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.
“...you 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).