If you want to write

by Brenda Ueland

Hardcover, 1984

Status

Available

Publication

New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1938.

Description

Much more than a tract about writing, this is a wise and witty call for imagination in all areas of life. It will appeal to everyone who's ever dreamed of creating something.

Media reviews

User reviews

LibraryThing member Nickelini
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.
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LibraryThing member
First published in 1938, If You Want To Write presents the philosophy of writing (indeed, of all creativity) that Brenda Ueland taught for many years at the Minneapolis YWCA. The title of the first chapter presents her premise: “Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say,” and subsequent chapters guide readers in how to tease out their own talent and originality so that it “infects” readers. Though her details do evoke the 1930s, her observations of human nature remain spot-on to 2008.

Ueland’s message is encouraging and inspirational and true. My quibbles concern aspects of the book’s editing (non-editing?). First, the punctuation and formatting (extra and omitted commas; footnotes) interfered with my reading and I had to re-read numerous sentences to make sense of them. Second, Ueland tends to introduce a topic but then note that she’ll deal with it later; I didn’t keep track of what she was postponing, but did keep wondering whether she ever got back to all of it. Overall, the writing has a somewhat sloggy (first-draft) feel rather than that of a tightened manuscript.

In the genre, I'd instead recommend: Anne Lamott’s fabulous Bird by Bird; Dorothea Brande’s Becoming a Writer (also pubbed in the 1930s); and John Gardner’s On Becoming a Novelist.
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LibraryThing member dirac
A decent book on writing. Does not provide any specific points on writing per se but it does act to try to get past the biggest hurdles in writing, namely, the mind of the writer. I could have done with less examples or at least shorter ones which I found to be the only flaw. The other factor to take into consideration is that this was written in 1938. The books description of the psychology of writing is way ahead of its time. Can be used as an inspiration.… (more)
LibraryThing member tgraettinger
This is an unusual book - it always made me feel good to read even just a little bit of it. The author is very encouraging about the inner creativity that is within all of us. We just need to bring it out. She talks about bringing out the true self in your writing, drawing or whatever you might be creating. I want to bring that positive feeling to my work and my life. To try. To strive. To work. To encourage myself and others. To work not for fame or wealth, but to work for my own sake, for me. And, I'm inspired to be a better person, someone who will truly love and share in all I do.… (more)
LibraryThing member shawnd
This book is hard to categorize and perhaps even magical. It is one part Marianne Williamson, one part 'What Color is Your Parachute', and one part teaching notes from the leader of a writing seminar. The reader is nudged to ask many questions of themselves. As the book progresses, more and more of it is tactical and inspired advice about how to write and how not to. Some of this is general, and much of it is tied to what the potential writer's personality is, energy is, and tied back to spiritual truisms (e.g. "Now this is an inevitable truth: whatever you write will reveal your personality, and whatever you are will show through in your writing). I am not a writer. And the book didn't essentially make me want to be one, even though I have thought it an option--in some way it perhaps cemented that I should not be writing. That said, I feel like this book is just as much a guide to life and releasing/messaging one's real voice and becoming on the outside the expression of what one is on the inside.… (more)
LibraryThing member Neale
I couldn't finish it. For a book on writing, it was very badly written. The footnotes were a distraction. The sentences were badly constructed. For example writes that she may tell you something later in the book - doesn't she know what's in her book?
LibraryThing member AlekG
A classic! I've read this several times, and I always find something else that inspires me. It always helps me get out of a 'rut.'

Mind you, it's not really a book on technique, so if you're looking for a more nuts-and-bolts kind of writing book (structure, plot development, etc.), you may want to skip this one. But, if you are looking for inspiration and tips on getting started, this will certainly help. Happy writing!… (more)
LibraryThing member tjsjohanna
I didn't buy any of her philosophy.
LibraryThing member skiegazer3
Her introduction was a bit of a turn-off (too much self-congratulations on writing such a fantastic book) and at times the text reads a bit too much like a rambling (albeit interesting) monologue... But despite that, her advice on freeing up the creative mind and having the nerve to be bold is good and helpful, and some of her stories and quotes are amusing and inspiring.… (more)
LibraryThing member Daniel.Estes
If You Want To Write by Brenda Ueland begins with some of the most honest and inspirational passages I've ever read - every word comes straight from the heart and speaking directly to you. I was having a kind of religious experience and looking forward to more. And then, once the author begins reviewing long passages by her students, the book loses momentum. The tone and writing are still true to form, but it just somehow feels overlong after awhile.

The overarching theme of unleashing your creative spirit does come around by the end even though it lacks the magic from the beginning. I recommended this reading for any artist who has ever doubted her own ability.
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LibraryThing member kay135
This is a book I choose to read over and over. This is the book that first catapaulted me into writing. It fed my head.
LibraryThing member Violet_Nesdoly
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.
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LibraryThing member Jenners26
This is a book that all writers – professional and amateurs – should keep and revisit every once in a while. Ueland is like a really supportive and generous friend who coaches you in finding the writer within you and letting go of the fears and insecurities that are holding you back. Like the other books on writing, it is not just about writing but being an authentic and creative person. At the heart of the book is the simple edict: A writer must write. It doesn’t get any simpler (or harder) than that!… (more)
LibraryThing member JanettLeeWawrzyniak
Brenda Ueland’s book: If You Want to Write, supports reality writing. From pupils thoughts, adventures, failures, rages, villainies and nobilities; they’re encouraged to write what is seen, for their writing to come alive through description. Creativity is directed with the technique of first understanding what is learned instantly. Or by linking following contemplation to understand the first at that time. This allows working creative power to flow and reinforce without time consuming repetition. She gives different examples of this process, and when to notice different ideas. She advises writing (as in drafts) and then knowing what is needed to change, adapt, cut, and expand a story. She increases creativity and imagination without boundaries, in examples of herself and students. Her technique can help in the writing exchange with readers. From awareness in writing to publishing a book she explains how not to be daunted by the written expression of others.… (more)
LibraryThing member a211423
This is one of the most inspirational books on writing I have ever read. If you are a beginning writer, you will delight in her humor, philosophy, and teaching style.
LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
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!
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LibraryThing member ValerieAndBooks
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!
… (more)
LibraryThing member melydia
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member mmmorsi
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.

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LibraryThing member ava-st-claire
wonderful!
LibraryThing member MargaretPinardAuthor
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.

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