In her 93 remarkable years, veteran freelance writer, memoirist, and writing teacher Brenda Ueland published some six million words. She once said there were two simple rules that she followed absolutely: to tell the truth, and not do anything she didn't want to do. Such integrity both distinguishes and defines If You Want to Write, her bestselling classic that first appeared in the late 1930s and has inspired thousands to find their own creative center. As Carl Sandburg once remarked, Ueland's primer is "the best book ever written on how to write."
This book so speaks to the contemporary writer that it is nearly impossible to believe that it was originally published in 1938. In If You Want to Write, Brenda Ueland sets forth not just a philosophy about how to write or how to create, but also about how to live. Beginning writers will certainly be encouraged by Ueland's words, but even the most experienced have much to glean from Ueland's simple wisdom. "Everybody," writes Ueland in the opening chapter, "is talented, original, and has something important to say." Finding that something important involves embracing creative idleness ("the imagination needs moodling--long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering"), freeing "what we really think, from what we think we ought to think," and "thumb[ing] your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters." One must think, she says, "of telling a story, not of writing it." And when revising one's writing, she advises, "do not try to think of better words, more gripping words.... It is not yet deeply enough imagined." Finally, "whenever you find yourself writing a single word or phrase or page dutifully and with boredom, then leave it out.... If what you write bores you, it will bore other people." And just because If You Want to Write is passionate, sincere, and even spiritual, do not think it is not also witty. One footnote bluntly declaims, "No doubt my terms would horrify a psychologist but I do not care at all." Elsewhere Ueland titles a chapter "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It for Their Writing." Amen, sister!