If You Want to Write
I’ve finished reading a really fantastic book over the holiday, once which is directly responsible for the new gush of words across a couple different sites. It’s not a book for everyone, but was it written directly and expressly for me? Yeah, that’s possible.
The book is called If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. 179 pages, written in 1938, and perfectly suited to what I like to hear – that is to say, a kind of open-ended encouragement in which a good-natured old woman speaks her mind and tells you to hang the critics and do what you think best.
She was, by all accounts, a fascinating woman of great achievements in her own right, reaching heights which would have been impossible were she content to simply sit and dream of what might be possible, or sit and listen to the negativity of those surrounding her.
It is a pep talk between two covers, designed to speak directly to those younger writers (she is 47 at the time she writes the book) who haven’t yet put up their own thickened skin against criticism, within and without.
As I say, it’s written in a style that would likely annoy a number of people I know. While the phrase “unique little snowflake” doesn’t actually appear in the advice, it may as well do – she sincerely believes that everyone is talented, everyone is capable, and everyone has something special and exciting to share with the world. That’s not a magical formula, of course; but for those who have trouble believing it of themselves from time to time, it’s a good refrain to hear.
She worships William Blake, something I certainly understand. One thing she threw into sharp relief for me was the underlying tenor of Blake’s message, that it’s better to be actively wicked than passively good. A theory in which action is preferable to inaction sits well with me these days, and I’m hitting the electronic versions of the books again to see what I might find buried in their depths – or floating near the surface, where I might have overlooked it before.
I’m tempted – I don’t say I will, yet, but I’m tempted – to offer to buy copies of the book for a couple of the folks I’ve done creativity programs with in the past. I’m feeling flush of late and being able to share this with two or three folks wouldn’t be a terrible gesture in this holiday season.
So what’s been the immediate benefit? Well, more posts, for one thing, and a renewed determination to pay closer attention to what I want, what I feel, and what I see. There’s a good deal of work to be done on all those fronts, of course, but getting a kick in the pants from a long-dead suffragette’s daughter is one of the better ways to get to work on it, right?
On the downside, I’m getting less and less tolerant with myself when the work doesn’t flow. To be blunt, this kind of writing, the personal revelatory stuff of basic experiences, was giving me hob over the past several months, and this has helped with that. When I’m working on other things, however, the kind that don’t show up or flow so simply, then I’m getting aggravated – or maybe I’m just admitting it to myself faster.
At any rate, there’s more work to be done and more fun to be had before this day is out. I’m working from home, the first snow of the season is deep on the ground, and the dark scent of sweet chai is full upon me.
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