No writing is a waste of time – no creative work where the feelings, the imagination, the intelligence must work. With every sentence you write, you have learned something. It has done you good.

Brenda Ueland

Author Brenda Ueland was born October 24, 1891, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her father, an immigrant for Norway, was a prominent lawyer and judge, and her mother a suffragette and the first president of the Minnesota League of Women Voters. Ueland grew up a staunch feminist, comfortable in her own truth and power. She graduated from Barnard University in 1913 and lived in New York for fifteen years before returning to Minneapolis in 1930. 

In 1916 she married William Benedict, and they had one daughter, Gabrielle, in 1921. They divorced in 1926, and Ueland raised her daughter on her own. She later married Manus McFadden, the editor for the Minneapolis Times, and after that divorce, she married Sverre Hanssen, a Norwegian Artist. 

Ueland freelanced for many publications, including the Saturday Evening Post and Ladies Home Journal, and taught writing as well. 

Her first and most well-known book, If You Want to Write: a Book About Art, Independence, and Spirit (1938), shared her philosophies on writing and life with a decidedly feminist tilt. Carl Sandburg called the book “the best book ever written on how to write.” It didn’t receive sparkling reviews when it was first published, as the press was unimpressed with the idea that anyone could write regardless of education or culture. However, the reprint in 1987 by Graywolf Press became and remains a best-seller. 

Ueland also published a memoir, ME, in 1939. It told of her childhood, college, and love affairs, including a romance with the anarchist Raoul Hendricson, who left her for Isadora Duncan. 

In 1949 she was caught plagiarising when she lifted a few paragraphs from a story in Life magazine and inserted them into her short story “Men’s Tears” published in Collier’s.

Part of Ueland’s writing practice was maintaining her physical health. She was very physically fit, walking up to nine miles a day, performing handstands, and setting a swimming record in her 80s. She believed walking allowed her mind to work clearly. 

She died March 5, 1985, at the age of 93. According to Graywolf Press, in her lifetime she published six million words. 

Lesson from Ueland

Ueland believed anyone could write, and motivated people to pursue the craft with honesty and openness no matter their background. Her two rules for living were: to tell the truth, and not to do anything she didn’t want to do. 

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