Nordic Track Book Club Review: If You Want To Write

So You Want To Write: How To Master The Craft Of Writing Fiction And Memoir was written by Brenda Ueland and was first published in 1938.  There is a publisher’s note on the front cover that says “A book about art, independence and spirit,” which is a very good description of the book.  It’s not just about writing, for as Ueland says in a page footnote, “Whenever I say ‘writing’ in this book, I also mean anything that you love and want to do or to make.”  It’s fascinating to read a book that is 70 years old and still interesting.  5-out-of-5 Nordic Track Ski Stars.


p.3 I have been writing a long time and have learned a few things. This is what I learned, that everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.

This joyful, imaginative, impassioned energy dies out in us very young.  Why?  Because we do not see that it is great and important because we let dry obligation take its place, because we don’t respect it in ourselves and keep it alive by using it.

p.10 This creative power, I think, is the Holy Ghost.  My theology might not be very accurate, but that is how I think of it. The more you use this joyful, creative power, the more you have.

We have come to think that duty should come first.  I disagree.  Duty should be a bi-product.  Writing, the creative effort, the use of the imagination should come first, at least for some part of every day of your life.

I want to say a few more things about the imagination, the creative power in you, how to detect it and how it works.  I will tell you what I have learned myself.  For me, a long five or six mile walk helps, and one must go alone and every day.  When I walk in a carefree way without straining to get to my destination then I am living in the present.  And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.

p.52 It is the way you are to feel when you are writing.  Happy, truthful and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.

It is when you are really living, in the present, that you are living spiritually with the imagination.

p.63 People have trouble writing because they have been taught that writing is something special, and not just talking on paper.  Another trouble with writers in their first twenty years is the anxiety to be effective, to impress people.  They write pretentiously.

As soon as I read, “the big, black engine with the ugly, bony arm on its side,” I knew that she could write.  She could see and describe things.

p.99 Menial work at the expense of all true, ardent, creative work is a sin against the Holy Ghost.

p.103 I tell Mrs. B. and all of them to think of telling a story, not of writing it.  When you tell a story then you have the instinctive sense of timing in it, of going into detail where it is important, of moving fast over the surface of the story where it is necessary.

p.110 The only way to find your true self is by recklessness and freedom.

p.112 The true self is always in motion, like music, a river of life, changing, moving, failing, suffering, learning, shining.  That is why you must freely and recklessly make new mistakes.

p.116 Art is infectious.  The artist has a feeling and expresses it. Once this feeling infects other people then they have it too.  The infection must be immediate or it isn’t art.

p.122 But the trouble is the more you try to say your heroine is wonderful, the more your readers will look at her dubiously.

You see, she just wrote hastily a few sentences that happened to be in her soul, so I feel what she feels.  I am infected.

p.133 Whatever you write will reveal your personality and whatever you are will show through your writing.

p.138 The secret to being interesting is to move along as fast as the mind of the reader or listener can take it in.  Both must march along at the same tempo.

p.162 When you launch on a new story, make your neck lose, feel free, good-natured and be lazy.  Feel that you are going to throw it away.  Try writing utterly unplanned stories and see what comes out. 

Once I was playing the piano and a musician who overheard my playing said to me, “It isn’t going anywhere.  Always play to someone.  It may be to the river, to God, or to someone whose dead or to someone in the room.  But it has to go somewhere.”




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A long time developer, I was an early adopter of Linux in the mid-90's for a few years until I entered corporate environments and worked with Microsoft technologies like ASP, then .NET. In 2008 I released Sueetie, an Online Community Platform built in .NET. In late 2012 I returned to my Linux roots and locked in on Java development. Much of my work is available on GitHub.