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If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit Paperback – March 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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!

From Publishers Weekly

Ueland argues that anyone can write well once the imagination is freed from self-consciousness, anxiety and fear of failure. This is a fresh and vivid approach to creative endeavors.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 179 pages
  • Publisher: Graywolf Press; 10 edition (March 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1555972608
  • ISBN-13: 978-1555972608
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 6.4 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (187 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #357,420 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

332 of 336 people found the following review helpful By Nigey Lennon (nigella@earthlink.net) on January 25, 1999
Format: Paperback
I found this book by accident while browsing through a now-defunct Los Angeles bookstore/cafe. It was the luckiest accident of my life. At that point I had been a professional writer for more than twenty years, but I rarely enjoyed my work, and I felt all of it was disposable in one way or another. At first, reading "If You Want to Write" gave me an incredible, if unfamiliar, feeling of joy and self-confidence. Afterwards, I began to surprise the hell out of myself in terms of what I was able to accomplish. This simply written book states some of the most profound truths about life and creativity I have ever read. Whenever I get stuck on a project I go back and re-read it, and its warmth, generosity, and brilliance always inspire me to go on. It should almost be titled "If You Want to Live", because far more than being a how-to book on writing, it makes an eloquent argument that we all can live creative lives as long as we're true to ourselves.
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129 of 133 people found the following review helpful By Theresa Williams on July 28, 2005
Format: Paperback
I will admit from the start that this book is not for everyone. It won't appeal to all writers and artists. However, I believe the book was written for people who are looking for a way to lead an authentic life and to achieve authenticity in their art. As with Natalie Goldberg's WRITING DOWN THE BONES, this book feels as though it was written just for me, and that's the true beauty of IF YOU WANT TO WRITE. If the book speaks to you, as it did to me, you may find yourself having the first great epiphany of your artistic life. Her book sits in a prominent place in my home and in my heart. I have read it many times and underlined countless passages. As I struggled to finish my first book, I looked to Ueland for support and confidence. By far the two most memorable passages for me are the one in which she describes a time she was playing the piano and was told her playing wasn't "going anywhere." She then discusses the relationship that MUST exist between the artist and the person experiencing the art. (Her philosophy is strongly influenced by the observations of Tolstoy.) She points out that this relationship is necessary in order for us to produce meaningful art. The second passage that is extremely meaningful to me is related to the first passage. She describes the time Vincent Van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother and drew a tender image of a streetlight that he was looking at outside his window. The drawing is beautiful because it came out of his intense love for his brother and his desire to share something beautiful with him, not from a desire for recognition or fame. This is what Ueland means by authenticity, which she, like Blake, connects to the divine source existing within each individual. This book changed forever the way I view the artistic expression.
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114 of 123 people found the following review helpful By Deborah Scroggin Osredker on August 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
Brenda Ueland was one of my dearest friends. Her wisdom and gentle humor has sustained me through many years. If You Want to Write is an outstanding book on not only how to write but how to live fully -- with grace, joy, humor and compassion. It is "first-rate," as Brenda would say. Once you have found this book, don't let it get away from you. Keep copies handy. One year, I gave copies of the book to my family and friends for Christmas. They all loved it. It soon became one of those books that everyone must read -- for reading this book seemed to make everyone a better person. How is that? Maybe one of the reasons is because it "takes the pressure off" to be a "good writer" or a "good person." Just be who you are in an authentic and joyful way -- and you can't help but be "good." Open the book to any page, and you will find her words funny, creative, loving and truthful --thumbing her nose at all the pessimists in the world.
Brenda had a delightful sense of humor. She jokingly insisted on renaming me "Countess Francesca" because, "Names are very important, and Deborah is just too stern and biblical." This was just her way with everyone -- funny, uplifting and endearing. And her book, If You Want to Write, will make you feel just as special, as if she is sitting right there with you, laughing with you and helping you every step of the way. Enjoy this women's words -- hold them in your heart. Brenda is a rare spirit. Avanti!
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57 of 59 people found the following review helpful By Jeremy on August 24, 2003
Format: Paperback
Read this book. Read it all the way through. You might say to yourself "this is juvenile. This is naïve." But read it. Press on. Read it thoroughly. Set your mind on "accept" and let the book be right all the time.
Then, read it again. Keep reading it when you are not writing. Randomly pick a page and start. Read it out of order. Perhaps you'll find the Blake, or the Van Gogh; one of her students, or one of her tirades against the niggardly busy-busy world. Read it while watching T.V.(but not while driving a car!)
Soon, you just can't read it anymore. Because it's tedious? Because you've memorized it? Because its pages are stained with finger oil and falling apart?
Because you will be too damn busy furiously writing. And rewriting, then writing again. You will fear--with a creaky feeling in your gut--that a short break may jettison the idea you're blessed with off into the unexpressed void, then banish the next one, and the next one, like a home-run slugger on a roll at batting practice, all which demand permanence--because they all got that something. And you don't dare stop typing (at 75 W.P.M, with pauses of concentrated, exacting thought between) because you must, you absolutely soulfully must, capture this thought perfectly, then quickly move on to the next antsy thought tapping its toe impatiently behind, before it gets insulted and walks out to planet nowhere in a huff.
So read it. And I hope you read it so much that you just don't have the time to read it anymore, and it is gathering dust while your page is gathering words.
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