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If You Want to Write
Originally published in 1938 and re-issued in a new edition, this perennial classic has roused thousands to take up the pen or keyboard, and also inspired countless others to become more artistic, more optimistic, more charged with possibility—and more faithful to their own quirky but true truth. Brenda Ueland’s charismatic personality, and her encouragement that “everybody is talented, original and has something important to say,” have made her a favorite among fans ranging from creative writing students to computer programmers.
In her 93 remarkable years, Brenda Ueland said she had two rules she followed absolutely: to tell the truth, and not to do anything she didn’t want to do. Her integrity shines throughout If You Want to Write, which Carl Sandburg called “The best book ever written about how to write.” Yet Ueland reminds us that “Whenever I say ‘writing’ in this book, I also mean anything that you love and want to do or to make.”
“I will not Reason & Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.
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?
“Brenda Ueland is one of those beings Allen Ginsberg called ‘Courage Teachers.’ The thing that she believes in is the power that comes from paying complete attention to one’s circumstances. The joy that infuses attention pays off beyond one’s wildest dreams. It’s simple, but still secret, because it takes Courage.” —Andrei Codrescu, from the preface