Posts Tagged ‘Brenda Ueland’

So You Want to Write

Everyone has a story to tell. Everyone has the impulse to create. Children playing freely express that urge. They have not yet developed a need for a How-to Manual. About thirty years ago I stumbled across Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want To Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit, first published in 1938 and still in print.  I was aspiring to write my first novel and Ueland’s advice not only on writing but also on living the life you desire propelled me forward. This book remains the single best book on the pursuit of writing that I have ever read. If you read Ueland’s book, I guarantee it will plant you in your desk chair, where you will fill that blank page in front of you with the words of the story that is inside you.

Brenda Ueland cautions the creative self does not write out of the desire for fame and fortune.  The writing that does so, she says, is bound not to be authentic. But this is not even the half of the sage advice she gives to aspiring writers.  I have tried to follow the writer’s life, which this remarkable early feminist sets forth.  For those who say they have always wanted to write, I venture here to offer some things I have found important in fulfillment of that desire.

First, I advise aspiring writers to come out of the closet and admit they are not writing just for themselves. If their desire is to write, they must grow beyond mere expressions of ego concerns to reflect universal insights into the human condition in a unique way. To achieve this, they must:

  • Read widely in good literature.
  • Identify what makes the writing good.
  • Write daily in a designated writing space.  A journal entry or letter count. A grocery list doesn’t.
  • Share their writing in a group that meets regularly.
  • Accept the suggestions that seem authentic and rewrite. Discard what is not true to their spirits.
  • Get rid of network television, but watch a lot of good movies.  No television reduces procrastination and frees time for thinking and writing, but the great visuals and memorable characterizations in good movies inspire.
  • Walk a lot. This expands the imagination. Bicycling and cross-country skiing help too, but not as much as walking.

Some of you may be thinking: What about writing conferences and workshops? They are useful tools in the formative stages, but a word of caution. All support groups may outlive their usefulness. The goal of such writing groups is to teach you to be your own best critic. You are the ultimate arbiter who must decide what is authentic and what is not. Avoid the trap of doing more talking about writing than writing. A critique group must be genuinely supportive, helping you find what rings true for your intent and not engaging in destructive criticism or ridiculous suggestions to write your story the way they envision it.

Journal-keeping is the most important tool in my writer’s kit. It could be yours too. Since age eighteen I have kept a journal. It is the compost heap for my writing. I let ideas, images, anecdotes germinate there. I do not write every day in my journal; sometimes I have neglected it for weeks. Yet I always return to it like a horse to the barn, for it is more than a log of my life. I often lift ideas and lines to incorporate into a poem or story. I use the journal to think through my writing projects.  I sift through traits and actions my characters will take.  The journal clarifies artistic intent and helps in the process of creating novels and poems.

Brenda Ueland (1891-1985)

“I learned that when writing you should not feel like Lord Byron on a mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten–happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead on after another.”                   –Brenda Ueland