I like this book. I knew I would, as soon as I saw that the first chapter was called, ‘Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.’ Brenda Ueland made this exciting, inspiring and humbling discovery, as I have, through teaching creative writing.
Her second chapter heading is a quotation from William Blake, ‘Imagination is the Divine Body in Every Man.’ So straight away, she is talking about the relationship between imagination and soul, and seeing creative writing as a spiritual undertaking.
We write because we love writing, and love is a transforming energy. Therefore, she says, writing is never a waste of time, whether we are published or not. Writing will make us feel ‘happier, more enlightened, alive, impassioned, light-hearted and generous…’
According to Ueland, writing can make us feel healthier too. ‘Colds will disappear,’ she assures us, ‘and all the other ailments of discouragement and boredom.’
The book is full of great quotations. I love this, for example, from Alfred de Musset: ‘There exists in most men a poet who died young, whom the man survived.’
At times in the book, as in the quotations, there are certain assumptions and attitudes that grate for the modern reader – all people referred to as ‘men’, for example, as in the de Musset quotation, and one or two casually racist remarks which sound quite shocking to us today.
It’s not surprising if some lines feel culturally unacceptable now in a book that was first published in 1938, but it seems a real shame someone didn’t edit them out, because the substance of what the author has to say is timeless, thoughtful and inspiring.
Writing, Ueland says, is a way to find your true self. ‘And why find it? Because it is, I think, your immortal soul and the life of the Spirit, and if we can only free it and respect it and not run it down, and let it move and work, it is the way to be happier and greater.’