The book, If You Want To Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit by Brenda Ueland was first published in 1938. Certain aspects are a bit dated, for example the chapter titled, “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing,” the bulk of the book remains timeless. Additionally, as the subtitle says, substitute the word “writing” with any art you prefer be it painting, music, cooking, or anything you choose and the book still works.
Essentially, this book is a treatise giving you, yes YOU, permission to pursue your art as long as you are true and honest to yourself. Ueland warns,
…you must be sure that your imagination and love are behind it, that you are not working just from grim resolution, i.e., to make money or impress people.
And she is honest with her readers by dismissing any romantic notions of raw talent, ease of writing, or lack of effort.
Well, I tell you all these things to show you that working is not grinding but a wonderful thing to do; that creative power is in all of you if you give it just a little time; if you believe in it a little bit and watch it come quietly into you; if you do not keep it out by always hurrying and feeling guilty in those times when you should be lazy and happy. Or if you do not keep the creative power away by telling yourself that worst of lies – that you haven’t any.
Now, dear reader, let me let you in on a little secret about this book. Although my copy is 179 pages, the entire book is summarized, by the author, on the last two and a half pages. In someways I find this irritating at best and flabby writing at worst. Yes, you too may read and get something out of this book. In the interest of saving you time and money, here is the author’s summary of the book.
To sum up – if you want to write:
- Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.
- Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
- Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.
- Tackle anything you want to – novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition: “Better to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”
- Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.
- Don’t fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past. How I always suffered from this! How I would regurgitate out of my memory (and still do) some nauseous little lumps of things I had written! But don’t do this. Go on to the next. And fight against this tendency which is much of it due not to splendid modesty, but a lack of self-respect. We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: “I know it is awful!” before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.
- Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self.
- Don’t think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull, that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! Think if Tiffany’s made a mosquito, how wonderful we would think it was!
- If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.
- When discouraged, remember what Van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”
- Don’t be afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself. If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heaven’s sake be as sentimental as you can or fell like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don’t care about it.
- Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason & Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.
With these twelve points in I completely agree. Friends, go and make the art that is in your heart, whatever it is. Make it for you. Make it for others. But please, just make it.
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