What is Writing from the Heart?
“Everybody is talented, original, and has something important to say.”
With these words, Brenda Ueland opened her book If You Want to Write, first published in 1938. Now a classic, when it first came out Carl Sandburg called it “the best book ever written about how to write.”
What does it really mean, to “write from the heart?” And how does one find the courage, or the stamina, to do so?
“Be Bold, Be Free, Be Truthful,” Ueland exhorted her readers.
Well, yes, but that’s easier said than done, isn’t it?
Maybe. And then again, maybe not.
“Writing is not about grammar, it is about telling the truth,” says Nancy Slonim Aronie, in her wonderful book Writing from the Heart. And in The Right to Write, Julia Cameron says, “Writing is about getting something down, not about thinking something up.”
It’s starting to sound easier—isn’t it?
Robert Wolf, a wonderful teacher of writing and author of Jump Start: How to Write from Everyday Life has more specific advice: “Write as much as you can without thinking about the book’s organization,” he counsels. “Arrange your writing later, after you have accumulated a large amount of material.”
But how do you get started? Perhaps these words from the great German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke might help. “There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself,” he wrote.
And once you get going? “You simply keep putting down one damn word after the other, as you hear them, as they come to you,” Anne Lamott advises in Bird by Bird.
Of course that is not always so easy or so simple, as suggested by the mild curse word Lamott invokes. Lamott also talks about the importance of “shitty first drafts,” and their inevitability in a creative process that can be at times frustrating and painful.
Is it worth it?
Well, of course, that’s a question for each writer to answer for herself. But for those who have the courage and commitment to try, the rewards can be great.
“Writing answers your questions—the ones you are afraid to ask and the ones you have been asking all your life,” Aronie says, and adds, “You’ve always known the answers; writing helps you know you know them.” And according to Lamott, “There is a door we all want to walk through and writing can help you find it and open it.”
What is to be found on the other side of that door?
The poet Keats told us, “Beauty is truth, truth, beauty. That is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.”
Could it be said any better?
Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, and teacher of writing, and of literature. She divides her time between the Washington D.C. area, where she teaches at Politics & Prose bookstore, and Essoyes, a beautiful little village in the Champagne region of France, where she offers Writing from the Heart workshops several times a year.