The best book on writing ever written was published in 1938.
That’s not just me saying it. Carl Sandburg said it too:
“That is the best book ever written about how to write.”
Granted, they were old friends (Sandburg was actually a guest in her home while Euland was writing it), but that’s the kind of personal association that only strengthens his endorsement of her work as far as I’m concerned.
I’m not privy to similar declarations Carl Sandburg may have made about other writing books published between 1938 and his death in 1967, but nothing else I’ve come across compares to If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence, and Spirit.
What makes If You Want to Write so special is the way it devastates any idea that the ability to write is limited to a talented, chosen few.
Though, as Ueland clarifies: “When I say ‘writing’ in this book, I also mean anything that you love and want to write, do or make.”
Consider this sampling of chapters.
Chapter I: Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say
Chapter VII: Be careless, reckless! Be a lion, be a pirate, when you write
Chapter XIV: Keep a slovenly, headlong, impulsive, honest diary
And these quotes (whittled down from the 123 favorites I have underlined in my copy of the book).
“I have said that art is a generosity, i.e., you tell somebody something not to show off but because you want to share it with them.”
“Everybody is original, if he tells the truth, if he speaks from himself. But it must be from his true self and not from the self he thinks he should be.”
“When you are honest there is no trying to about it. You are just quietly honest and that is all there is to it.”
“The more you wish to describe a Universal the more minutely and truthfully you must describe a Particular.”
On the creative process…
“When you write, if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free — free and not anxious.”
“When I walk in a carefree way [alone and every day], without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.”
“Write what comes now. More will come later.”
“Write any old way.”
That last line is my favorite: “Write any old way.”
Maybe because it’s the easiest to remember, or maybe because it captures the essence of everything Brenda Ueland is trying to say. No, not trying. Saying. She’s saying it. More than that, she’s proving it. (Trust me, or pick up the book; she proves it, people.)
What a relief it all is, knowing anyone can write, any old way.
You need only have the inclination to do it and an unwavering commitment to rooting out the truth.
It doesn’t matter how long it’s been since you’ve written anything, or whether you think you’re any good, or whether you know the rules of grammar. All that matters is having a thought, feeling, or observation. If you have a story, that’s great too.
Not because you want to be published (of course, you can want to be published), but because you want to get clearer on who you are and who everyone else is too.