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The Gem in the Pile of Writing How-To Books

July 14, 2014

I’ve read a fair number of writing “how to” books in the last few years. Some of the books have been entertaining and worthwhile reading and a couple have been boring, but they pretty much all say the same thing with a slightly different presentation. Kind of like those Russell Stover seasonal candies. At Christmas you can get a foil-wrapped candy Santa or you can get a foil-wrapped candy snowman, but when you bite into them they’re both just the same exact globs of marshmallow covered with milk chocolate.

The message in all the writing books I’ve read is plain: if you want to write, then write. Fuck the bad thoughts and the self-doubts and any negative influences and just write. Write, write, write. Revise and write some more. That’s about it.

Because writing advice is so simple I wouldn’t recommend a writing book to anybody save one and that’s If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit by Brenda Ueland. You can find a biography of Ms. Ueland online so I won’t offer one here but I’ll say that what interested me about her enough to read her book was not her writing or teaching resume, but Brenda Ueland the person. I liked that she was from Minnesota and was a progressive as well as her interest in socialism and vegetarianism and her work for animal welfare.

There are two reasons I recommend If You Want to Write . . . The first is because of the, “Art, Independence and Spirit” part of the title. If You Want to Write . . . reads more like a philosophy book on writing as opposed to a simple bare bones, I-did-it-and-so-can-you how-to guide. I found an awareness of life in her pages as opposed to the the simple write, write, write marshmallow wrapped in chocolate and presented in a different foil package message. The second is this quote that I really love. It applies not only to writing, but really to everything in life. Just swap out the word “Work” with whatever you want.

“Work freely and rollickingly as though you were talking to a friend who loves you. Mentally (at least three or four times a day) thumb your nose at all know-it-alls, jeerers, critics, doubters.”

Today isn’t Ms. Ueland’s birthday or the anniversary of her death. No special day. She’s on my mind this morning because whenever I get a rejection I pull that quote up from where I have it saved in my ‘Writerly Things Storage Area’ and I read it a couple of times and I offer up a virtual nose-thumbing to whoever the Rejecter of the Day might be and this morning was one of those times.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Judy Hogan permalink
    July 15, 2014 9:10 am

    I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but felt nobody would be interested in what I had to say, save for teachers/instructors. Wrote a few columns as president of a local chapter of a national organization, and people seemed to respond positively, although my writing was aimed to a specific audience for a specific purpose. I give you credit for your blog, and I enjoy reading it! Maybe someday…


    • Michael B. Fishman permalink*
      July 17, 2014 7:36 am

      I share that same doubt, Judy, about no one being interested in what I have to say. I finally decided that as long as I was enjoying what I was doing, as long as I was having fun, it wasn’t important if anyone else was interested or not. It is tough though when you submit something and they reject it.


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