I mentioned my favorite book, If You Want To Write, in a recent post. I discovered this little book back in the ’90s, and it remains one of the few books I’ve read more than once and recommended almost aggressively to others. The author, Brenda Ueland, was a writing instructor in the early 20th century. Reading this book is like sitting in her living room and having a pleasant conversation with a favorite aunt. She is kind and wise and funny, and her advice about writing is transferable to almost any endeavor. Really, the book could be titled, If You Want To Live A Happy Life.
Ueland’s book introduced me to the letters of Vincent van Gogh and the poetry of William Blake. Tolstoy is cited often as well. But it’s Ueland’s gentle, yet compelling, encouragement to take action, avoid being critical (of yourself and others), to be free, be bold, and be “microscopically truthful” with your work that stays with me. She says that everyone is an artist capable of creating something beautiful and meaningful. And we have the opportunity to help others express themselves. This quote from a van Gogh letter to his brother, Theo, has challenged me and informed my work ever since:
Many a man has a bonfire in his heart, and no one comes to warm himself at it. -Vincent van Gogh
How sad to imagine all the genius and insight and talent that has never been given a chance to grow and flourish in most people. Indeed, our culture is cruelly proficient at stamping out signs of originality and creative imaginings early in childhood even. It is a noble calling to be the one warming by the fire and fanning the flame that’s within someone who doesn’t think he’s got even a spark to share. If I produce nothing notable or lasting on my own but can help awaken possibility in others, that is a grand accomplishment.
If you ever need a dose of inspiration and a fresh perspective on what it means to be an artist, whether you want to write or perform or create a business or build a beautiful family, I highly recommend this sweet and powerful book.