Friday, April 18, 2014

Review: If You Want to Write by Brenda Ueland

If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and SpiritIf You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book was a gift from a college professor in 2001, the year I graduated. It's been on my to-read list a while, clearly. Hence its inclusion in my 2014 TBR Pile Challenge.

My professor warned me, as she handed it over, that it was far less useful for practical writing advice and more for inspiration. In that, she was absolutely correct. While there is some advice for how to get started and find one's voice as a writer, I found some of its advice counter intuitive, and sometimes contradictory of my process. The book is If You Want to Write, not If You Want to Be Published.

Brenda Ueland recommends an approach that ignores such words as "craft," "polish," and "honing." Her background is that of a teacher of nonwriters. She's drawn out the inner writer in her students, and the book's purpose is to do the same for its readers. She's interested in helping people find their voices as writers and finding what inspires them.

There are sections where she compares or contrasts pieces of writing, meant to illustrate her points about a looser, less critical approach to writing. At times, her point is well-made, when her students initially turn in stilted prose of the kind they feel they're supposed to write, and eventually write pieces that are flowing and natural. Other times, though, the "better" passages are purple, or just plain rambling. I understand at the time Ueland was writing, the longer, more descriptive passages were better valued, so some of my disconnect is a product of the shift in literary trends.

One of the major points in this book's favor is that it advocates pantstering, or discovery writing. It specifically recommends against outlining or planning out where the story will go. Ueland says, instead, to see where the story takes you. That's an approach I can get behind.

I wish I'd come across this book before I graduated high school. A lot of its lessons would've helped me in my early writing development. In this stage of my writing, though, it reads like a giant step backward. It tells me nothing about how to improve as a writer or how to edit what I've already written.

This book will not help you if you've already written a novel, or if you're ready to edit your pieces. Its main utility is giving a budding writer the confidence to find one's own voice. I'd recommend it to people considered NaNoWriMo; its lessons will help unclog you from the expectations holding back your word count.

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