I love the title of Brenda Ueland’s book If You Want To Write, because it requires the reader make a spontaneous act of creativity to mentally finish the phrase. If you want to write… go ahead! If you want to write… write! If you want to write… what’s stopping you?
Ueland’s book was published in 1938. She was a writer who found herself leading creative writing classes for adults, often women. If You Want To Write is a treasure trove of sharp insights she learned helping her students over their own obstacles. She offers encouragement on every page, right from the very first words of chapter one: “Everybody is talented, original, and has something to say.”
This is not a book of advice about grammar or how to query agents. Instead it’s a sort of spell of enchantment about the power in self-expression, that starts with giving yourself permission and building a shell against criticism.
Here’s a creative exercise: For the next ten minutes, behave as if the universe is trying to communicate a secret lesson to you. Can you decode it? What are the patterns in the sky and the wind right now? Why did that song come on the radio at that exact instant? In these days when we are bombarded with messages all day from social media and news, it’s enlightening to look for indirect significance from the cosmos instead. This exercise is so effective in altering consciousness that it was cited as basic magic by Grant Morrison in his terrific essay Pop Magic.
One of Brenda Ueland’s nuggets of guidance is to “Keep a slovenly, headlong, impulsive, honest diary.” It’s advice that is not far from the habit of writing “morning pages,” which I wrote about here recently. If you’d like a little structure for your honest diary, I could recommend the daily exercises in the newly released book Dear Wellbeing… by my friend and colleague Susan Balogh.
And finally, not related to today’s blog post, but not to be missed: The international dance party for the coolest song in the world for 2020, The Weeklings’ “3.”