Sonderbooks Book Reviews by Sondra Eklund

Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004
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*****= An all-time favorite
****  = Outstanding
***    = Above average
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*        = Good, with reservations


*****If You Want To Write

A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit

by Brenda Ueland

Reviewed December 20, 2004.
Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, 1987.  Originally published in 1938.  179 pages.
Sonderbooks Stand-out 2004, #2, Nonfiction Old Favorites

Quite simply, this book should be read by anyone who wants to write.  I read it any time I’m feeling discouraged about my writing, thinking maybe I’m wasting my time.  This book is guaranteed to leave me feeling energized and inspired to continue.

I have sections underlined in every chapter.  I’ll give a few examples of Brenda Ueland’s inspiring words.  She’s a writing teacher and talks about what she learned about creativity from trying to teach people to write.

My favorite chapter title is:  “Why Women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing.”  In that chapter, she tells her students who are “worn and hectored mothers,” “If you would shut your door against the children for an hour a day and say:  ‘Mother is working on her five-act tragedy in blank verse!’ you would be surprised how they would respect you.  They would probably all become playwrights.”

In another place, she says, “We have come to think that duty should come first.  I disagree.  Duty should be a by-product.  Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination, should come first,—at least for some part of every day of your life.  It is a wonderful blessing if you will use it.  You will become happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous to everybody else.”

Remember how I use this book when I start thinking writing is a waste of time?  Brenda Ueland says, “I want to assure you with all earnestness, that no writing is a waste of time,—no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work.  With every sentence you write, you have learned something.  It has done you good.  It has stretched your understanding.  I know that.  Even if I knew for certain that I would never have anything published again, and would never make another cent from it, I would still keep on writing.”

She also warns us that you won’t be productive every day, and that shouldn’t worry you.  “What you write today is the result of some span of idling yesterday, some fairly long period of protection from talking and busyness.”

“Inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.  I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten,—happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.”

Another good word for discouragement is this:  “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.”  Or, as she says in another place, “It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of ones mistakes.  Of course they are mistakes.  Go on to the next.”

She sums up at the end:  “And why should you do all these things?  Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do?

“Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money.  Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it.  And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others?”

Again, if you want to write, and haven’t read this book yet, I strongly recommend that you do so as soon as possible.  This one is a keeper.  I’m sure I’ll read it many more times in my life.

Copyright © 2005 Sondra Eklund.  All rights reserved.

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