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If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
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If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit

4.10  ·  Rating Details  ·  5,597 Ratings  ·  486 Reviews
In her 93 remarkable years, Brenda Ueland published six million words. She said she had two rules she followed absolutely: to tell the truth, and not to do anything she didn't want to do. Her integrity shines throughout If You Want to Write, her best-selling classic on the process of writing that has already inspired thousands to find their own creative center. Carl Sandbu ...more
Paperback, 179 pages
Published January 15th 2002 by Graywolf Press (first published 1983)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 19, 2008 PhilorChelsy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: chelsys-readings
If you want to Write, or do ANYthing you are passionate about...draw, paint, teach, imagine, create...this book inspires. I even had to blog it ( To really remember it, I want to put it down here:
My favorite word in the book: "Waggish" Meaning fanciful, whimsy, silly.
Some favorite quotes:
"Van Gogh said: "If you hear a voice within you saying: you are not painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working."
"the creative impluse of V
Jul 04, 2015 Jenna rated it really liked it
I first read this book when I was 13, so I can't vouch for how useful it might be to an adult reader. All I know is that no book has changed my life as dramatically as this one did when I was 13. I'm only slightly exaggerating when I say that this book has the power to cure minor mental disorders and to help you find direction in your life. Reading this book was like one long epiphany for me. It is an energizing read, written in simple, clear, vivacious prose by a woman without a shred of pompos ...more
Jun 03, 2012 Leanne rated it did not like it
Shelves: writing
If you want to read a good book about writing, don't read this one. Read Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. Read On Writing by Stephen King. Read anything else, really.

The redeeming factors of this book were:
1. It was short(!), and

2. It made me realize that Van Gogh was kind of a badass, and I'll probably go out of my way to learn more about him.

Onto the not-so redeeming factors...!
1. I have a huge, nagging suspicion that Ms. Ueland is not a very good reader. One of the things that makes me long t
Jul 23, 2007 Cindy rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to write
I have read this book every couple of years since I was a teenager. I gave it to my Dad to read and he loved it, and said it was so hard to get through because every line was true and made you sit there in awe wondering about your life. I think it's true you have to forget the blahness of similarly titled books and know this book is as much about how to live as how to write. This author wrote it in 1932 or so, and lived to be an octegenarian swimmer. She constantly quotes Keats, Blake, Dostoevsk ...more
Sally Maria
Jun 29, 2010 Sally Maria rated it really liked it
I had to read the book Carl Sandburg said was the best book ever on writing.

The poem that came:

If You Want To Write*
For Brenda Ueland (1891-1985)

I found you in a box,
broken now, mildewed,
packed with the crème,
books read in college
barely recollected,
dog eared pages,
notes in tea-stained
margins, a badge of honor
for any author.

I would have set you aside,
dismissed you as self-help,
thought you antiquated,
Book of the month,
had he not spoken of you
with reverence, perhaps
even awe, this scientist
to whom
Apr 08, 2016 Darek rated it did not like it
First of all - English is my second language, I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.
It's hard to describe my disappointment with Ueland's book. What a waste of time and money. It is so short, yet so painfully monotonous, filled with long excerpts taken from diaries and letters of few famous artists (mostly van Gogh, Blake and "Great Russians") and pupils from Ueland's writing class.
While the author often mocks the great writers that she personally dislikes (Steinbeck? Scott Fitzgerald, seriously?
Jul 28, 2009 Julia rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Any writer or English student.
Recommended to Julia by: A lady at Barnes & Noble.
Shelves: writing
I never had any aspirations of becoming a writer. Writing, to me, was not enjoyable. I did not feel freed, or accomplished, and as though I had created a piece of art when I got done writing a paper. Papers were written for the sole purpose of impressing the teacher and getting a good grade.

Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit completely changed my notion about writing. It made me understand that writing, or painting, acting or whatever else you want t
Feb 20, 2010 Polly rated it it was amazing
"This book should be a great help in the freeing of your thoughts and the genius that is in all of us." Great opener, eh? I believe in Ueland's thesis that: "everybody is talented, original and has something important to say." I also believe, as she does, that "this creative power I think is the Holy Ghost." She further thinks that most creativity is "drummed out of people early in life by criticism." I think her philosophy applies to any creative process (wood working, gardening, painting, quil ...more
Michael Leviton
Oct 31, 2007 Michael Leviton rated it it was amazing
I'm only 25% through this book and it's the most moving thing ever. She talks a lot about the general fraudulence and darkness in the world of art and art appreciation that reallly gets me down a lot and she's very comforting and wise about the heartbreak of that stuff as well as figuring out how to get past it. It's killing me, it's so good. And I can't believe how modern it feels; it was written in 1938! This woman writes about this sort of fraudulence and art-for-money or art-for-fame attitud ...more
May 21, 2009 christina rated it it was amazing
This is by far and away the best book I have ever read on writing, and I have read a number of them.

Her approach is one of pure enthusiasm and letting go of your notions of writing "well" or worrying about your "style", instead she advocates tapping into what is true and genuine for you and just putting the words on paper, and seeing what happens.

I plan on purchasing her fictional and memoir books, and re-reading parts of this book for inspiration for a long time.

May 29, 2013 Nat rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone wanting to be creative
I'm going to go against the crowd here. I liked the book. However, it was not as life changing for me as it was for the many who have read it.

This would have made a good pamphlet or even blog post. Why? It's repetitious. I do agree with Brenda Ueland's theory that writing (or any type of creative work) must be true to yourself. It's always your own voice that comes out the best in whatever you do.

I also agree with her assessment of critics. What really do they know? I cannot think of one critic
Constantly, I fall into reading books about writing without having read any other book by the author (John Gardner, Stephen King, and now Brenda Ueland, to name a few off the top of my head). I won't mince words, I really like reading books about writing, not for "tips and tricks" or secrets, but to catch some of the light coming off of the authors, some little shards of passion, and also to see what drives other writers to, well, write. I loved the books on writing that I read by both of the af ...more
Mar 19, 2014 Ada rated it it was amazing
I found something in this book that I lost several years ago. I am so happy to have found inspiration from Brenda to finally follow through with my dreams. The last sentence in this book is as follows, "And if it has given you the impulse to write one small story, then I am pleased." I have rediscovered my voice and started writing again all because of the guidance that this book offered me.
May 20, 2014 Karen rated it it was amazing
A simple little book, formatted for the Kindle and republished, put up for free one time, and I downloaded it since I compulsively collect books about writing. Not the How-to of writing dialogue or description or plot-outlining, but books about the real art of writing, the truth of it, the flow of creativity that so easily gets blocked. Ueland's book is one of those gems I treasure, to read over and over, because just reading a page or two will open the desire to work, give me the confidence to ...more
Dec 04, 2011 Tiffany rated it it was amazing
A quote from the Preface to Second Edition:

"At that time when I was writing the book, Carl Sandburg, an old friend, was at our house. Sometimes, looking out at Lake Calhoun in the cold November evening, he would begin to thunder in his mighty voice (so much like Isaiah's, I used to think) about the wild grey waves, the North wind, the new moon, the gunmetal sky. He liked the book.
He said: 'That is the best book ever written about how to write.'"

I agree... Brenda Ueland, YOU ROCK!!! (And this bo
This is the holy grail of creativity. I read many books about creative people's lives, hoping to glean some knowledge and inspiration. This book is the motherload, the culmination............The author is a writer as well as a teacher, which gives her the birds eye view as well as being a layperson in this field. Although her subject is creativity and imagination in writing, I find that substituting "music" or even just "creativity" for "writing", this book applies whatever field you need it to. ...more
Oct 18, 2007 Leippya rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: people creatively blocked
Shelves: writing
The author of this book is unbelievably kind, and it really comes out in the book. She constantly focuses on the positive, and I'm sure she had to be a fantastic teacher. It's a nice read, if you currently feel blocked it's probably the best moment to get this book. However, if your only focus in life is to sell your writing, this might not be the book for you (although it might contain answers if you're failing to sell). This book isn't about skills or market, it's about *being*, it's about att ...more
Jan 01, 2008 Rose rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brenda Ueland spent most of her ninety-three years as a writer. "If You Want To Write", which was originally published in 1938, is her best-selling guidebook to finding your own creative center and expressing it through lively and memorable prose. Carl Sandburg called it "the best book ever written about how to write."

Ueland advises that artistic genius exists within all of us, and awakening it is a simple matter: write about what genuinely interests you, and be honest with yourself and your aud
Sep 25, 2007 Jenny rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
I'm usually a bit gunshy of "how to write" books, but I thought this one came pretty close to being as good as they get. The focus was on fidelity to the self and how to let one's voice out. I liked the image of Christ as the most creative person to have ever lived. I really liked chapter 10: Why women who do too much housework should neglect it for their writing (to set a good example for the children--menial work at the expense of all true, ardent, creative work is a sin against the holy ghost ...more
Jan 12, 2013 Adam rated it it was amazing
A must-read for those trying to find their voice in any creative endeavor.
Paula Cappa
Dec 11, 2014 Paula Cappa rated it it was amazing
I discovered this book at the International Miami Book Fair (Greywolf Press). What a gem! Do you want to know how true creative power flourishes? Read this book. It's a writing book, but you won't find anything here about plot, characterization, POV, or structure. This is about the creative process and I couldn't stop reading it. Brenda Ueland has not only a fine intelligence about writing, but she understands creativity better than most writing teachers or workshop leaders who tend to drill mec ...more
Nov 03, 2012 Erin rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I'm sorry, I know tons of people love this book, but I am DONE reading it (at 56% of the way through it). Here's what I wrote as I read to explain why:

"As I read, I can't help but think, "If this woman quotes her students one more time, I'm going to smack someone." Is this a book about writing or a book about saying "Oh goody you're the bestest writer ever and always" to all her students? Please. Spare me."

And a little while later:

"I'm beginning to this this writer's advice isn't worth having. "
Mia Parviainen
Dec 13, 2012 Mia Parviainen rated it liked it
Sometimes I have a difficult time with reading books on writing like this one, for a variety of reasons.

Ueland becomes bizarrely metaphysical at times. While I can deal with references to the muses and inspiration personified, some of her ideas, like calling creative power "the Holy Ghost," tread into terra incognita. I feel like I'm being cornered at a party by a strange old woman pontificating about her writing philosophy.

Her biases about various writers are equally unusual. She is critical o
Sandra Alonzo
Jun 21, 2011 Sandra Alonzo rated it it was amazing
Shelves: kindle
This is one of those timeless works with tons of good advice about writing. I love Brenda Ueland's philosphy. Here are a few great quotes. The last is my favorite:

"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."

"No writing is a waste of time – no creative work wher
Jodi Ralston
Mar 18, 2014 Jodi Ralston rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Authors, Anyone Who Wants to Be Creative
Recommended to Jodi by: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur—How to Publish a Book by Kawasaki and Welch
This book ranks right up their with Julia Cameron's Artist's Way. Like that author, Ueland taps into who you really are and what you are trying to do and what is blocking you. Everyone can and should write or create.

The problem is most of us think we can't. The well of creativity dries up so easily by fears, anxieties, doubts, criticisms, shoulds/coulds/musts. This book teaches you to free your inspiriation and creativity, and by it teaching you to write the truth you want to share, you realize
Feb 24, 2016 Larry rated it it was amazing
I wish I had read this book when I was in High School. It is an ideal book for a beginning writer, or someone who would like to write. Ms. Ueland presents a vision of what it is to write, or to engage in any form or creative work, that is at once simple and compelling. She taught writing, and presents examples from her pupils. Her aim is to free the reader from self doubt and encourage them to unleash the creativity that is in all of us.

This book does not address the nuts and bolts of writing.
Teri Anderson
Mar 24, 2016 Teri Anderson rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
I read dozens and dozens of writing-related books like this in my 20's and 30's before I had kids. They were a terrific education after college, and in many ways I learned more about writing from them than I did in any of my college classes. This book by Brenda Ueland was one of them, and it is wonderfully supportive of the creative spirit. It will give you the pep talk you need to move forward with your writing. My copy is full of highlighted text.

Now that I'm in my late 40's and have kids, I h
Kelly Lynn Thomas
Jun 02, 2015 Kelly Lynn Thomas rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing
The fact that this book was written in the 1930s makes it even more impressive than it is just judging the text on its own. Ueland champions the idea that EVERYONE is creative and can write well -- we just have to tap into true selves and describe what we see and feel and not what we think someone else wants us to see or feel. She builds what I thought was a compelling argument for this theory, and then acts as a sort of cheerleader (but not in the annoying rah-rah kind of way--it's more like em ...more
Jun 11, 2014 Grete rated it really liked it
A passionate manifesto on believing in one's own creativity and expressing it. Ueland emphasizes writing (or painting, or playing, or what-have-you) the true rather than the expected. Her flagrant disregard for certain grammatical conventions, while of a piece with her beliefs, distracted and irritated me throughout the book. Also, her representations of Blake, Van Gogh, and classic Russian writers are idealized and simplistic, although they remain instructive and even inspiring. Overall, an exc ...more
Some of the things this author said about writing really resonated with me, but other things were a bit too "out there", flaky, and/or liberal weird. Most of what she said was really good though, and inspired me to write more freely!

In this book, the author encourages people to write from their true selves, to write with freedom from fear of criticism, to write about things they care about. Her words are at once deep and grand, but also simple and accessible. Her writing feels like a call to arm
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Brenda Ueland was a journalist, editor, freelance writer, and teacher of writing. She is best known for her book If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.

Ueland was born to Andreas and Clara Hampson Ueland; the third of seven children. She attended Wells and Barnard colleges and received her baccalaureate from Barnard in 1913. She lived in and around New York City for much o
More about Brenda Ueland...

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“When Van Gogh was a young man in his early twenties, he was in London studying to be a clergyman. He had no thought of being an artist at all. he sat in his cheap little room writing a letter to his younger brother in Holland, whom he loved very much. He looked out his window at a watery twilight, a thin lampost, a star, and he said in his letter something like this: "it is so beautiful I must show you how it looks." And then on his cheap ruled note paper, he made the most beautiful, tender, little drawing of it.

When I read this letter of Van Gogh's it comforted me very much and seemed to throw a clear light on the whole road of Art. Before, I thought that to produce a work of painting or literature, you scowled and thought long and ponderously and weighed everything solemnly and learned everything that all artists had ever done aforetime, and what their influences and schools were, and you were extremely careful about *design* and *balance* and getting *interesting planes* into your painting, and avoided, with the most astringent severity, showing the faintest *acedemical* tendency, and were strictly modern. And so on and so on.

But 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.

And Van Gogh's little drawing on the cheap note paper was a work of art because he loved the sky and the frail lamppost against it so seriously that he made the drawing with the most exquisite conscientiousness and care. ”
“The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is:
"Tell me more. Tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out."

And if you have no such friend,--and you want to write,--well, then you must imagine one. ”
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