I love, love, love Brenda Ueland’s “If You Want to Write – A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit,” a MUST read for those looking to rediscover their lost creativity. Here are some of my favorite learnings from the book.
Our innate creativity is often destroyed by the time we reach adulthood.
It (our creativity) is very tender and sensitive, and it is usually drummed out of people early in life by criticism (so-called “helpful criticism” is often the worst kind), by teasing, jeering, rules, prissy teachers, critics, and all those unloving people who forget that the letter killeth and the spirit giveth life. Sometimes I think of life as a process where everybody is discouraging and taking everybody else a peg or two.
Brenda urges us to keep this spark alive, 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.
So, how do we keep it alive?
By using it, by letting it out, by giving some time to it. But if we are women we think it is more important to wipe noses and carry doilies than to write or to play the piano. And men spend their lives adding and subtracting and dictating letters when they secretly long to write sonnets and play the violin and burst into tears at the sunset.
But what urges us to write, to paint, to create?
One of the intrinsic rewards for writing the sonnet was that then the nobleman knew and understood his own feelings better, and he knew more about what love was, what part of his feelings were bogus (literary) and what real, and what a beautiful thing the English or the Italian language was…
And one of the most important intrinsic rewards is the stretched understanding, the illumination…you will never know what your husband looks like unless you try to draw him, and you will never understand him unless you try and write his story.
So, how can we release the poet hidden in us, or bring to the surface the tune that is caught in our throat? Brenda talks about the right way to work:
I learned from them that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it a 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 mountaintop, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten–happy, absorbed, and quietly putting one bead after another.
In our creative endeavors, Brenda urges us to:
Be careless, reckless! Be a lion! Be a pirate! When You Write
And yet, fear often keeps us from being a lion.
It is because of the critics, the doubters (in the outer world and within ourselves) that we have such hesitance when we write…
As I write this I many times have had the chilling feeling come around my heart because of the thought: “What if it may not be true? People will say I am crazy. Where is my logic? I haven’t a Ph.D. in philosophy or psychology.”
She shares how she moved past this fear herself:
A few years ago I would not have dared say anything in this book without looking up long, corroborating passages in big books: “William James says,” etc., etc.
I believe now in speaking from myself, as I want you to do when you write. Don’t keep marshaling thoughts like “I must prove it.”
You don’t have to prove it by citing specific examples, by comparing and all. If it is true to you, it is true. Another truth may take place later. What comes truly from me is true, whether anybody believes it or not. It is my truth.
If there are so many difficulties involved in reclaiming our creativity and then moving past our fears to express ourselves, the question arises: why do we do it?
Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold, and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try to express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e., share it with others.
“If you want to write” will inspire you, will support you, will nurture you as you look inside yourself and try to find the fanciful little girl who lived in you, who thought that a orange tree would grow out from her mouth if she swallowed some seeds. Or maybe the little boy who thought that once he dropped the letter in the post box it traveled through winding tunnels and it would fly out the other end, just where his grandma lived. That little boy or little girl still lives somewhere deep inside of us: they’re calling out for us to find them.
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