If You Want to Write

August 14, 2011 § 2 Comments

My favorite local bookstore just went out of business. It was called Book Works. It was one of those cosy nooks chock full of dust and inspiration, with a cheery proprietor that always made you feel like you were just the person she wanted to see today. They even sold very well chosen vintage jewelry. I wrote about Book Works here. Has your bookstore closed? Is it going to? We can all mourn these signs of the times together.

On one particularly gloomy day I needed a shot of inspiration and a place to hide, and I went to Book Works. I didn’t find anything among the new arrivals. I was about to leave, and then I spotted it:

Old blue cover from the 60s or 70s, its title cried out to me. It has been one of my most treasured books ever since. It cost $3 and had some blue highlights from a previous owner, who had written her name in pencil on the first page.

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit.”

If You Want to Write. It may as well have said, “Lourdes, yes you, if you want to write, read this.”

[This was back before I really tried to write anything seriously, when I just wrote poems in journals and never thought of publishing them. I was just a regular attorney, and felt silly and even guilty for even thinking I could have a career as a writer.]

The book is by Brenda Ueland. In case you don’t know her, like I didn’t, here is her bio, which for some reason, just makes me want to hug her. Perhaps it’s because in her picture, taken in 1983 when she was 91, she cannot look any older and also still alive. You just love her for being there with her little black tie, striped coat and big grin.

Brenda Ueland was born in Minneapolis in 1891. As she wrote it, “Born in Lake Calhoun in a happier time (before automobiles). A large white house (a thousand rooms and one bath). A large wooden windmill that creaked on a summer day, a horse, pony, cow and happy chickens wandering freely  in the plushy sward.” Her father, lawyer and judge and her mother, a suffrage leader, were active in Minneapolis cultural life a the turn of the century. Brenda Ueland spent many years living in New York, where she was part of the Greenwich Village bohemian crowd that included John Reed, Louise Bryant and Eugene O’Neill. In her 93 years she published six million words, was knighted by the king of Norway and set an international swimming record for over-80-year olds.

This book is one of my prized possessions because, for $3, I got a book full of kind, spirited, wise, very useful words on how and what to write. I had no idea this book was so ubiquitous; I thought it was some rare, out of print gem that only myself and oh maybe 100 grandfathers had on their shelves. No matter. It is still a gem to me.

Occasionally I will post some of Ueland’s words here, for your benefit.  Here’s a thought for today:

“Imagination comes slowly and quietly. Say that you want to write. Well, not much will come to you the first day. Perhaps nothing at all. You will sit before your typewriter or paper and look out of the window and begin to brush your hair absentmindedly for an hour or two. Never mind. That is alright. That is as it should be– though you must sit before your typewriter just the same and know, in this dreamy time, that you are going to write, to tell something on paper, sooner or later. And you also must know that you are going to sit here tomorrow for awhile and the next day, and so on, forever and ever.”

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§ 2 Responses to If You Want to Write

  • valbrussell says:

    This was an interesting post Lourdes. I was particularly struck by her association with the Bohemian group of Greenwich village. This means she would have been a contemporary of Millay’s and thus known her to some extent, at the very least in passing. What happened to Millay was terrible and you barely hear her name now much less her poetry which was lyrical and beautiful. Have you read Renascence? It is her finest poem, absolute perfection. Simply because you’ve written such a passionate post about Barbara Ueland, I’m going to attempt to get my hands on a copy of some of her work. Thank you for sharing her here.

    I also understand your being enamored of older books that offer solid common sense advice by people of an era that was more concerned with the reality of the human experience and the expression thereof that the obsession with image. Our generation has lost something Lourdes. The joy of collaboration and creation has been replaced by individualism at all costs and a type of ego ladder climbing that separates us all, especially the artists. Very sad.

    • Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Val. Ueland seems like she was an extraordinary woman. I would have liked to have known more about her life in Greenwich Village as well. I’m fascinated by periods in history where great writers/artists/thinkers all knew each other and socialized. Yes Renascence– excellence to be sure. (I always admire poets that can write something that length, as well. My poems are always short and sweet.)

      And oh how very true, what you said about our generation compared to those in the past. Have you seen the documentary “I Am”? I describes what you are saying so well– we have lost cooperation in our societies, in favor of competition. While animals in nature are surely competitive, they are also very cooperative, and seldom take more than they need. They find a balance. The director of the documentary says there is a name for something that takes more than it needs, and that is cancer. Though I am definitely a proponent of “slow” (slow food, snail mail, good old fashioned books and bookstores etc) I think one redeeming quality about all of this new technology is that it seems to be allowing us to collaborate and connect with greater ease. I love that I have found people like you and am now joining new communities of artists! I too will respond to the call to promote others’ work in this spirit.

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