Great Writing Advice: Brenda Uehland on Writing Who You Are

I picked up the book on a sale table at Barnes and Noble years ago.  The title caught me: If You Want to Write–because I certainly did. The subtitle held me: A book about Art, Independence, and Spirit.

Brenda Uehland was a very old lady by the time I read her book, but her spirit was vibrant and dynamic–and timeless.  She wrote about the writing classes she had taught, and the people from all different backgrounds and stages of life with whom she’d worked.

I bet she was a tremendous writing teacher.

Uehland’s number one rule was this: be yourself in your writing.  Turn off the inner critic, and say what you want to say in the way only you can say it.

I looked Uehland up online, and discovered she had lots of authority, both as a writer and as an original person.

Born in 1891 in Minnesota (in the northern United States), Uehland went to Wells College and graduated from Barnard College, and then she went, a single young woman, to live in New York City. She stayed there for years, and she worked as a journalist and staff writer and editor; she wrote scripts and she taught writing classes. She did some work in her parents’ homeland, Norway, and she received high honors there for her publications.

She first published If You Want to Write in 1935. The poet Carl Sandburg called it the best book on writing ever written.  Sandburg was her friend; William Blake was her muse, and she quotes him throughout the book.

Uehland was said to live by two unbreakable rules:

1-Tell the truth
2-Don’t do anything you don’t want to do

Even by today’s rollicking standards, her life was remarkable.  Imagine, in the early part of the twentieth century, a college-educated woman who married three times, raised her daughter as a single mother, built a thriving independent career, and admitted to taking many, many lovers.  Clearly, Uehland followed her own advice: she was herself, no holds barred, and her strong and supportive personality shines through in her book.


Here are some of the things Uehland addresses in If You Want to Write:

–ignoring the things you were taught about writing in grammar school and beyond. It’s about the content, not about the mechanics, she says. An editor can fix mechanics.  Only you can say what you want to say.

–finding and tapping into your imagination. Uehland delves into spirituality here; she deems that inner force that propels us to write as the Holy Spirit.  Following her thinking, ignoring that force isn’t selfless: it’s sacrilege.

—developing work habits and showing up at the page.

—being daring in words on paper

—being sloppy and headstrong in our journals

—daring to neglect the chores and the housework in favor of the writing practice

“For when you write,” says Brenda Uehland, “if it is to be any good at all, you must feel free,—free and not anxious. The only good teachers for you are those friends who love you, who think you are interesting, or very important, or wonderfully funny; whose attitude is:
“‘Tell me more. Tell me all you can. I want to understand more about everything you feel and know and all the changes inside and out of you. Let more come out.'”

If we don’t have THAT friend, Uehland advises, we should create one, make one up–someone supportive we can talk to in the inner rooms of our writing minds.  But, lucky us,–Bloggers’ World is RIFE with friends like that!

If you need an inspiring book to help you unlock the words we can share and celebrate together, take a chance on Brenda Uehland’s If You Want to Write. Years ago, she gave me permission to shut down the nagging voices and be myself in my writing–heck, she commanded me to do that!  It’s a favor, and a lesson, for which I’ll always be grateful.

Happy blogging, my friends!