If You Want To Write
By. Kevin Priddle
“I learned…that inspiration does not come like a bolt, nor is it kinetic, energetic striving, but it comes into us slowly and quietly and all the time, though we must regularly and every day give it a little chance to start flowing, prime it with a little solitude and idleness.” ― Brenda Ueland
I’ve always found it hard to write. I still do. There are too many little excuses and stalling tactics that consistently wedge between the blank page and me. I’m guilty (like you) of sitting in my chair, staring at the computer screen and waiting for that spark of inspiration.
For divine intervention.
When nothing arrives I light some candles and incense. I play classical music or songs with no singing and indulge in a drink. Maybe this ritual will link me to the Gods?
Unlikely. If it does, the connection is fleeting. After losing a staring contest with the blinking cursor I leave my post in frustration and am convinced of my laziness, lack of skill and originality.
Will anyone ever read what I write? Why should I even bother? What’s the use of writing?
It’s easy to give up at this point. Lay down my weapons (pens, pencils and laptop computers) and bow down to that rot of self-doubt. But, after stumbling through my father’s bookshelves, I found a better answer to those queries above in author Brenda Ueland and her 1938 inspirational-classic If You Want To Write.
Ueland was born in Minneapolis before the turn of the 19th century and died in 1985 at the age of 93. She spent many years in New York among the ‘bohemian’ crowd and published more than 6 million words through her vibrant career as a writer, editor and teacher of writing.
Her two guiding rules to writing: tell the truth and don’t do anything you want to do.
As she said: “Be bold. Be free. Be truthful. The truthfulness will save it from flamboyance, from pretentiousness.”
Great advice to keep integrity and honesty in your work. But it’s her words on finding inspiration and drive that have stuck with me through the handful of times that I’ve now read the book.
The following passage from If You Want To Write is an excerpt from a letter Ueland wrote to a friend and I think gives a great insight into why you should write (or do anything creative):
“Forgive me, but perhaps you should write again. I think there is something necessary and life-giving about “creative work”. A state of excitement. And it is like a faucet: nothing comes unless you turn it on, and the more you turn it on, the more comes.
It is our nasty twentieth century materialism that makes us feel: what is the use of writing, painting, etc., unless one has an audience or gets cash for it? Socrates and the men of the Renaissance did so much because the rewards were intrinsic, i.e. the enlargement of the soul.
Yes we are all thoroughly materialistic about such things. ‘What’s the use? we say, of doing anything unless you make money or get applause? for when a man is dead he is dead.’ Socrates and the Greeks decided that a man’s life should be devoted to ‘the tendance of the Soul’ (Soul included intelligence, imagination, spirit, understanding, personality) for the soul lived eternally, in all probability.
I think it is alright to work for money, to work to have things enjoyed by people, even very limited ones; but the mistake is to feel that the work, the effort, the search is not the important and the exciting thing. One cannot strive to write a cheap, popular story without learning more about cheapness. But enough. I may very well be getting to raving.”
So go stare at that blank word processor screen or notebook page, but get something down on it. Who cares if it’s shit. Write and practice just a little bit everyday and you’ll learn a lot about yourself and the creative spirit.
Ueland says that our “imaginative, impassioned energy” dies in most of us very young because we don’t see that it’s 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, and because we don’t keep it alive in others by listening to them.
Imagination is a muscle. Use it or lose it.