What is Writing from the Heart?

March 29, 2009 at 3:19 am 6 comments

“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. 

Entry filed under: About Writing from the Heart. Tags: , , , , , , , .

Paris Through the Eyes of Travelers

6 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Sheila  |  March 31, 2009 at 1:44 pm

    Thank you for the inspiration, and I look forward to reading more!

    • 2. Janet Hulstrand  |  April 1, 2009 at 10:57 am

      Thank you, Sheila! Glad you enjoyed the post. I’m going to try to write a couple of times a week. Good to know someone out there is listening!

  • 3. Julie Schauer  |  April 2, 2009 at 7:10 pm

    So glad that you’ve really reached out even more and extended
    the workshops to Hawaii. You’re really putting together some
    great things.

    • 4. Janet Hulstrand  |  April 3, 2009 at 12:38 am

      Thanks, Julie. Yes, going to Hawaii every year in January is a pretty nice assignment! And I really enjoy being able to show my students how much there is to learn about the history and culture and the wonderful people of Hawaii. Thanks so much for your kind remarks.

  • 5. Howard L. Steele  |  April 2, 2009 at 9:26 pm

    Janet: This is a wonderful blog: I wish you only the best. You were such a BIG help to me as “Bushels and Bales: A Food Soldier in the Cold War” came to fruition. However, dear heart, you have not written to tell me what you think of the finished product you helped to produce! Are you ashamed? Wish it read better? Too busy with your new enterprises to have found time to comment? Send me an e-mail about your new life in any event!! CHEERS, and Sincere Best Wishes, Howard

    • 6. Janet Hulstrand  |  April 3, 2009 at 12:33 am

      Hi Howard,

      Thanks for your sweet note. And of COURSE I am not ashamed of the work we did together on your book! Nor do I wish it read better. The truth is that this busy life of mine doesn’t allow me to re-read (yes, REread!) any of the books I’ve worked on (including my own), unless they are being prepared for a second edition, or there is some other compelling practical reason to do so. Sad, but true! (Maybe one day, when my kids are grown….)

      Sooo….that is why I have not commented on Bushels and Bales. The book LOOKS great, and it is sitting proudly on my “brag shelf” along with all the other books I’ve worked on. You got a good publisher, the book is out there, and lots of people are now being enlightened and entertained, and made just a little bit richer for being able to read your story and learn about all the adventures and insights you had along the way. That’s good enough for you (I think), and it’s good enough for me too!

      However. If you ever have any readings, or any other special events in connection with your book, I do hope you will invite me to come. I would be happy and proud to be there, and delighted to see you again.

      Thanks again for your good wishes, and all best to you and your family.

      P.S. Are you working on that next book we talked about? I hope you are…


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