If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating

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

4.14 of 5 stars 4.14  ·  rating details  ·  3,698 ratings  ·  405 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)
more details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.
On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
31st out of 470 books — 746 voters
On Writing by Stephen KingBird by Bird by Anne LamottThe Artist's Way by Julia CameronWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.
Best Books on Creative Life
18th out of 227 books — 303 voters


More lists with this book...

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  rating details
PhilorChelsy
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 (www.burnah.blogspot.com) 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...more
Leanne
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...more
Jenna
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
Cindy
Jul 23, 2007 Cindy rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
christina
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.

Julia
Jul 28, 2009 Julia rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Sally Maria
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...more
Polly
"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
Nat
May 29, 2013 Nat rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Michael Leviton
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
Jessica
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
Kimberly
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
Leippya
Oct 18, 2007 Leippya rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
Ada
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.
Karen
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
Darek
First of all - English is my second language, I am deeply sorry for my mistakes.
---
It is hard to describe my disappointment with Ueland's book. What a waste of time and money. It is so short, yet so painfully repetitive, 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 does not like (Steinbeck? Scott Fitzgerald, seri...more
Rose
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...more
Jenny
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
Jodi Ralston
Mar 18, 2014 Jodi Ralston rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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...more
Adam
A must-read for those trying to find their voice in any creative endeavor.
Grete
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
Ally
This book was originally written in the 1930s -THE 30s!!- and was a romantically vintage read, bound in the old crackley binding that the library used. Though written seventy-odd years ago, Brenda Ueland was one sassy gal, and full of passion for writing and life that still inspires.

Her advice, always uttered from the very truth of her soul, is sometimes too religious and judgemental for my taste. In the middle of the book, she gives countless examples of "good" and "bad" writing, drawing from g...more
Tiffany
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...more
Nura Yusof
I didn't finish this. I picked this up because I like to write, to a certain degree. I thought I would be inspired to progress to another level in writing.

But I now realise that I am not really inclined towards a life of writing. As a hobby, yes but not more.

This book is filled with motivational or inspiration-inducing philosophy. While it may appeal to others, I've had my fill from other motivational writers. She writes very much about how one must write for the love of writing, primarily. She...more
Mia Parviainen
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...more
Sandra Alonzo
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...more
Brynn
Feb 26, 2008 Brynn rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Brynn by: my momma
I want to shout Hallelujah when I think of Brenda Ueland and this book. Like Meditations, this book has gotten me through some tough times. And you don't have to be a writer to appreciate what Ueland has to say, you can be anybody, for as Ueland points out: everyone is talented, original, and has something to say. Her encouragement and wisdom are helpful to anyone looking to unblock themselves and become creators. I would recommend reading this book alongside The Artist's Way. Brenda Ueland pump...more
Zac Dillon
Zac Dillon "I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like child stringing beads in kindergarten--happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another." - Ueland

"I learned… that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic, striving, but it comes to 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." - Ue...more
Inkspeckle
What I learned from this book? Too much to express! My mother--a poet in her own right--gave me this book when I was 15. It had already been read many times before it came into my hands, and for very good reason. The author was an amazing teacher. In fact, I've learned more about writing from this book than I have from any other teacher or book I have ever encountered. I re-read it about once a year. Soon, I'll pass it on to my own daughter--who is a writer, as well. By then, it'll be falling ap...more
Laura Cowan
I've never read a book as packed cover to cover with gentle encouragement for artists. Brenda Ueland clearly loved people, loved art, and believed in the potential of anyone who wanted to create or express what they saw in life. A must-read for any writer's shelf. Written many decades ago and other than a few dated technology and fashion references, as relevant now as it ever was, particularly for women who undervalue their art and themselves.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »
  • The Courage to Write: How Writers Transcend Fear
  • Becoming a Writer
  • The Right to Write: An Invitation and Initiation into the Writing Life
  • Writing from the Inside Out: Transforming Your Psychological Blocks to Release the Writer Within
  • Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction and Other Dilemmas in the Writer's Life
  • Making a Literary Life
  • A Writer's Book of Days: A Spirited Companion and Lively Muse for the Writing Life
  • Chapter After Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams
  • Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life
  • What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers
  • Room to Write: Daily Invitations to a Writer's Life
  • Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft
  • The Forest for the Trees
  • The Weekend Novelist
  • The Writing Life
  • Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives
  • The Writer's Idea Book
  • Writing Tools: 50 Essential Strategies for Every Writer
145456
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
More about Brenda Ueland...
Me: A Memoir Strength to Your Sword Arm: Selected Writings Tell Me More: On The Fine Art Of Listening O Clouds, Unfold: Clara Ueland and Her Family Brenda, My Darling: The Love Letters of Fridtjof Nansen to Brenda Ueland

Share This Book

“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. ”
83 likes
“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. ”
60 likes
More quotes…