Wisdom from Brenda Ueland on Writing & Creativity

Sometimes it’s helpful to get a little inspiration from a master. Brenda Ueland, the author of If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit falls into that category. Carl Sanburg, for example, is quoted as saying that Ueland’s book was “the best book ever written on how to write.” I thought I would share a few of Ms. Ueland’s insights for those of us who love writing but sometimes could use a bit of bolstering. I hope you will find her words as inspiring as I have. 

From Brenda Ueland:

“I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.”

“I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten – happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another. ”

“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.”

“No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.”

“Yes, I hate orthodox criticism. I don’t mean great criticism, like that of Matthew Arnold and others, but the usual small niggling, fussy-mussy criticism, which thinks it can improve people by telling them where they are wrong, and results only in putting them in straitjackets of hesitancy and self-consciousness, and weazening all vision and bravery.

…I hate it because of all the potentially shining, gentle, gifted people of all ages, that it snuffs out every year. It is a murderer of talent. And because the most modest and sensitive people are the most talented, having the most imagination and sympathy, these are the very first ones to get killed off. It is the brutal egotists that survive.”

“I found that many gifted people are so afraid of writing a poor story that they cannot summon the nerve to write a single sentence for months. The thing to say to such people is: “See how *bad* a story you can write. See how dull you can be. Go ahead. That would be fun and interesting. I will give you ten dollars if you can write something thoroughly dull from beginning to end!” And of course, no one can. ”

“Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”

Carl Sandburg knew a thing or two, that’s clear. And when it came to Brenda Ueland, he appears to have known quite a lot.

Helen (Len) Leatherwood has been teaching writing privately to students in Beverly Hills for the past twenty years. She also is the coordinator of Online Classes for Story Circle Network. Len has published numerous pieces in literary journals. She is a Pushcart nominee in fiction. Her work also appears in A Cup of Comfort Cookbook, currently available on Amazon. Her blog, 20 Minutes a Day, can be found at lenleatherwood.wordpress.com.


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