The enlargement of the soul

My brother took this photo of me in The Paris Market and Brocante in Savannah ..a delightful spot where we stopped for coffee (and you can tell that I loved this seat!)
My brother took this photo of me in The Paris Market and Brocante in Savannah ..a delightful spot where we stopped for coffee (and you can tell that I loved this seat!)

Last summer, I decided to write a novel. Through the encouragement of a friend, and the feeling of challenge that this idea brought on, I completed a rough draft by early September. But almost as soon as I finished, looking back over the 300+ pages of misspelled words, awkward sentences, bad grammar, and all, overwhelmed me and I put it away. I kept saying things (to myself) like, “I need a month to just not think about it. After the holidays I’ll pick it up again. On my trip to Florida, I’ll work on it everyday….” but I didn’t. The time away from it wasn’t really a big concern, but the idea that what I’d written was not very good, uninspired, and uninteresting, was beginning to take over.

During this period, another friend had recommended the book, If You Want to Write, by Brenda Ueland. On the back of the book it says, “Carl Sandburg called this book, ‘The best book ever written about how to write.’ I bought the book at her recommendation, but didn’t open it until yesterday.

When I did, I felt like I’d found a friend...I love this book!! It is honest and funny and encouraging, not only for writers, but for living. The author talks about having fun, being light, and letting this energy flow into us and through us.  There is also something about the fact that she was born in 1891 and still wrote with such abandon that delights me. On page 7 she says (about criticism),

“You have noticed how teachers, critics, parents and other know-it-alls, when they see you have written something, become at once long-nosed and finicking and go through it gingerly sniffing out the flaws. AHA! a misspelled word! as though Shakespeare could spell! As though spelling, grammar and what you learn in a book about rhetoric has anything to do with  freedom and the imagination!…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….”

As I read her words, I realized that my timing had been perfect. I had been the know-it-all, tiny-minded, tight-lipped critic of my own work and had lost any sense of joy and adventure that had been there originally when I thought about writing a novel. Reading this wonderful book yesterday, I wanted to cry with joy. I was back on track with fun and adventure as my guides; the only things that really mattered for this project in the first place.

“ are all original and talented and need to let it out of yourselves: that is to say, you have the creative impulse. ..Now this creative power I think is the Holy Ghost. My theology may not be very accurate but that is how I think of it. I know that William Blake called this creative power the Imagination and he said it was God. He, if anyone, ought to know, for he was one of the greatest poets who ever lived.

Now Blake thought that this creative power should be kep alive in all people for all of their lives. And so do I. Why? because it is life Itself. It is the Spirit. In fact it is the only important thing about us. The rest of us is legs and stomach, materialistic cravings and fears…..

It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc, unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e., the enlargement of the soul.”  from,  If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland (published in 1938).

27 thoughts on “The enlargement of the soul”

  1. Oh, Mary, I’ve had this book sitting my shelf forever, but I haven’t looked at it in years. That will change today. I’ve stifled my urge to write for many of the same reasons that you mention and have worked on being an editor. But now you (and Brenda) challenge me. How wonderful about your novel – my dad finished one at 93. I think working on it is what gave his life joy and purpose during his last years.

    1. That is amazing about your dad Charlotte and I am delighted for you that something has been sparked for your own writing!

  2. What a great post and great advice from Ms. Ueland! Makes me think of the whole connotation of the act of editing! I think of making something ‘less’ when right now, I (and I am guessing most everyone at WFF) only want MORE of you and your writing. I can not wait to open your book, to feel it’s energy in my hands, to jump into your imagination, and to get lost in your story! (Afterall, you seem to be inside our heads and hearts every morning!). So glad you are ‘back on track’…cause I’m a’waitin’ at the station!!! XO

  3. There is nothing more life affirming than the act of creation, Mary. When I am in that space – all is possible – it is limitless. I feel connected with infinity. Still, I battle with my “demons at the gate” constantly. As an artist and musician I am self taught – my only credentials are the result of what I have created. They continually attempt to convince me that I have no claim to any of it, that “I don’t know enough to know how”, and “who do I think I am?” blah, blah, blah – I just have to let it howl away inside of me anyway. I don’t let it stop me.

  4. I will get this book, thank you! LOVE the idea of creating for the “soul” purpose of creating, and not for any material reward or recognition , although in my opinion, both are wonderful when kept in perspective. Happy writing everyone!

  5. Mary – For lack of a better expression, I was blown away reading these two quotes from Brenda Ueland. I love her philosophy and, for having been written so long ago, it is still so relevant. Even those of us not writing books can apply this to any creative endeavor. Love the perfect timing for you and your book. No pressure but can’t wait till it’s published!

    1. I appreciate your encouragement Pam! I feel like this book is really for everyone too. Jack is not a writer but is having the same reaction to it that I did.

  6. You are obviously an inspired writer, Mary, or i wouldn’t spend valuable time reading you every day! Write like you are telling us your story, not that silly critic…you. I, too, just love that book and have for years. It’s one of the books i pick up for inspiration. Thanks for reminding me of it. Love that seat in the beautiful corner and you in the seat!

    1. I appreciate your straight forward compliment Christine!…it is also nice to know how you feel about the book.

  7. Dear Mary, thank you for this joyful reminder to allow creative energy to flow from my heart everyday. I too believe that the imagination and all it’s creative juices is the voice of spirit, the wings of God, the beauty of the divine….and I too get so lost in the intellect and the critical mind sometimes…. instead of allowing everything to flow forth!. Thank you for uplifting my spirits today and reminding me to embrace that part of myself.

  8. Fantastic!!! I have forwarded this post to all the creative women in my family. Writers, painters, quilters, potters….Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. Again. 🙂 Sending you loads of love and creative light! (Because we FINALLY have sunshine here so I have tons of light to spare!)

    1. Thank you Anna! (and thanks for letting me know that you forwarded the blog)…this book is so life affirming.

  9. Another discovery this morning – have to add Brenda Ueland to my must reads! Born in 1891? Oh my, can’t you just see her chuckling up in heaven, maybe in a red chair similar to Mary’s, knowing that her wisdom just made its way around the flock via something called a world wide web in 2013? – Imagination. . . we were made in the ‘image’ of God – and what separates us from the rest of creation, is that we were imbued with the gift of imagination – we too, can create! The animals, the creatures of the sea, the birds in the air are all so beautiful – they live instinctively and true to their form and function – but they don’t really create, do they? Other than to make more animals, fish and birds 🙂 But we, – we were breathed into life by a Spirit of unlimited imagination. Lynne mentioned being self taught – I think that’s beautiful Lynne, because you are tapping into the seed of your imagination that was with you at your birth. Like a seed, it just needs a lot of attention, time and care. Sing your songs, everyone, write your stories, intuit with your animals, – what a happy post Mary!

  10. After I retired, I finally took some art classes & they were great fun. Photography for my blog and Facebook connects me with new friends and old now, and of course nearly daily work with the kitties at our shelter gives me great joy. And yesterday, an hour south, we saw blossoms and spring flowers–surely Spirit’s imagination blooming once more! Nice thoughts by everyone!

  11. I am so happy you are again inspired to work on your novel…I think we all have a story to tell and I am very much looking forward to reading yours!

    Why are we our worst critics and why do we sabotage ourselves and our efforts? Wish I knew the reason for that. Being a perfectionist, I often won’t even begin a project if I don’t feel I can do it perfectly…guess that is the reason I have so many un-done thngs. I am working on this and realizing it’s OK if things are not perfect.

    Love and hugs, glad you are safely home. xoxo Marian

  12. Thank you for sharing this writing title! I just ordered the book because of your review and this one posted on Amazon: “It should almost be titled ‘If You Want to Live’, because far more than being a how-to book on writing, it makes an eloquent argument that we all can live creative lives as long as we’re true to ourselves.” Understanding my true self, my energy, has been challenging, but I
    am so appreciative of the love it brings into my life. I look forward to the insights ahead!

  13. Mary, Hi from Cindy Lewis! Very good message in your search. I could go on and on responding to the ideas. First to connect…and I would love to talk to you one of these days.

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