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If You Want to Write: A Book about Art,…
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If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit (1938)

by Brenda Ueland

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1,366265,612 (4.08)19
  1. 30
    Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg (Z-Ryan)
  2. 00
    The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear by Ralph Keyes (alexmuninn)
    alexmuninn: Courage to Write has a very similar message to Ueland's book (indeed, Keyes quotes If You Want to Write) but it was written in 1995 rather than 1938, so Courage to Write lacks the disturbing and dated racism of If You Want to Write.
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English (24)  Dutch (1)  All languages (25)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Although a few of Brenda Ueland's viewpoints are a bit culturally dated (If You Want to Write was first published in 1938), this is a real gem of a book for aspiring writers or writers who may need to unblock writer's block. It is not a practical guide to publishing (good thing -- otherwise this book would *definitely* be dated -- it was after all written nearly 80 years ago!) or how to plan plot, etc. -- in fact, she often says: just write, don't worry about the plotting until later -- but just a lot of feel-good "you can do it!" in there.

I really dislike highlighting in books, but this one I felt compelled to do so (in pencil; none of that neon yellow stuff).

Some of what Ueland says is intuitive, but still good reminders:

"Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be" (p. 4).

Ueland provides examples of "good" and "bad" writing (some her own, some her students' work -- she taught writing classes at a local YWCA for a time) and shares stories of how some students need to have their true self and/or life viewpoints shine through in her writing. The story of one of her students really stuck with me: this student was "...lame, a very fine, kind, gentle person. She worked very hard but never seemed to write anything good and alive" (p. 108). Ueland urges her to describe something just as it is, to look at it as how she sees it. The result is an excellent, but gloomy, piece and the self-depreciating student states that she doesn't like to write depressingly. Ueland realizes that "a lifetime of a kind of willed cheerfulness, because of her lameness perhaps, kept her from writing from her true self. 'I must be cheerful and optimistic. I must always look at the bright side of everything.' she was always saying to herself. But not when you write! If it is true cheerfulness, fine. But if it is willed cheerfulness and you always describe things as you think you ought to, --well, it will not be effective, that is all. Nobody will be interested or believe you" (p. 108-109).

That passage spoke to me -- I think by nature I am an optimistic person, but at the same time (for instance) it's hard for me to bring up challenges I've faced due to being deaf. Of course, Ueland does not mean that all disabled people are artificially optimistic, but she uses this woman's example to exhort that we must write what feels natural rather than what we feel we "should". As another example, she cites the naturally jolly person, who unsuccessfully writes serious material but becomes a much better writer when he allows himself to be more funny.

One more piece of advice from Ueland that I'd like to share for writers: "No, I wouldn't think of planning the book before I write it. You write, and plan it afterwards. You write it first because every word must come out with freedom, and with meaning because you think it is so and want to tell it. If this is done the book will be alive. I don't mean that it will be successful. It may be alive to only ten people. But to those ten at least it will be alive. It will speak to them. It will help to free them" (p. 168).

Good advice. That is not to say that the basics aren't important -- in fact I am currently reading a book on plots, settings, etc. -- but that we should not be bogged down with the construction first. Indeed, I hated outlines when we had to do them in English class before we could even start a paragraph on a writing assignment.

"If You Want to Write" is a book that I know I will refer back to again and again. Now go write something! ( )
  ValerieAndBooks | Aug 4, 2015 |
I have bought and given away too many copies of this book.

I love it too dearly to keep it to myself. ( )
  raynfall | Aug 1, 2015 |
This book shows its age sometimes (written in the 1930s), and its message gets repeated a lot, as the writer doesn't edit herself, but it has a good message, and examples help get that across. ( )
  MargaretPinardAuthor | May 23, 2015 |
This book made me want to stop reading and start writing. I love Ueland's enthusiasm and her quirky style. Empowering and energizing.

What annoyed me about my Kindle version of the book was that it made no mention of the original publication date--just dated it 2010. Come on now, it came out in 1938 or thereabouts. It seems like that should be on the book somewhere.

Some of my favorite quotes.

"...'creative work' .... is like a faucet: nothing comes unless you turn it on and the more you turn it on, the more comes" (Kindle Location 357).

"...what we write today slipped into our souls some other day when we were alone and doing nothing .... what you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness" KL 507 & 519.

"Yes, the more you wish to describe a Universal the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular" KL 1518.

"If you write a bad story, the way to make it better is to write three more. Then look at the first one. You will have grown in understanding, in honesty. You will know what to do to it. And to yourself" KL 2005.

"The secret of being interesting is to move along as fast as the mind of the reader (or listener) can take it in. Both must march along in the same tempo. That is why it is good to read your writing aloud to yourself" KL 2016. ( )
  Violet_Nesdoly | Jan 4, 2015 |
wonderful! ( )
  ava-st-claire | Feb 21, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
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I have been writing a long time and have learned some things, not only from my own long hard work, but from a writing class I had for three years.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0915308940, Paperback)

For most, the hardest part of writing is overcoming the mountain of self-denial that weighs upon the spirit, always threatening to extinguish those first small embers of ambition. Brenda Ueland, a writer and teacher, devotes most of her book--published back in 1938, before everyone and their goldfish got their MFA's in creative writing--to these matters of the writer's heart. Still, the real gift of the book is Ueland herself: She liked to write, she didn't care what anyone thought, and she had a great sense of humor. You're simply happy to hang out with her.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:16:01 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

For most, the hardest part of writing is overcoming the mountain of self-denial that weighs upon the spirit, always threatening to extinguish those first small embers of ambition. Brenda Ueland, a writer and teacher, devotes most of her book--published back in 1938, before everyone and their goldfish got their MFA's in creative writing--to these matters of the writer's heart. Still, the real gift of the book is Ueland herself: She liked to write, she didn't care what anyone thought, and she had a great sense of humor. You're simply happy to hang out with her.… (more)

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