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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 (original 1938; edition 1997)

by Brenda Ueland

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1,608316,598 (4)29
Member:ericaheinz
Title:If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Authors:Brenda Ueland
Info:Graywolf Press (1997), Edition: 10, Paperback, 179 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:None

Work details

If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (1938)

  1. 31
    Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within 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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Showing 1-5 of 29 (next | show all)
This had some interesting tips, I'll give it that, but it was somewhat repetitive. There were also too many obvious religious undertones for my liking. I did learn from this book though, and it did help me figure out how to write more effectively. ( )
  Melissalovesreading | Sep 30, 2018 |
It doesn't really matter when I finished or when I began reading this book. What matters, is that it is a journey into a woman's heart and in that journey, it's also, if you are listening carefully a path to your own heart. For in any good writing, there must be the heart.

This book is not so much about writing as it is about how we are imposed certain rules and norms by society and Brenda Ueland honestly lets her dismay for those be aired. She doesn't care about what you think and tells us, if we wish to write well, not to worry about how it sounds. I relate perfectly to sentences that are so overly poetic, so overly worded and dramatised that their meaning is lost. Some times they have their place, some times not.

I have kept this book for years and recommended it to friends who didn't seem to like it as much as I did. I think one of the things you have to be prepared to do with this book, especially if you are already a writer or a journalist for many years as I was when I first picked it up, is to let your armour down. To stop telling wanting to write what you think others want to hear, wanting their acceptance.

Just write from the heart and live from the heart. That is the message of this book and that is why it is worthwhile a read.

( )
  mmmorsi | Aug 24, 2018 |
Brenda U is a writer's cheerleader. Wonderfully supportive, very encouraging. All that sticks in memory, aside from a general Brenda-inspired can-do feeling, is the fact that Brenda would encourage would-be writer's to eschew coffee or other stimulants. ( )
  evamat72 | Mar 31, 2016 |
Ueland, who taught creative writing for years and years, believes that anyone can become a writer, that we are all unique and all have stories to tell. The main message of this slim book is to turn off your inner critic, shut out all the critical voices in your life (teachers, parents, spouses, friends), and just write. You can apply her principles to any creative endeavour, not just writing -- her advice will also help painters, musicians, anyone creating, actually. She says the most important thing is to be truthful to yourself and don't try to please others with your creative project. A gabillion copies If You Want to Write have been sold, and readers have loved and praised this book for 80 years. Carl Sandburg said it is "the best book ever written about how to write."

Who can disagree with all that? It's the good part.

BTW, Carl Sandburg and her were friends, so make out of that what you will.

Now for my real opinion. For such a short book (179p), it's surprisingly repetitive. Ueland explains how she is one of those writers who hates the outline, which is fine . . . but if you're not going to outline, you really need to focus on the edit. She rambles along and uses footnotes on almost every page. The info in the footnotes could have easily been edited in to the text, or just discarded, as it added little. There were pages of her quoting William Blake, and Van Gogh, and she talks about "the Russians" a lot. By a lot, I mean way too much idolizing, not so much detail.

Here is an example of a typical passage that had me rolling my eyes: "Great art, said Tolstoi, is when a great man who has the highest life-conception of his time tells what he feels. (Tolstoi himself was one of those although he did not know it.) Then the infection is universal. Everybody understands it and at once.*
* I think Blake meant this same thing too, when he called Jesus and artist."

That just makes me scream for so many reasons. Even if one think that's an amazing thought (which it's not), it can be said so very much better.

Throughout the book she says "I hope to talk about that later," and I didn't keep track, but I don't think she ever did. I was convinced she didn't, in fact, when I got to the "outlines are a nightmare" section.

Here's another tidbit of wisdom from Dame Ueland: "Tolstoi, Ibsen, Blake, Goethe, Thomas Mann and all great men, known or unknown, famous or obscure,--they are great men in the first place and so they cannot say anything that is not important, not a single word. Their writing, their art is merely a by-product, a cast-off creation of a great personality."

Oh, please.

I soldiered on, looking for the good bits amongst all her noise, but after a while, I realized that I had an image of this woman lecturing me with a pointed finger. It was rather uncomfortable, yet on I went. I noticed that she seemed pretty impressed with herself and all the fabulous advice she was sharing with little me, and then it struck me that the finger-wagging professor and morphed into Lady Catherine De Burgh. (shudder!)

Recommended for: Yes, many have found If You Want to Write inspiring. But her advice is not unique, and is better said elsewhere. If you are looking for an inspirational book about writing or creating, I suggest Bird by Bird (Anne Lamott), Negotiating with the Dead (Margaret Atwood) or even On Writing (Stephen King).

Why I Read This Now: I like to buy books about writing more than read them. Thought I'd plow through the stack this year. Picked this one first because Ursula Le Guin (I think) recommended that it was the only writing book anyone needed. She was wrong.

Rating: one cranky tin star. ( )
11 vote Nickelini | Jan 31, 2016 |
This book started out as pretty much exactly what I needed to hear: forget what everybody else says and just write honestly. Friendly and direct and a bit quaint. And the first three quarters or so continued to be great. After that point, however, the hero-worship started to get old. I don't think Tolstoy, Chekov, and Blake are quite as infallible as Ueland clearly does. That aside, the rest of the book is charming and encouraging. ( )
  melydia | Nov 25, 2015 |
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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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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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 3 descriptions

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