. Something that I have noticed many others have great success with.

What, I hear you ask.

Well, in a word: you, my fellow aspiring writers.

This blog is primarily concerned with my efforts to become a better writer and ultimately get published (and paid). That said, I have become aware of a not inconsiderable measure of fear attached to the idea of helping other people get better at writing, that I have chosen to ignore for sometime now.

Fear of what?

Honestly: that you will make it and I won’t.

It is only really as I write this that I can recognise how incredibly short-sighted this thinking is.

The delightfully charmed and ever-expanding state of my life, as I live it today, is a direct result of other people giving a shit about me when they didn’t have to. And while I do practice this principle in many areas of my life, my writing is one where it has been especially absent. There is something sort of miserly and desperately cautious in this sort of attitude that needs to go.

I understand the fact that there is immeasurable abundance to be found in giving, yet like many of us that struggle with the fact of our egos, I tend to magically forget this in my less secure moments.

So, in apology, please accept this blog.

Although I have yet to garner as much as a single euro form writing (now there’s a horribly significant statement!) I have undoubtedly learned a considerable amount that could be of huge benefit to those of you with sacred dreams tucked anxiously away under your respective mattresses. I am still however struggling to find my own way and to build trust in a process that can someday generate something finished and confident with more regularity. But the best teachers are passionate learners and in giving what I can, my hope is that we will make each other better.

So if you are a jittery dreamer or a practiced scribe of any colour or inclination, please do tell me how I can help, or what you have learned in the comments below. I firmly believe that anyone with even the slightest urge to create can do so with the right support. My work so far has furnished me with a dazzlingly rich internal experience from which I continue to feed not only my work but my life.

My goals beyond this are quite simple.

I want to develop my ability to an elite level and identify a voice, within which to frame my work. I want to earn as much money as I can from doing this and I want to speak to people in a meaningful way about what really matters in this world.

So in terms of where we are now, as I have mentioned I am experimenting with this blog in the hope of attracting more readers and I have now also invested in it for the first time.

I am currently at the halfway point of a close examination of Dorothea Brande’s outstanding book Becoming a Writer, which I will continue shortly. I am being sort of selfish in this project, and there has been an notable dip in readership since I have started it. However, I am relatively okay with that for now, as this is ultimately a project I want to see to completion for my own purposes (namely incorporating her lessons more thoroughly into what I do and also disciplining myself to complete this study and record it).

However, I do think these posts would be of use to any aspiring writers or artists. You can read them all here (We now have embedding facilities!)

I also want to take the opportunity to shout out my cousin and best friend, Niall Doherty who is also my biggest inspiration as a blogger. His blog has been an enormous inspiration to me and so many others. If I could realise even a fraction of his dedication and audience I would be one very happy dude. He is also a big part of the evidence I have that considering others undoubtedly bears fruit. It doesn’t go unnoticed that in spite of how busy I know he is along with his own considerable success, this blog can always count on a hit from Japan, Brazil, Columbia or wherever the hell else in the world he has ended up on his latest adventure.

So, all of that said, here are a few gifts in the form of my latest cultural escapades that I hope some of you might enjoy as much as I am.

I just finished reading the 46th book of Robert McCrum’s 100 best novels blog series on the Guardian. This has actually been an incredibly insightful resource, particularly in getting my reading directed more towards the classics (namely Moby Dick, Jane Eyre, Middlemarch and Robinson Crusoe, the latter of which I recently read).

I am also currently in the midst of a ten-week course on that same 46th book on McCrum’s list, James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is proving to be a difficult but hugely rewarding experience. Again I am reminded of the importance of a reader taking their time and allowing something to take its slow effect. There is an infinity of allusions included in this book and I recently told my aforementioned cousin that I have a feeling it may prove to be one of the watershed moments in my life. It has even gone so far as to tempt me with notions of tackling Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the first part of which I purchased over the summer.

In my other life as a TV Drama fanatic, I recently bid a sad farewell to one Enoch ‘Nucky’ Thompson, played by Steve Buscemi and his eclectic mix of bootleggers and prostitutes from Boardwalk Empire, my favourite show since the Wire. My partner and I are also moving at great speed through the criminally under-rated Southland, that oddly enough ran around the same time as the Wire but never got as much as a mention, perhaps due to the latter’s unparalleled genius.

In other walks of pop culture I have been reading Slam Present ‘Iverson’ a tribute to my favourite basketball player of all-time, who also doubled as a cultural icon who single-handedly brought the disenfranchised urban American experience into the living rooms of a terrified middle-America and duly made them fall in love with him. On the topic of basketball, I am also reading Bill Simmons’s The Book of Basketball and another book that ironically The Book of Basketball perfectly contradicts called Getting Things Done, by Dave Allen. For Halloween I read a couple of stories from Stephen King’s Night-Shift and I started Frank Miller’s graphic Novel, The Dark Knight Returns.

It is an amazing time to be passionate about literature and popular culture.

What do you think of any of the above? Have you read any of them or would you like to?

And, more importantly, what have you been reading and watching?


Your in Consideration,

Ciaran J. Hourican

On Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer: Chapter 8, The Critic at Work on Himself

It has been a few weeks since I’ve written for a number of reasons. I have begun a dedicated program of entering short story competitions regularly and producing work to a deadline has helped me enormously. A number of other ventures in terms of my day job and a series of further enterprises have also kept me from blogging. However, I am unmoved in my determination to continue my study of Dorothea Brande’s incredible book. A lot of what I have already covered here has become a part of the larger tapestry of my evolving process.  I am excited having just re-read today’s chapter and reassured that the remaining lessons will be of even more benefit in realizing my dream.

Words like ‘critic’ inspire feelings of profound vulnerability for this writer. I have noticed a subtle urge to stay with the softer and child-like creative side of the process as I work though this book. I guess there’s nothing wrong with the hope of life remaining easy and fun but if progress is to be made anywhere it necessitates the growth that can be found through inventory, which is itself work. However, as the last chapter (the first survey) alluded to, the hour of endurance is nigh upon me. And mores the better if I want to take my dream anyway seriously.

Brande observes that at this point in the book we should have a rough rough idea of ourselves as writers “distorted by over-humility in some directions and overconfidence in others” a balance I find fascinatingly incisive. “It is time now to call on your prosaic side,” she says, to my tempered dismay.

This practice is a critical dialogue and she enacts examples of this in quotation marks. Essentially, she is asking the would-be author to talk to themselves. [See you prosaic side-I’m not exactly a fan of yours on Facebook, if ya know what I mean; No bother flakey boyish side-this wasn’t meant to be a love story-bitch!]

The object of this exercise is to become practiced at identifying and highlighting points about your work and “gently remarking on areas worthy of improvement.” The gently here is of immense importance. This is not a witch hunt, nor an exercise in self-harm. It is a new work-out program that will help me get really good at what I love doing the most. Attendant to this is the importance of specificity in these suggestions.

“Address yourself directly,” she says “and where possible suggest specific remedies-you will remember more easily, and you will have reenforced your own discontent with this or that element in your writing in such a way that you must take steps to correct the slipshod practice or confess that you are not working seriously at the profession you have chosen”

Here, I feel we are getting down to things once more. Enough with navel gazing and those arrogant notions of entitlement. Get your sleeves rolled up son, there work what needs doing. [“You’re not-so-bad-after-all prosaic side.” “You just work on them endings and we can be friends in the next life, flakey” “Hey, your supposed to be friendly!”]

The suggestion that I show my work to someone who’s taste and judgement I trust is a matter I find inherent difficulty. I can’t say I have an array of friends or relatives who will tell me objective things about my work. I’m also not so sure that it is fair to put people in such a position as it is ultimately lose-lose for them. Furthermore, I feel that it is unfair to keep asking the ones who do provide incredibly useful insight to quit their day jobs in order to become my full-time voluntary editors. Praise can be great for my confidence but often, perhaps knowing my sensitivity the criticisms come with apologetic and or commiserating preambles. (Is that my child-like side being passive aggressive?)

Brande’s suggestion to “turn to outside counsel only after you have done all you are able to do for yourself” is indeed an very practical one and something I have been encouraged to do recently in order to navigate my way around the difficulty of my friends and families divided loyalties.

However, she affixes to this a qualification: “In the long run it is your taste and your judgement that must carry you over the pitfalls, and the sooner you educate yourself into being all things to your writing-character the better your prospects are.” These are such wonderfully encouraging comments that in a sense convey the larger character of the book itself: generous, empathetic and uncompromising. The subject of allowing my taste and judgement to reign supreme when it comes to my own work is an incredibly daunting task and something I have struggled with greatly at almost every juncture in my life. However, recently I have notice a profound shift in this limitation. Its almost as if I’ve suddenly realised that I don’t have to be that guy who just dreams about things anymore and can instead devote myself to action. In other words-its okay to be who I am.

The solution for the specific criticisms is an enticing one. Read, she instructs but do so with purpose. For example, if there are jerky and disjointed transitions between the scenes and sections of your work read someone like EM Forester and pay close attention to his masterful ability with such things and learn from this accordingly. In general I find that my reading used to be a little desperate, given my haste. Often the direction was subject to the latest recommendation. However, this has changed considerably in recent years where I find my way more regularly through the planned course of novels I had intended more and more. The key, I feel, will be identifying the right writers and the specific areas I need to develop. I have a tendency to review my work generally, for example-I don’t write good endings to short stories: perhaps as vague a problem for possibly the most difficult form in all of literature. What is the problem here really? What are the element?

Again the head mistress sounds her unforgiving gong: “When you have found your antidote read with humility, determined to see the excellence in writers who are natively antipathetic to you; while you are performing you stylistic penance, give yourself no quarter. Leave the books which usually attract you severely alone.”

A difficult suggestion but again filled with that feeling that we are getting down to things once again. This is coupled by a number of still more stolid and no-nonsense instructions. The general message is to conduct a regular inventory of your writing process. “Is your temperamental side having too much of a say in the conduct of your daily life?” These are tough questions but I welcome them. I get the feeling that Brande herself can greatly empathize with the ease with which us writers indulge in patient fantasies of Never Never Land and grow old before realizing it. “Do you get too headstrong in certain situations when the need is to be dispassionate and judicial? Are you hampering yourself by being resentful or envious or easily depressed?” Again these things frighten me as I can definitely hold my hand up to much of the above (see my last post for confirmation).

But, what is perhaps the most galling or indeed challenging about this inventory is that becoming a writer and being as productive as is required of such a professional will require substantial change on my part and that is already taking into consideration the substantial change I have already realized to get me this far. [Sheesh! Stay with me little creative boy-just a few more paragraphs and then we can read Watchmen!]

Within this there is another valuable practice in terms of identifying what is working and what should be discarded. How do I write after spending time with particular friends? What activity was I engaging in on the build up to a particularly successful piece of work? Morning or evening? (To be fair-I’ll take whatever life permits). How does my diet affect my work? And exercise? At a glance I could probably answer most of these question but I think it is worth while paying closer attention to them in the coming months.

We are building a picture and working hard to maintain an emerging accord between something delightfully sensitive and excitable and something practically calculated and reliable. This partnership will ultimately produce a professional and my verve for continuing this project to its completion is at an all-time high.

Yet, it is laced still with faint petitions to turn back as the comfort of old ways begin their reluctant crumble.

Yours in Writerly Renewal,

Ciaran J. Hourican

On Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer: Chapters 6 and 7, Writing on Schedule and the First Survey.

Chapter Six introduces us for perhaps the first time to Dorothea Brande the disciplinarian.

“Write!” She exclaims early on in this chapter.

“On schedule.” No less.

No excuses, buts, ands nor maybes.

“Climb out over the heads of your friends.” She instructs.

“If…necessary…go into a washroom…lean against the wall and write.”

Write anything.

But do it on schedule. Not a minute past, but on time.

“On the dot of the moment”

This is a needs must practical endeavor. Dogmatic to be sure, but convincing none the less.

And “sound[ing] the solemnest word of warning [that we are] to find in this book” she writes:

“If you fail repeatedly at this exercise, give up writing. Your resistance is actually greater than your desire to write, and you may as well find some other outlet for your energy early as late.”

Stern words indeed.

However, the promise is that this practice: short, arbitrary, random (notes on your bosses private life or an ode of forgiveness for you garage and it’s melancholic cobwebs) coupled with early morning writing should be kept up until you are fluent.

That almost sounds easy.

Chapter seven puts it that if you have kept up with your early morning writing and writing on schedule (by agreement with yourself) you have come a long way. She speaks of an emerging fluency and vestiges of control.

(How I fuckin’ hate the idea that I am not in control of what I write. Especially during a painful first draft such as I am currently mired within).

However, simple claims like “if you want to write you can write” pertaining to the evidence of her suggested practice make me feel decidedly balmy.

She also suggests that it is now time for the first survey of the work that has already been produced. In doing so we are to leaf through our early morning writing along with our more focused work and identify some patterns. I must admit since coming to review Ms Brande’s techniques my output has increased extensively.

However, I find myself in a particularly tender place at the moment. Only two days ago I swore off writing forever following a horrendous mental car crash. This came as a result of writing something that turned on me. Or perhaps more accurately solicited me to turn on myself. It is not a nice place.

As a result, I feel a little challenged by the whole endeavor today and the thought of looking over my work is an especially daunting one. I fear I could end up damaging my will to write permanently. However, once the internal weather permits I will certainly give it a go.

At a glance I have noted some very pertinent and recurring themes emerging from what I have been doing. The issue of class has come up centrally in two recent stories and at least peripherally in another. Furthermore, I have noticed the subject of bereavement and indeed loss wind its way into a lot of what I am trying to do. My Dad is obviously very present in this as I struggle with having lost him almost a year ago now. Subsequent or at least attendant to this are obsessive and at times almost horribly compulsive ideas of nostalgia. This practice often feels like focusing inanely on an empty space in the hope that it will provide nourishment. I try on occasion to colour it with tired thoughts but to no avail. I have however, experienced two very vivid instances of what Marcel Proust called ‘involuntary memory’ that brought me fleetingly to the lost country of childhood, only to have the experience vanish as soon as I attempted to depict as much as a fragment of it. There is a lot to explore there, I realise (it did take Proust 4,300 pages after all) but I don’t believe it belongs here. For now at least.

So thats the extent of my first survey. It does give me quiet hope all the same, despite my heads cruel and unkind practices of late.

Chapters 8 & 9 to follow.

Yours in Writerly Endurance,

Ciaran J. Hourican

On Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer: Chapter Five, Harnessing the Unconscious

I have found perhaps the most satisfaction so far from the chapter that follows.

Here, Brande encourages our first gentle exercise that incorporates our imaginative child and later subtly includes our disciplinarian. However, this is not a crude plunge into the imagination requiring anything close to performance from our tender child. It is instead a loose exercise that nurtures this part of the writer playfully.

The objective as ever is neatly noted: “to hitch your unconscious mind to your writing arm.”

I have noticed that when I read such material as Brande’s or listen to other writers discuss their work and the manner in which it relates to their lives a sort of proverbial pilot light glows “on” whenever I recognise similarities in myself. It is as if that eager and imaginative child in me uses these related quirkes of sensibility or process as sort of ticked boxes affirming the traits I share with actual novelists.

The same can most certainly be said for Brande’s depiction of writers as wordless daydreamers in childhood or in adulthood as recasting our lives day by day or moment by moment into a form somewhat nearer to the heart’s desire: “reconstructing conversations and arguments so that we come out with colours flying and epigrams falling around us like sparks or imagining ourselves back in a simpler and happier period.” That quote could occupy the author biography on the first page of the novels I hope to one day publish. It is a freakishly precise account of who I am. Box ticked. Pilot-light on.

She cites the Bronte’s, the infant Alcotts, a young Robert Browning and H.G Wells (whose Island of Doctor Moreau I will soon be tackling) as authors all of whom possessed intensive dream lives “which carried over into their maturity and took another form.” Starkly, however she writes of the thousands more who “are too self-conscious, too humble, or too solidly set in the habit of dreaming idly.” No thank you, very much!

In linking this world with a reality of sorts she encourages writing, first thing in the morning, upon waking, the thoughts that pass through your mind. In essence this drowsy time is the antechamber between the unconscious world and the conscious one and as such can be utilized as a port of sorts to smuggle exotic and wonderful cargo of all descriptions into the reality of daylight. Stephen King writes of something similar in his own memoir On Writing.

I have engaged in this enterprise before. Julia Cameron’s book the Artist’s Way suggests (or perhaps more accurately borrows) this exercise and calls it the morning pages. However, Brande’s call has worked much better for me. She puts no limit on the number of pages (where Cameron insists on three) and leaves room for more some days and less others. Brande however, does write that once we have identified a comfortable amount we must push beyond that and become practiced at writing through weariness.

My comfortable number is around two pages. I have written as far as four a couple of time since reading the book and even as far as five and six, but less so in recent weeks. What I found was that a wealth of rich ideas began to come to me from all sort of angles throughout the days that followed as different thoughts seemed to collide and intersect wonderfully (all of which I have written down as suggested) . It was akin to Brande’s talk of genius as a process or indeed a place, better visited by some than others. A place that I feel I have humbly spent some time in of late.

Since then, lack of sleep, busyness, our small boy and a host of other logistics have limited my output. However Brande allows for this, writing that it is an exercise to turn to in times of drought. I now have a backlog of ideas to get through such was my sense of abundance. However, ideas stored in my phone are of little use. They need the bones of hard work to bring them into that place of reality. I have perhaps been a little preoccupied (China Mieville’s Kraken could be partially to blame but I shall assign no regret whatsoever to the incredible journey that book brought me on) but this work helps break the blocks.

I have also posted off and submitted online an old story newly re-edited to a number of publishers. I was very happy with it initially but having re-read it since and received some very interesting feedback I now want to reconstruct the entire thing, which I may well do at some point. I have since rewritten the ending to another story and now left it to incubate and started another one that I am reflecting on quite substantially. I guess that’s as good a rule as any. Finish one story (and by that I mean slog on to the very end even if you think its complete pap) and start another. As neat as anything Ms Brande herself might suggest.

Chapter six to follow.

Yours in Writerly aspiration,

Ciaran J. Hourican

On Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer: Chapter 4, On Taking Advice.

The next chapter I’m going to review offers its own advice that ironically enough pertains to my management of this blog-project (bloject?). My last post was undoubtedly a little forced in places. I get so much from this book that it becomes hard at times not to transcribe the entire thing. I can’t really claim that I enjoyed writing the last one and I furthermore suspect that very few of you made your way to the end of it.

Almost in response to this Brande writes:

“Whenever you come across a piece of advice in these pages I exhort you not to straighten your spine, grit your teeth, clench your fists, and go at the experiments with the light of do-or-die on your countenance.”

Recently I attempted to “manage” my chocolate consumption by restricting it to the weekends. I was successful in making it through the first week before entering the weekend like Willy Wonka after Lent twitching on Easter morning. My “chocolating” then extended well past Sunday into the following week making the very idea of any more the following weekend deeply nauseating. My efforts in fact made me eat more chocolate. The point here being that this tendency of ours/mine/peoples’ to over compensate when trying to negotiate change can have a particularly stifling effect. Becoming a Writer is, if you haven’t picked up on it yet, about developing new habits. I have already had some very significant success with this in my life, however, my methods in those instances were aided in no way by what Brande calls “the slow dead heave of the will.”

She endorses instead a sort of steady gentleness along with some good old-fashioned imagination. Her allusions feel an awful lot like breathing after being held under water for a long period of time. But for me that has become something of a tradition with this book.

Brande uses a really quirky exercise to demonstrate this to great affect.

Very simply:

Draw a circle on a piece of paper using an upside down glass or cup. Then draw a straight line down through the middle of the circle from twelve o’ clock to six o’clock and another one across the middle from three o’clock to six o’clock. Then hold a ring or a key tied to the end of a short piece of string (about four or five inches) above the intersection of the two straight lines in the middle of the circle.

Now, holding your piece of string still think your way around the circumference of the circle following it as you do so with your eyes. Try and pick up a little bit of speed as you do this and develop a rhythm. Eventually, the ring will begin to swing around in its own small circle and gentle expand out wider. Change direction and move your eyes up and down the straight lines at various intervals and you will find that the swinging ring or key will distantly follow.

Brande writes that this is a simple example of how imagination can be so important “in the sphere of action.” Tiny involuntary muscles take up the charge assigned the mind almost autonomously

This brief chapter concludes with a warm and grandmotherly call of encouragement. With regard to the book and its exercises “turn yourself gently, in a relaxed and pleasant frame of mind, in the direction you want to go.” This seems so enticing and even relaxing that I find myself with such an urge to have known this woman and brought biscuits around to her house for tea.

“Consider,” she continues, “that all the minor inconveniences and interruptions of habits are to the end of making a full and effective life for yourself. Forget or ignore for a while all the difficulties you have let yourself dwell upon too often; refuse to consider in you period of training the possibility of failure.”

These are far more than words merely concerned with writing. They are about living a full life, unencumbered by dull thoughts about why not.

A life, I have long imagined to be that of a writer.

More very soon

Yours in Writerly Regard

Ciaran J. Hourican