In looking to improve my writing skills I am thumbing through some of my books about writing. Chapter I of Brenda Ueland’s ’If You Want to Write’ [1] is entitled: ‘Everybody is talented, original and has something important to say.’ It struck me that this is equivalent to the statement in the Declaration of Independence, ‘all men are created equal’. I used to think so, in both the above cases.

Vicariousness and autistic tendencies

Some people take pleasure in appreciating fine art, literature and music without any urge to create. I don’t really understand it, but here’s my best guess: I believe that someone who can genuinely appreciate another’s creation has the ability to take his or her ‘self’ out of the equation and rely simply on the sensory or intellectual input of the work. In a way this type of person is the opposite of autistic. The root of the word ‘autism’ is taken from the Greek word ‘autos’, meaning ‘self’.

When my granddaughter was a baby, she always liked to say, “I do it.” She was impatient when I showed her about drawing or painting and wanted to do everything herself. She was too young to appreciate my drawings, and I never expected her to. However she got a big kick out of my praise for her creations (which were very good and original, by the way).

I think I am a good appreciator now, but it wasn’t always so. I used to be angry looking at a fine painting or listening to a beautiful jazz violin riff. Angry at myself for not being able to create that kind of beauty. Clearly, my ‘self’ was not removed from the experience and I failed to enjoy another’s genius.

Something important to say

I do believe that everyone has a story to tell, an important story. It may be too painful however for some people to tell their stories. The subconscious is supposed to protect one’s mind from hurtful experiences. If there is no drive to unearth them, they remain untold.

William Grimes wrote a piece in the New York Times (Friday, March 25, 2005), called ’We All Have a Life. Must We All Write About It?’. He questioned Ueland’s premise that everyone has something important to say. He said, “… it’s almost impossible to imagine which life experiences do not qualify as memoir material,” and lamented the flood of memoirs vying for the attention of the reader.

Of course ‘something important to say’ does not necessarily mean a memoir. It could be an important imaginative story, poem or insight.


Even if the Declaration of Independence said ‘all men and women are created equal’, [2] and did not only refer to white males, it still wouldn’t be true. My autistic brother is a good example of not being created equal. Perhaps everyone is not talented. There are plenty of talented people who do not apply themselves. Talent is not the ingredient that guarantees a creative spark. Persistence is required for most creative work.

I agree with the idea that at some point in a person’s life, he or she is an original. With originality comes fresh ways of looking at things. Special care must be taken to preserve that quality and uncover it if it has been buried.

Everyone has something important to say but not everyone has the drive to say it.

[1] Ueland, B If You Want to Write Graywolf Press, St. Paul, MN: 1987

[2] What should be true is that all people should have equal opportunities.

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