Advice for writers


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“If you are a creative worker, remember that time spent in finding an independent technique is seldom wasted. We are accustomed to think of the success of a man like Joseph Conrad, a Pole, in writing the English language, or of the work of an electrical genius like Steinmetz, as savoring of the miraculous. To have had to work out their problems alone — what a tremendous obstacle to overcome! On the contrary; the necessity for independent action was one of the conditions of their success, and to see and admit this is in no way to detract from the worth of their accomplishment.”

— Dorothea Brande, Wake Up and Live!

Wake Up and Live! is an impatient, dyspeptic self-help guide from 1936 on how to overcome the fear of failure. You can skip right past Brande’s descriptions of the many different kinds of failure, and get right to the how to overcome it part. In a nutshell, her slogan is, “Act as if it were impossible to fail.” This is good advice for any enterprise, writing especially.

Good advice can sometimes come from not such great sources: Brande, who also wrote the perennially popular  Becoming a Writer, has recently been outed for elitism, anti-Modernism, anti-Semitism and fascist sympathies. Read this fascinating piece by cultural historian Joanna Scutts about how successful self-help authors, like Brande, Napoleon Hill and Dale Carnegie, “worked to convince readers that they could take power into their own hands, which were not tied by economic circumstances or political realities. That the genre experienced a boom during the politically turbulent 1930s was not a coincidence, but rather a consequence, of that turbulence.” 

And then act as if it were impossible to fail.