Thursday, March 10, 2011

Brenda Ueland and The Twelve Steps of Writing

Best Friend is one of the strongest supporters of my writing dream. We met when we were both 15 years old, and that girl has witnessed the best and worst times of my life. Although it wasn't always easy, Best Friend has loved me for 35 years, even through my least lovable moments. (She didn't have to like me, she just had to love me.) It was Best Friend who, twenty years or so ago, knowing about my desire to become a writer, bought me Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within. I devoured that book, and adore it still. I plan on blogging about it and a couple of other books that I have recently fallen in love with, over the next few days. But I have to start with another book, one that I also acquired several decades ago. I'm nearly but not completely positive that I bought this one myself. The book is Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence and Spirit.

First published in 1938, this slim volume continues to inspire. Poet and writer Carl Sandburg claimed that it was "the best book ever written about how to write." As a believer in twelve step programs, I am attracted to Ueland's claim that there are twelve things that anybody who wants to write needs to know and to believe. These steps or principles, according to Ueland, and presented verbatim are:

1. Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.
2. Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do.
3. Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.
4. Tackle anything you want tonovels, plays, anything.
5. Don't be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.
6. Don't fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past.
7. Try to discover your true, honest, and untheoretical self.
8. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle!
9. If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good thing. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.
10. When discouraged, remember what Van Gogh said: "If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only with working."
11. Don't be afraid of yourself when you write. Don't check-rein yourself. If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heaven's sake be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don't care about it.
12. Don't always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. "I will not Reason & Compare," said Blake; "my business is to Create." Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.

Brenda Ueland died in 1985, at the age of 93. This book is still in press. If you haven't got it, and you want to write, I recommend it highly.


  1. I love that book! I just came across it a few weeks ago and really felt inspired by it. Of course, I also adore Writing Down the Bones.

  2. My favorite, " She didn't have to like me, she just had to love me." Indeed, Dawn that's the trait of a true friend. I'm getting Ueland's book today, thanks for sharing her with us.

  3. Thanks for dropping in and leaving a comment - always glad to share resources with other like-minded women writers!