Friday, January 29, 2010

About Art, Independence and Spirit . . .

I've never written (or reported) about a book I haven't finished reading yet, but then, as blogs are very much about life in progress, I figure it's perfectly okay to blog about one.

The partially-read book I want to blog about is Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. I started reading it because a friend lent it to me and I am looking for a book that might serve as a companion to a writing course I'm to teach in the spring for JMU's Lifelong Learning Institute.

Brenda Ueland was a journalist and writer who died in 1965 at the age of 93. She was a free spirit, even when measured against my own rather free-spirited sensibilities. Ms. Ueland married three times, had many lovers, walked miles daily, did a mean hand-stand, and wrote.

For me, reading If You Want to Write . . . is like what? A psychological shot of B-12? Permission to shake off the last of my self-imposed creative rules (i.e. shackles)? Giving myself permission to just go ahead and write whatever I want to write? Or maybe, even more importantly, giving myself permission to just go ahead and live?

Brenda Ueland is a wonderfully engaging essayist, her thoughts heavily influenced by William Blake and Vincent Van Gogh, though she certainly seems to be having a better time than either of those gentleman.

At the end of If You Want . . . is her famous (in a very limited way) list of twelve things to remember while you are writing (or painting, or living). I found them because of my habit of always reading the last few pages of a book before I legitimately get to them.

I thought it might energize both your spirit and your day if I passed them along.
  • Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say.
  • Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure.
  • Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.
  • Tackle anything you want to -- novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake's admonition: "Better to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse un-acted desires."
  • Don't be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write two new ones and then go back to it.
  • Don't fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past.. . . We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often, it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: "I know it is awful!" before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one's mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.
  • Try to discover your true, honest, un-theoretical self.
  • Don't think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull, that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God, and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! . . .
  • If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee deep.
  • When discouraged, remember what Van Gogh said: "If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.
  • Don't be afraid of yourself when you write. Don't check-rein yourself. If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heaven's sake be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don't care about it.
  • Don't always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. "I will not Reason & Compare," said Blake: "my business is to Create." Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.

1 comment:

  1. good idea to put her thoughts in bullet points. . . . Strange how I have forgotten many of them. I thought at first maybe you'd adapted them, but upon returning, I see that you revised your post to explain when they appear in the book. And now I remember thinking that this list didn't seem to quite accurately summarize all that she said in the book.

    The fact that her writing is so powerful, but that I haven't really internalized it the way I thought I might is interesting . . . . I think her's is a book one needs to keep returning to for refreshment . . . .