(originally published at first efforts, 12.17.08)
Every few years I reread Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write. There's no precise calendar for when; no alarm bells go off when it's time. I just know. And right now, it's time.
As the name of this blog attests, I'm something of a connoisseur of books about writing. I have my favorites: Lamott, Goldberg, Cameron. But Brenda Ueland has always had a special hold on me. It's the first book on writing and creativity I ever read. I bought it during the summer of 1988 when I was working at Bearskin Lodge, at a now defunct Grand Marais book-and-art-supply store called The Book Station. I read it after work on the dock outside my cabin and before work in the lodge dining room overlooking the lake. My copy still contains the Book Station bookmark I got the day I bought it.
There are a number of reasons I love this book. Brenda Ueland was a Minnesotan and the book is replete with place names like Wayzata and Lake Minnetonka. Brenda Ueland was the daughter of Clara Ueland, the awesome woman suffrage activist. And the book was published in 1938 - love those 1930s! - which means that when Brenda Ueland frets about the bad state of contemporary writing, she complains about stuff like Eleanor Roosevelt's columns (which she derides as superficial).
The primary reason I love this book, though, is because it tells the truth. Because it has chapter titles like "Why Women Who Do Too Much Housework Should Neglect It For Their Writing." And because of images like this:
"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. 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" (49-50).
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Research news, commentary on visual politics, and a few old blog posts given new life.