If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

For Mother’s Day  my son and daughter-in-law gave me two books on writing: If you Want to Write—A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland, and Writing About Your Life — A Journey into the Past by William Zinsser.

I’ve started reading Ueland’s book a chapter at a time, and although I haven’t gotten very far into the book, I find it refreshing, uplifting and inspiring. This is particularly true because of  the negative environment I often encounter on the web in terms of the likelihood of getting an agent, the validity of self-publishing, and the general question of are you good enough?

Ueland writes:

“Now perhaps the thoughts, ‘There is no money in it,’ and ‘It may never be published,’ dry up all the springs of energy in you so that you can’t drag yourself to a piece of paper.

“I have experienced this often. I have cleared it up for myself in the following way:

“At the time of the Renaissance, all gentlemen wrote sonnets. They did not think of getting them published in the Woman’s Home Companion. Well, why write the sonnet at all?

“A Renaissance nobleman wrote a love sonnet for a number of reasons. [. . .] But the real reason was to tell the lady that he loved her.”

Ueland continues with an example of an artist:

“If you read the letters written by the painter van Gogh, you will see what his creative impulse was. He loved the sky, for example. He loved human beings. He wanted to show human beings how  beautiful the sky was so he painted it for them. And that was all there was to it,” (Ueland pp 20-21).

I find this very inspirational. When I began writing my memoir, I did not think of getting it published. I loved my sister Annie, and I loved human beings. I simply wanted to show human beings how beautiful Annie was, so I wrote it for them. And that is all there is to it.

In the late 50s when my sister Annie was born, sometimes families placed severely disabled children in homes where they could be cared for. When Annie was born with severe brain damage my parents’ family doctor told them, “You have two choices. You can keep her and take care of her, or put her in an institution.” My parents took care of Annie in their home for 51 years, until her death. The following is an excerpt from Dancing in Heaven—a sister’s memoir.

Dad said, “All I know is that very early on we were both quite young and had no idea what was down the line. We made a decision. She’s the way God gave her to us, and we agreed to take on that responsibility. There was no pressure from anybody else to do it or not do it. We chose to do it.” After a moment he added, “She’s been a major pleasure to me on a one-to-one basis.”

“And she has been a major pleasure to a lot of other people, some of whom do not even know her,” Mom said. “I think it’s because she just smiles. She has some kind of charisma there that doesn’t have to be spoken. She’ll look up at people and just smile. And they’ll melt right there.

“You can take her to the store; you can take her anywhere, and the way she’s sitting back, she can see people’s faces good. And she’ll just look up and smile, and you’ve got everybody in the place smiling at her. But I think any ordinary person could do that too, I just don’t think we do.”

10 thoughts on “If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland”

  1. Your parents (and you, too) are remarkable people. We certainly need more people in the world who think the way you do. Thank you for the book recommendations; I really like Zinsser, and I will check out the Ueland book!

    1. I haven’t started Zinsser yet, but both books were recommended by my son and daughter-in-laws’ friend who was an English major. I’m looking forward to reading it.

  2. Love Brenda Ueland’s book . . . no rules, just write!

    Be who you are and say what you feel . . . don’t worry about your reputation with others. Be real. Etc. (p.114)

  3. Sounds like a good book and since I agree with many of your comments about some of the pessimists around-it’s nice to know that there are positive thoughts about publishing too!

  4. I really needed to read your post tonight. “I simply wanted to show human beings how beautiful Annie was, so I wrote it for them. And that is all there is to it.” I just love this!

    I found your encouragement so comforting. I often second guess my decision to self-publish. Yet, if I remember that I wrote my book because I “simply wanted to show humans beings how wonderful creativity is,” then it doesn’t matter to me how many of them sell. Thanks again for putting my thoughts into words.

    1. I’m glad you read it at just the right time. Follow your heart. (The sticking pint is, just because I can publish the book, it doesn’t necessarily mean people will read the book. . .) Marketing.

  5. Brenda Ueland’s book is a largely unsung gem.
    It’s right up there with Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones, but much less known. A fabulous trilogy to help with the writing, and help with the soul!


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