Brenda Ueland’s If You Want To Write came to me through the usual mysterious paths. I had thought to present it to the veterans’ writing group and may still, even though it assumes that fiction and poetry are the preferred genres.
Nevertheless, Ueland offers a great many valuable insights, and she does so with the insights of a visual artist and a musician. She excoriates people who feel they must constantly be in motion, constantly “acting.” I’ll give just one example. The would-be writer, having sat down to write, encounters no useful thoughts:
No logical thought comes in the first minute or two… A sort of paralysis follows, a conviction of your mental limitations, and you disconsolately go downstairs to do something menial and easy like washing the dishes, while doing so (though not knowing it) having some wonderful, fascinating, extraordinary, original, illuminating thoughts. Not knowing that they are thoughts at all, or “thinking,” you have no respect for them and do not put them down on paper—which you are to do from now on! That is, you are always to act and express what goes through you.
That this gem of a book first appeared in 1938 with a second edition appearing in 1982 and yet another in 2010, is a testament to the universal truths it presents in a way that puts English 101 texts to shame. Though Ms. Ueland drew her experience from teaching a great many women who were housewives or servant “girls,” their writing through her guidance endures.
I will recommend the veterans add it to their reading list.