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

4.12  ·  Rating details ·  7,555 ratings  ·  637 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 1938)
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Average rating 4.12  · 
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 ·  7,555 ratings  ·  637 reviews


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Joanna Jones
May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is amazing. Brenda Ueland inspired students when she was alive and continues to do so. I bought this book at discounted price from here:
https://www.amazon.com/If-You-Want-Wr...
...more
Leanne
Jun 01, 2012 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
...more
PhilorChelsy
Feb 18, 2008 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 (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
Jenna
Sep 12, 2007 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
Sally Maria
Jun 27, 2010 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
...more
Cynthia Arrieu-King
Jul 23, 2007 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
Tara
Oct 31, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've had this on my nightstand for many years and finally got around to reading it. Originally pubbed in the 1930s, Graywolf Press did the world a favor and reprinted it. While I skimmed over many of the student writing examples, I heavily dogeared many pages of wisdom:

For mothers: "They sense that if you are always doing something for others, like a servant or a nurse, and never anything for yourself, you cannot do others any good. . . . You cannot affect them spiritually in any way at all." Wh
...more
Julia
Jul 27, 2009 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
...more
Darek
Feb 04, 2013 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?
...more
christina
Aug 30, 2007 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.

Polly
Feb 20, 2010 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 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
Nat
Jun 30, 2009 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
...more
JZ
This is who I want to listen to, telling me that I'm a writer, I have something to say, and I can say it better than my first draft. I love this woman, and her kindness and generosity. I want to write like never before. Her enthusiasm for letting your art through is useful for my other artistic endeavors, too.
In the last year, I've read many of the classic writing books, but none have the warmth that this one does. Not even Natalie Goldberg, who I love, too, or Ann Lamott, or Mary Karr, or Steph
...more
pnutbutterprincess
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
Ada
Feb 15, 2014 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.
Tiffany
Nov 27, 2011 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
...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
Paula Cappa
Dec 11, 2014 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
Rose
Jan 01, 2008 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
...more
Camelia Rose
Jul 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
An extremely warm and encouraging book for anyone who wants to write but is afraid not being able to write well. It's a good book (I am trying hard to rid of my cynicism), except that some analogs are out-of-date.

This is what I get from Brenda Ueland's essays:
-- Trust yourself. Believe in you. Believe that you have an unique story (or stories) to tell.
-- Write in a "dreamy" way, which, according my understanding, is actually a highly concentrated mental state, a mental flow.
-- Tell the story fi
...more
Jenny
Sep 25, 2007 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
Adam
May 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for those trying to find their voice in any creative endeavor.
Karen
May 20, 2014 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
Mohammed Morsi
Jul 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
It doesn't really matter when I finished or when I began reading this book. What matters, is that it is a journey into a woman's heart and in that journey, it's also, if you are listening carefully a path to your own heart. For in any good writing, there must be the heart.

This book is not so much about writing as it is about how we are imposed certain rules and norms by society and Brenda Ueland honestly lets her dismay for those be aired. She doesn't care about what you think and tells us, if w
...more
Leippya
Oct 15, 2007 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
Sandra Alonzo
May 26, 2011 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
...more
Jodi Ralston
Mar 18, 2014 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
...more
Erin
Oct 08, 2012 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. "
...more
Mia Parviainen
Dec 13, 2012 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
...more
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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

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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. ”
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“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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