It sounds like the latest self-help manual, but this is actually the title of an essay by the 19th century German author Ludwig Borne. Among his many claims to fame, these two are perhaps the most unexpected: He was an important influence on Sigmund Freud, and the town of Boerne, Texas (pop. 6,019) is named after him. The former accomplishment has to do with the literary essay ‘The Art of Becoming an Original Writer in Three Days,’ in which he advised: ‘Take a few sheets of paper and for three days on end write down, without fabrication or hypocrisy, everything that comes into your head. Write down what you think of yourself, of your wife, of the Turkish War, of Goethe … and when three days have passed you will be quite out of your senses with astonishment at the new and unheard-of thoughts you have had. This is the art of becoming an original writer in three days.” This essay helped Freud develop his ideas about free association. The latter honor is due to the fact that Boerne, Texas was founded by German immigrants who admired Börne’s liberal political views.
Born in Frankfurt as Lob Baruch, the son of a successful Jewish banker, Börne changed his name in 1818 when he became a Lutheran. He briefly had a job as a civil servant, but after the fall of Napoleon Jews were no longer permitted to hold public appointments. So Börne became a journalist, editing a series of newspapers, including Die Wage, which was known for its lively, satirical political columns. The paper was perhaps a little too lively for the local authorities; the police shut it down in 1821. Börne went to live in Paris, where he wrote Briefe aus Paris, which criticized German despotism and espoused the rights of the individual.
Börne’s aphorisms are deeply sarcastic and satirical. He’s particularly scathing about politicians:
Ministers fall like buttered slices of bread: usually on their good side.
But he has some equally dark musings on human nature in general:
History teaches us virtue, but nature never ceases to teach us vice.
I can never decide whether to take Börne’s advice in ‘The Art of Becoming an Original Writer in Three Days’ seriously. Did he really mean it? Or was he simply poking fun at writers who thought they could produce great works with little effort? Freud clearly took the essay seriously, and incorporated free association as a key feature of psychoanalysis. But still I wonder if Börne wasn’t just up to his old satiric tricks.
In some ways, bloggers have taken Börne’s advice. Some of the most original blogs are simply the unrestrained streams of consciousness of people who have the time and determination to write down everything that occurs to them about themselves, their spouses, the Iraq war, Jessica Simpson, etc… And you certainly could become quite out of your senses reading all that stuff. The trick is, I think, to stick with it for three days. If you can really persist in writing every thought that pops into your head for that long, you might really get somewhere. By the time three days have passed, you will have flushed out all the flotsam and jetsam in your mind—and then you will either dry up or little flakes of gold will start glistening in the riverbed. I saw a program on television once about a mentally ill man who kept a diary of every minute of every day. He did nothing else but write every waking moment of his life. There were no events to record, since all he did was scribble away in his journal all day. What a torrent he must have had cascading through his skull. Seems a little too much for me, though. But three days, I think I could manage that—one long lost weekend of non-stop, utterly original writing. But the big question is: Are the effects permanent?