If You Want to Write: Wrap Up

We’ve reached the end of the If You Want to Write series. For a small book, there’s a lot to discuss and learn, and hopefully, we’ll become better writers from it. Not better in terms of quality, but better in the sense that we are more true to ourselves.

In the final chapter, Ueland lists 12 things we should keep in mind while writing. I picked my favorite five:

1. Know you are talented, original, and have something important to say.
Many of us struggle with this. We doubt ourselves and our abilities, but if we work hard and stick with it, there’s no limit to what we can do.

2. Work is good.
People tell me I’m crazy because I enjoy working. I’m not a workaholic; I know when to take a break, but I do enjoy working. It always pays off one way or another, and it beats watching TV all the time. Also, we should love what we do, and if not, we need to change something. We spend too much time working to hate it.

3. Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories.
I love this advice. Ueland says in order to know what’s wrong with a story, write two or three more and go back to the first. “Good” writers learn from their mistakes and work to fix them. And it doesn’t matter if people like it – write for you.

4. Don’t be afraid of yourself.
We all have demons, baggage, hang-ups, whatever. We all get in our own heads and may be afraid of what we’ll find if we open up. People may judge us. None of it matters. Be whoever you want to be, and let those emotions pour out. At the very least, you’ll feel better.

5. Don’t compare yourself to others.
Ueland says because we are all unique, we are incomparable. We should not criticize because they do not write like we do. We should not question ourselves because someone is better. We should stay true to ourselves and our art.

If You Want to Write: A Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit digs deep into the emotion it takes to write passionately. Ueland encourages us to write with honesty and love ourselves. With that, here is a poem I dug up. Can you guess what it’s about? 🙂

My eyes burn, heavy lids
eyelashes itch, dry skin peels.
Muscles ache, hunched
wrinkled hands, cracked.
Jaws clinched, I bite
my lower lip.
The day is done,
what do I do?
Complain about the day’s past.
A line appears across my forehead,
but what’s the point?
Another day gone by,
another eight hours done.
What is the point?

If you haven’t bought the book, check it out, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts. May it inspire all artists!

If You Want to Write: People Make a Difference

Happy New Year, everyone! As 2014 kicks off, we’re full of excitement as we set our resolutions or simply hope that things will not suck. In honor of new beginnings and change, let’s talk about something that motivates us: people.

Ueland’s chapter 15 “a fountain of ideas” touches on something much deeper. Yes, we are full of ideas – good and bad – but we need certain things in order for those ideas to blossom. We need courage, faith, rest, and as much as I hate it sometimes, people.

Friends, family, coworkers, strangers. People surround us all the time, and whether we admit it or not, they influence who we are and how we act. They can make or break us. They can build us up or tear us down. In order to be ourselves and write from our true forms, we must decide who is worth our time and energy. We must weed out those who hold us back and doubt our abilities, because with doubt, there are fewer possibilities.

In order to be a fountain of ideas and let our creativity seep out, we must know how to handle people – “to work and shine eternally.” Enjoy these tips!

Avoid negativity: This is my biggest challenge. I feel the need to fix things, but sometimes you can’t. Sometimes you have to stop trying – if only for a few hours – and get away from what brings you down. Negativity can destroy creativity.

Meet new people: I love meeting new cool people. Yes, I hate people as a whole, but every now and then I meet someone who is worth time and attention. My best friends are these people; they are people I have developed long-term relationships with, some for more than a decade.

Pay attention: If you want people to listen to you, listen to them. You can also test your observation skills by really listening and getting to know them. You never know when a small detail will fuel something bigger.

Laugh A LOT: We should laugh as much as possible. It’s a great stress release, and the world is too serious. Find those people who make you laugh until your abs hurt and your eyes tear up. Those people are special.

Take a break: Socializing can be exhausting, and we don’t always feel like chatting. Don’t force it, and take a break when needed. If someone gets upset about it, they’ll live. If they are good for you, they will be there when you’re ready.

Be yourself: Honesty goes a long way, and not everyone appreciates or can handle it. It’s okay. Part of fueling your creativity is to not fear who you are and letting those ideas pour out. Your audience knows when you’re bullstuffing them, so don’t do it. Use the good and bad to write honest pieces.

Feel free to share your tips below, and happy writing!

If You Want to Write: Journals

Doctors will tell you to keep a journal in order to release stress and sort out emotions. Jotting down all your feelings and thoughts can help you resolve conflict, make decisions, and force you to learn about yourself. But why should writers keep a journal?

In this chapter, Ueland explains the benefits of journal writing and how it makes you a better writer. Not better in the sense of correct grammar and what the world expects of you – better in the way of more honest, real, and true to who you are.

But why is it important to be real?

Readers want to devour a good book. A good book deprives you from sleep, takes you away from your family and friends, and sucks you deep into the world it creates. As an author, you can’t do that without being real. Your reader will move onto something better, and frankly, honest is more interesting and fun.

Any writer can fill pages with words. It takes true talent to show a reader what you see rather than telling them. Ueland uses this example:

  • His muscles rippled through his shoulders. (Did they really? No.) So she asks, what do you see it your mind?
  • His muscles looked as if they would burst through the seams of his shirt. (Believable and descriptive)

The novel Gone Girl is a great example of this. And ironically, it’s set in a journal format. That’s no accident. Journals are people being who they are and who they don’t want to be. The best-seller captivated readers worldwide, and it remains one of the most talked about novels in my office. It was the nitty-gritty details of a relationship, and it felt real. You were smack in the middle of the story and couldn’t put it down.

What you can gain from your journal:

  • A greater love for writing – Sometimes it’s hard to write and get into the habit, but once it becomes a routine, you have to do it. It’s like an addiction, and if it’s not done, your day may feel incomplete.
  • It jump starts other projects – We all have a book or story idea that we haven’t made time for. We sit down at the computer and freak out because we don’t know where to begin. After journal writing, you’ll realize that you can just start, and edit and fill in gaps later. You can even trade the time you’d spend on your journal on that new project, or switch back and forth as needed.
  • Immerse yourself in your own life – If you took one hour a day you play on social media or watch TV and wrote in your journal, you’d have insight into your own life, dreams, and self. As scary as it may be, good writers aren’t afraid to explore their most inner thoughts.

She recommends keeping a journal and writing in it every day, but not looking back on it until six months have passed. Doing so, you’ll see honest progression and skill as the journal continues. You learn more about the personality that comes out in your writing because no matter how hard you try, it will come through for the world to see.

Want more tips? Check out our If You Want to Write section!

If You Want to Write: Be Your Character

I’ve read a lot of fiction – good and bad. One common factor between the two seems to be the hardest part to write. Characters. The bread and butter of any story. Sure, you can have a great premise, plot arch, and writing style, but if the characters suck the piece may suffer a worse fate.

In the chapter Microscopic Truthfulness, Ueland urges us to look for the truth within ourselves. I know, I know, it sounds deep and something that many of us seldom find, but this is a different truth. This is a truth most of us can achieve.

Own How You Feel

Human emotion is raw and pure. We seldom write when we are overflowing with emotion because we are afraid of the outcome. During the day, maybe you’re at work where you must be professional and conduct yourself responsibly. At night, maybe you’re out partying with friends or home with your family. Ueland asks us, “but how to single out your true self , when we are all so many selves?”

The trick is to own it. I find myself stepping away from the computer for a few if I receive an email that fires me up. I also take a deep breath and calm down before I confront someone. And because human emotion is so powerful, I have to do these things. What would happen if I didn’t? The idea has some dangerous potential.

However when you write, that is your time. That is your time to get it all out. Scribble down how angry, happy, turned on, drunk, or whatever you are at the moment. The writing will be messy and disorganized, but it will be believable and real. Ueland says, “Active evil is so much better than passive good, which is docility, feebleness, timidity.”

Find Truth in Your Characters

My favorite quote from this chapter: “If you feel like a murderer for the time being, write like one.” And how true that is. In order to write good characters, you must get inside their head. You must be the character. Why do you think Stephen King uses writers as so many of his main characters? What about the wife who writes about making love or an unhappy marriage? What about the child who writes about the kid with superpowers? They are their character.

Sure, sometimes it takes some research and time, but you need to know your characters. By getting in tune with your own feelings, you can tap into others’, making you more observant. The comment I write to new writers the most is “How does this character feel? Show the emotion.” A plot is easy to outline and change, character development takes serious work.

The Challenge

I challenge all the writers out there to keep a journal for one week, even if it’s a notepad on your desk or in your purse. Take 15 minutes a day and write about your day and how you feel – not how you think you should feel, but the real emotion that lies within. You may find it therapeutic, and you’d be surprised how much you learn about yourself. Happy writing!

If You Want to Write: Childhood Memories

“A child experiences things from his true self (creatively) and not from his theoretical self (dutifully), i.e.: the self he thinks he ought to be.” – Brenda Ueland

A child’s imagination is a powerful thing. It’s raw, undisciplined, and fierce. There’s an innocence within a child’s mind that doesn’t hold back or worry about how they should be thinking. My son, who has created countless video games, board and card games, and short stories all before he was 10 years old, simply amazes me. Now that he’s a teenager, he uses software to bring them to life. And because of his drive and creativity, I believe he will become a great game designer.

In this chapter, Ueland urges us to write like a child. She recommends we write about a childhood memory and remember how it felt to be there. Ueland explains that an older person writes from not only their imagination but from their ego and conscious as well. Adults are afraid to write honest details because we’re afraid someone will judge us, or we don’t want to look bad. The exercise is to write about a childhood memory, and although I don’t have full stories with lots of details, one thing tops the list.

Waffles

When my parents separated, my brother and I spent most weekends at our grandparent’s house. On Saturdays, grandma would clean the house and play or make crafts with us. My grandpa usually remodeled something or worked in the yard.

My grandparents. He passed in 2011, but they are still be most amazing couple ever.
My grandparents. He passed in 2011, but they are still the best couple ever.

As great as Saturdays were, Sundays were the best. They had the same routine, but Sundays started in a very special way. My grandparents let me sleep in, sometimes until 10 o’clock, and when I awoke I knew I had a delicious treat awaiting me.

Almost every Sunday my grandparents would make me a waffle for breakfast. There was nothing special about the smell, but it tasted amazing. They would butter the round waffle, which took up the entire plate, and each little square was filled with syrup. They added a sliced peach for each quarter and sprinkled confectioner’s sugar all over it. It was so sweet and so comforting. And I was so hungry.

I still eat my waffles exactly that way. I have never tried any other fruit and get upset if we’re out of confectioner’s sugar. I will not touch a pancake. I realized this year, I had never made my son pancakes. I found myself almost banning pancakes because of my ties to waffles. Strange as it may be, I’ll probably never eat a pancake, but I do cook them now. Our memories can shape us into someone unexpected and cause us to do crazy things.

Another lesson Ueland addresses is that we shape our children. If you want them to be great, you must be great. If you want them to be a musician, you must practice music. If you want them to believe in themselves, we must believe in ourselves. We set the example.

Now, it’s your turn. Think back and try to write about a childhood memory from a child’s perspective, not an adult’s. Try to remember what you were going through or feeling – it may be therapeutic to your soul.

For fun, here’s a recipe for waffles. Maybe you can add your own fruit or make them special for your family!

If You Want to Write: Be Reckless, Be a Lion, Be a Pirate!

“There exists in most men a poet who died young, whom the man survived.” –Sainte-Beuve

In each of us there is a passion for something. We feel, see, smell, hear, and taste the world. Everything around us awakens our senses and forces us to feel emotion. We are human, and that is how we live.

In chapters 6 and 7, Ueland continues to explain what holds us back from greatness. We are afraid and insecure, and she urges us to let go — “be careless, reckless, be a lion, be a pirate! when we write.” Do not worry about what others think.

Following this advice, I am including a personal piece of writing from an ongoing project I have sporadically worked on for years. I challenge you to open up and write about your day, week, job, or whatever, and see how it turns out. You may be pleasantly surprised! PS: I welcome feedback 🙂

My First Job Interview

If you have ever worked, then you know you usually have to fill out an application. The company I worked for had a one-page, front-and-back, application. It was your standard application: contact info, work experience and references, and there was no need to submit a resume. I don’t think we ever looked at a resume; I know I didn’t.

There were no background checks or drug tests, and I was hired in 1997 when you assume people realized the world had changed. Kids were growing at rapid speeds and getting into trouble much younger. Either the company trusted their employees, or it simply didn’t care; it doesn’t matter which one because it was, and still is, common for employers to run these checks. We just never did.

I was 15 with no real work experience. Sure, I mowed yards, cleaned houses, and babysat some, but I had no way of selling myself. Nor did I try to. I picked up the application as soon as I turned 15 and did not submit it until two months later. I wasn’t nervous; I just wasn’t motivated or excited. Little did I know turning in that application would change my life — and my outlook on life.

I remember exactly what I wore because now some 15 years later I would have never worn that outfit to a job interview. Well, my rebellious side of me would want to just to see if I could pull it off again. I wore a bright, blood-red buttoned sweater with a black lace shirt underneath it, a long, black skirt, and knee-high vinyl boots. I walked in and asked for the manager, and a middle-aged man came to the front, of course, and I handed him my application. He looked it over, asked me what hours I could work and how old I was. I responded, and he hired me. That was it … no interview, no checks, just a “be here at 8 a.m. on Saturday.”

Surely, you can see the problem. First, I could have been a prostitute or a crack fiend who just walked off the street. Secondly, it gave me a false perception that finding a job was that easy. And third, it taught me nothing about the real world; if you smile pretty and look cute, you will get what you want. Thank goodness I never actually believed that.

The hiring process was pretty much the same. A person walked into the store, talked to the manager, and as employees you’d hear, “We’ll let you know,” which meant get out of here; or “Here, [whoever], make sure this person gets an employee packet, and we’ll see you on Monday or whatever day they chose. It was interesting to watch the handful of interviews our managers conducted because they were always in the breakroom where employees came and went, and they were no more than 20 minutes long. We were too busy to interview, and honestly I think we just needed bodies. If your application was spelled correctly, you were old enough to work, and we needed you, you were hired. I ruled out applications with misspelled city or state names, but we kept them for one year, as required by law. And people wonder why turnover is so high in retail.