As I get ready to teach another Creative Writing course, I think about books to recommend at the end and here’s a perennial recommendation. I’d also recommend Lynda Barry’s What It Is as well, especially if you yearn to write but haven’t quite figured out how to get the inchoate thoughts in your head out onto paper( and yes, Barry wants you to use paper). Like Barry’s book Ueland’s classic will give you confidence in your words. I chose this image because that’s the edition I first had: it’s been through many since then.
Ueland gets to the heart of the matter with her concise assertion: “everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.” Everybody: that’s an important underpinning of all that she writes here. You don’t have to go out and live adventures or make yourself ‘interesting’ (a most films about writers suggest) in order to write. She’s about the process — the work of writing — as the way to discover what you have to say. “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.”
One of her “ah ha!” moments comes from reading one of Van Gogh’s letters in which he begins by talking about how beautiful the scene outside his window is, then decides to try to sketch it. “And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it,” Ueland writes, and “the moment I read Van Gogh’s letter I knew what art was, and the creative impulse. It is a feeling of love and enthusiasm for something, and in a direct, simple, passionate and true way, you try to show this beauty in things to others, by drawing it.” That’s the key: recognising something that matters to you and conveying it as accurately as possible.
Never ask yourself if your ideas are important. Don’t worry about being profound: “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.” Remember, “…writing is not a performance but a generosity.”
Obviously she and I agree about Blake, but there’s a key there, too. “Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. ‘I will not Reason and 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.”
I like to have her reminders. Ueland nourishes the soul and reinvigorates the heart
As always, check Patti’s blog for a roundup of overlooked tomes.