In fact, I defy you to read this book—barely pages—and not come away a better writer. And a better person. I encountered this book in a writing workshop, where we were learning to practice freewriting. Click for info affiliate.
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I was, in those days, skeptical of such guides or their valorization ; at worst, I was smug. Time has done its thing, left me reeling. I am—wait for it—older now, and still wrestling—happily, mostly—with this elusive thing known as the writing life. These guides offer a bewitching blend of motivation and practical tips that are irresistible to some writers, especially novices or those looking to rekindle the creative fire.
While some specifically address writing, more often they speak to artistic endeavor in the broadest sense. Active evil is so much better than passive good, which is just docility, feebleness, timidity. And do not try to be consistent, for what is true to you today may not be true at all tomorrow, because you see a better truth. Her take on art-making is above all fiercely democratic, and as such, one of timeless allure.
Several passages seem tailor-made for excerpting and posting online as bite-size inspirational image-graphics. A Pinterest search for her will be fruitful.
When I picked up If You Want to Write I was immediately struck by its voice: urgent, uncompromising, faintly maternal. Who was this woman? I imagine her striding across a classroom, pausing to press her palms to a desktop, arms stiff as she hammers home some point. I see a cigarette waggling. She writes:. How does the creative impulse die in us? Critics kill it, your family. Families are great murderers of the creative impulse, particularly husbands.
Older brothers sneer at younger brothers and kill it. But I will tell you more about that later. You see I am so afraid that you will decide that you are stupid and untalented. Or that you will put off working as so many wonderfully gifted people do, until that time when your husband can retire on full pay and all your children are out of college. I recall a talk by Dorothy Allison at the AWP conference just a few years ago, in which she begged the mostly female audience to put their writing before housework.
The room broke out in tears and a roaring ovation. Brenda Ueland, born on October 24, , was the daughter of the prominent suffragist Clara Ueland, and a graduate of Barnard. After college, she cut her teeth in journalism as the first female reporter at the Minneapolis Tribune , then returned to New York to continue a career in writing that would sustain her from that point forward. She enjoyed the bohemian life in Greenwich Village; she married and had a daughter, Gabrielle; but after a decade with her husband, she divorced him.
For years she supported herself and Gabrielle with her writing. She would marry and divorce twice more. It has found yoga; it has found mindfulness; it has found the therapeutic value of art. The wisdom found in If You Want to Write seems as relevant as ever. Gilbert is a guru for millions who read and loved her bestselling memoir Eat Pray Love , and as I read Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear , I could see she had written another big hit, sure to attract a new legion of admirers, myself included.
In fact, it seemed impossible not to interpret Big Magic as something of a 21 st- century remake of If You Want to Write , or to imagine Elizabeth Gilbert and Brenda Ueland kindred spirits. To read them in parallel is to marvel at the extent to which creativity talk has changed very little in more than half a century, sociocultural revolutions notwithstanding. Living in this manner—continually and stubbornly bringing forth the jewels that are hidden within you— is a fine art, in and of itself.
You will become happier, more enlightened, alive impassioned, lighthearted and generous to everybody else. Even your health will improve. Colds will disappear and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom. The comparisons stack right up. Both writers are staunch populists regarding creative production; both invoke the divine; both urge a playful attitude toward creativity.
And both in their own way beseech readers on the one point aspiring writers can never hear too often: to hell with rejection; press on.
Another writer who has certainly inspired her readers to tell their own truths—and who knows from Blake and the divine and general feistiness—is the poet and memoirist Mary Karr, and she too has a new book on the shelves this fall, The Art of Memoir. But her prose comes from the gut, and the grip her writing holds on many readers has everything to do with her down-to-earth voice, its very cadence and vernacular suggesting you, too, can tell your story, in your words.
Ueland wants to account for her relationships, to describe her working life, her endless quest for discipline and for understanding the world. Perhaps she was ahead of her time after all. Ueland is so enthusiastic about feelings and originality in writing that she ignores, or denies, the part of writing that is based on imitation, that derives its strength from literary tradition—the part of writing that involves copying models from the past or imitating what you admire. No one could accuse Karr of blindness to literary tradition.
Ueland died on March 5, , at the age of Kaplan recalls her as a recognizable figure in Minneapolis, known for the long walks she took around Lake Harriet. She was never a celebrated literary figure in her time, as both Gilbert and Karr are now. Only after her death, and with a second life for her first book in a time when the culture was primed for it—did her name rise to something like prominence.
I like to envision the impossible: Ueland, Gilbert, and Karr meeting for a drink. Karr, of course, would stick to coffee. Ueland would lock Gilbert in her piercing gaze; Gilbert would have Ueland throwing back her head in throaty laughter; Karr would out-cuss them both. Surely, these sages of the ageless thing we call creativity would get along famously.
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If You Want to Write
If You Want to Write. A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. But we must try to find our True Conscience, our True Self, the very Center, for this is the only first-rate choice-making center. Here lies all originality, talent, honor, truthfulness, courage and cheerfulness. Here lies the ability to choose the good and the grand, the true and the beautiful.
If You Want To Write (notes on Ueland’s book)
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Book Review: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland
Brenda Ueland was a journalist, editor, freelance writer and teacher of writing. She seems to have been a highly creative, generous-hearted, free spirit. Amongst her accomplishments, she was knighted by the King of Norway, and set an international swimming record for people over 80 years old. Ueland is so enthusiastic about feelings and originality in writing that she ignores, or denies, the part of writing that is based on imitation, that derives its strength from literary tradition — the part of writing that involves copying models from the past or imitating what you admire. Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment. I do not agree. Everybody has the potential to develop talents.