Brenda Ueland on writing

I have been reading a delightful little book by Brenda Ueland, a remarkable Minnesota writer, editor and teacher with a very interesting life (among other things, she set an international swimming record for over-80-year-olds). The book, If you want to write, has much that I disagree with (not least, an insistence on not planning – myself, I’m more from the Twyla Tharp school of creativity, an organized and disciplined artist if there ever was one) and its fair share of American naiveté. Still, it has stood the test of time (how many 1938 books were republished in 1983?), it must have struck some readers like lightning (the back cover blurbs on my paperback edition include an endorsement by Guy Kawasaki in an old MacUser article: “… if you buy it and it doesn’t help you, I will give you your money back. I won’t even say that about my books“), and it does have some charming snippets:

  • For when you come to think of it, the only way to love a person is not, as the stereotyped Christian notion is, to coddle them and bring them soup when they are sick, but by listening to them and seeing and believing in the god, the poet, in them. For by doing this, you keep the god and the poet alive and make it flourish.
  • For of course the creative power is expressed in business as well as in other things. I know a business man whose every sentence has more life, creative vision and generosity in it thasn those of many artists. But the trouble with business expressing the creative power freely and prodigally as Art does, you cannot be recklessly generous in business, giving higher and higher wages and all your products freely and lovingly to the public.
  • “Sooner Strangle an Infant in its Cradle than Nurse Unacted Desires.” – William Blake
  • I read in Harper’s Magazine a few years ago an article by a highly educated man wherein he told with what conscientious pains he had brought up all his children to be skeptical of everything, never to believe anything in life or religion or their own feelings without submitting it to many rational doubts, to have a persistent, thoroughly skeptical, doubting attitude toward everything. In other words to weazen and kill in themselves all spontaneous love, passion, enthusiasm, all creative power. I think he might as well taken them out in the backyard and killed them with an ax.

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