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If you want to write …

November 15th, 2011 | Posted by Annette in Books | Perspectives | Writing Tips

If ever I had a book to share, it would be If You Want To Write, by Brenda Ueland. I read this book at a time when I was feel­ing self-conscious about let­ting peo­ple read my work, and I must say, it totally changed my per­spec­tive. From begin­ning to end you won’t find a sin­gle page detail­ing gra­mar, punc­tu­a­tion, etc. For this isn’t a book about edit­ing. Instead, the focus is on the actual writ­ing process: how to get your words flow­ing, keep it real, and make your story honest. Her advice is so real that it res­onates deep down where your imag­i­na­tion lingers. Here are a few quotes that really got me going.

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.” If You Want To Write, Chap­ter 1, p. 4

Well, Van Gogh was one of the great painters. Dur­ing his life he made only 109 dol­lars in all on his paint­ing. They are now worth about two mil­lion dolars. He had a ter­ri­bly hard life-loneliness, poverty and star­va­tion that led to insan­ity. And yet it was one of the great­est lives
that was ever lived-the hap­pi­est, the most burn­ingly incan­des­cent.” If You Want To Write, Chap­ter 3, p. 23. — I par­tic­u­larly enjoyed this chap­ter since Van Gogh is my all-time favorite artist. I some­times won­der how sad it would be had the world missed out on his genius. Then I think of all the amaz­ing com­posers I met while I was study­ing music com­po­si­tion in col­lege. I know they prob­a­bly won’t ever make it big, but that doesn’t mean their art isn’t worth the effort.


Chap­ter 4 is enti­tled, “The Imag­i­na­tion Works Slowly and Qui­etly.” This reminds me of the famous line, “you can’t rush art.” And, you can’t. Some­times you just need time to think it over. And over, and over again. There’s noth­ing wrong with let­ting your mind play with an idea, try it on for size, then chuck or keep it depend­ing upon what you finally decide. The point is, let it fes­ter a while. This in no way negates the prac­tice that some­times you should just spill those words upon the page as fast as you can. Brain­storm in every way shape and form to find out what works best for you.

In Chap­ter 5 she talks about tak­ing a walk. Can you see me smil­ing? Walk­ing allowed her imag­i­na­tion to loosen, and once that hap­pened free thought took place. It was dur­ing these walks that she came up with some of her best ideas. I can’t tell you how much I related to this chap­ter, since I think brain­storm­ing is absolutely cru­cial. Although I enjoy walk­ing, I pre­fer to brain­storm in the dark with absolute silence, and I do it every sin­gle night before I go to bed. Such sim­ple tech­nics can bring about so much pro­duc­tiv­ity. Then she adds this thought so as to explain that pure imag­i­na­tion isn’t some­thing that requires painful work. “I tell you this so that you will stop think­ing of the cre­ative power as ner­vous and effort­ful; in fact, it can be fright­ened away by ner­vous strain­ing.” p. 47. Boy, isn’t that the truth! In my opin­ion, allow­ing the mind to flow is the sin­gle best tech­nic for cre­ative writing.

Chap­ter 7 was prob­a­bly my favorite: “Be Care­less! Be a Lion! Be a Pirate! When You Write.” She con­tin­ues, “Peo­ple are too scared, too self-conscious, too proud, too shy. They have been taught too many things about con­struc­tion, plot, unity, mass and coher­ence. (They write) to impress peo­ple.” I couldn’t agree more. That was my prob­lem for years. I was way too self-conscious. It didn’t really hin­der my writ­ing, because I chucked all those old nov­els in the trash, some­thing that has me kick­ing myself now. “I just don’t know if I can take that kind of rejec­tion,” said McFly in Back to the Future. Ah, who cares, is my tune now. I write because I want to write. You have to learn to say, this is my art. And as long as you are true to what you write, the beauty, or the hor­ror as it may be, will shine through.

Chap­ter 10, enti­tled “Why Women Who Do Too Much House­work Should Neglect It for Their Writ­ing,” reminds me that Brenda Ueland lived in a dif­fer­ent gen­er­a­tion than my own. And still, one of my biggest hangups to writ­ing are the house­hold chores. Being a mother is huge, and I would never want to neglect any part of that awe­some job. But the tedious work that goes with it can be so com­pletely over­whelm­ing. I would never get any writ­ing done if I had to be the per­fect house­keeper. That said, I took all day yes­ter­day away from my com­puter so that I could scrub and clean every­thing. It’s such a bal­anc­ing act to work, be mom, and have a writ­ing career on the side. Yikes! There’s no way I can get it all done. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try! I’d be crazy to say, it’s just too much, and throw up my hands in despair. Never. Keep going. Remem­ber the Lit­tle Engine Who Could. (Another book. Thank you beau­ti­ful writers!)

Chap­ter 13, “The Third Dimen­sion.” Yes! This is where the meat is. “You must never be an advo­cate of you char­ac­ters.” p. 122. In other words, just tell the story. Tell it true to life, espe­cially if you’re writ­ing fic­tion. Then in a foot­note on p. 123, she adds, “That is why you must not try too hard to be hon­est, sin­cere, in your writ­ing, for that too is a kind of false­ness. Why you are hon­est there is no try­ing about it. You are just qui­etly hon­est, and that is all there is to it.” Wow. What advice. So beau­ti­fully put, though some­times very hard to imple­ment, but absolutely vital in craft­ing a novel.

Chap­ter 15, p. 137, “Don’t be afraid of writ­ing bad, mawk­ish sto­ries for that will show you many things about your­self .… 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.”

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