If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
As a writer, I was excited about reading and reviewing Brenda Ueland’s book, If You Want to Write. I thought that it would give me helpful tips on honing my craft. The book is full of tips, but not the kind I had expected. Subtitled “A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit,” the book is more philosophical than anything else. Ueland goes to great lengths to avoid dispensing advice on style or form; she believes such advice kills one’s writing faster than anything else. Her main concern is with freedom – the freedom to write straight from your imagination without fear or reservation.
The book is a bit dated, having first been published in 1938. It soon becomes clear that Ueland is addressing women, and one of her chapters is entitled “Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing.” Upon reading this title, I thought that this chapter might no longer be relevant, until I came to the following passage:
In fact that is why the lives of most women are so vaguely unsatisfactory. They are always doing secondary and menial things (that do not require all their gifts and ability) for others and never anything for themselves. Society and husbands praise them for it […]. The poor wives are reminded that that is just why women are so splendid – because they are so unselfish and self-sacrificing and that is the wonderful thing about them! But inwardly women know that something is wrong (99).
This may still teach women something after all.
Ueland comes off as a Christian – although she does mention writing from past incarnations – and she believes that what is referred to as the “Holy Ghost” is really none other than the imagination where one’s creativity and inspiration flow from. To deny or silence this is the greatest sin.
The bottom line of If You Want to Write is that we must rediscover the creativity that has been murdered by teachers, parents and critics of all kinds. If we write to make money, get published, or please others, our work will always be dull. We must write for the pleasure of writing, because we have something inside of us that must be shared. She presses the reader to understand the fact that despite what we may think, we all do.