I often find myself giving students this note: “Anything occurring in a text (print, digital, or visual) is referred to in the present tense because it is “living” in an ongoing present. Shakespeare is dead, but you would still say, ‘In Rome & Juliet, he writes…’”
The late Brenda Ueland inspired me as a young writer. I have always tried to incorporate much of what she says when encouraging student writers. Ueland encapsulates her advice for writers at the end of If You Want to Write, and I have taken the liberty of passing on the highlights. She advises:
“To sum up—if you want to write:
- Know that you have talent, are original and have something to say.
- Know that it is good to work…
- Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.
- Tackle anything you want to—novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition: ‘Better top strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.’
- Don’t be afraid to write bad stories [or essays, or papers.]
- Don’t fret or be shamed of what you have written in the past… It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. go on to the next.
- Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self…
- Remember how wonderful you are…
- if you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign…
- Don’t be afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself…
- Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers…”
Pretty good advice, for the classroom, the writing center…the mirror.
Brenda Ueland wrote these words in 1938, but her wisdom, indeed, lives in an ongoing present.
Ueland, Brenda. If You Want to Write, a Book about Art, Independence and Spirit. Graywolf. 1987.