I have a confession: I want to be a writer. A book writer. A fiction book writer. Pick your jaw up from the floor; I’m sure this was shocking. Like so many people who filled their childhoods with books and cram them into their adult lives when jobs, children, spouses, and those damn PTA bake sales will allow, I want to write them. But for a long time I couldn’t. I have always found creative outlets; I photograph, knit, cook, make art with the girls, and play the piano when I have one around (which is never, sad face). But writing just felt so personal and secret. Throw some daddy issues in there and you have a girl who’s never talking.
But then I turned 29. I started to think about the major Life Things I wanted to do that I’ve already done – be married to someone I think is the most awesome, have some babies I think are awesome, get a degree, travel a bit – and those I haven’t yet – get two more degrees, travel even more, learn Spanish, be a totally famous feminist literary critic. But I also have a list of stuff I want to do that I know I never will do. There you’ll find be an opera singer, be a twisty gymnast, and find a super important, never before noted work by a woman author buried in some moldy bookshop and totally bring that woman’s name into the canon. At the bottom of my list, hiding the shadows, was “write a book.” Somehow, younger me had decided that writing a book was something I would never do, could never do. And that just wouldn’t do. I will never be a twisty gymnast, but I will damn straight write a book! I got all mad at myself and sat down and wrote a short story. I read it later, made my husband and best friend and high school English teacher read it, and we all really liked it. So I kept doing it, and I have the notes for my first novel saved right over there as we speak.
Because I’m also a student, though, I also have started reading books on writing. Recently a friend of mine suggested I read Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write, which she had just read and loved. When she enthused about it on the phone to me I could practically hear her jumping up and down, so I ordered it straight away and went through the scant couple hundred pages leisurely. In the book, which was endorsed by Carl Sandburg as “the best book ever written about how to write,” Ueland plays variations on the theme of creative expression. Her main point is that one should try writing, just write any old thing to get it out of the way, and that the sheer act will help you to grow as a writer. She encourages her readers to find their true voice by writing as themselves.
Nothing in the book is groundbreaking news, but Ueland’s supportive, gently admonishing when necessary, tone bolsters self-confidence, especially for novice writers. The many examples she gives of her students’ work, little snippets of other peoples’ lives, are fun to read and instructive, as she gives some classroom context and talks about why or why not these things are successful writing using her definition of such. If she waxes too poetic and fanciful at times, it is forgiven in the pleasure one has in hearing such heartfelt urging to go write, go do the thing they long to do anyway. This is a fantastic text for beginners or seasoned writers who could benefit from some wide-eyed enthusiasm to chase those restrictive, jaded feelings away.