The Basic Ingredient

Genuine, openhearted engagement—what Brenda Ueland calls “interestingness”—is the basic ingredient of a fruitful creative process. Because of this, stories are essentially egalitarian in nature, meaning that each and every one of us ordinary people who writes has the capacity to move a reader. Have you ever sat through a memorial service at which a grieving grandchild read a coarse but genuine rendering of the departed one’s life and set everyone weeping? Have you ever received a card that touched you so profoundly you saved it for years? When I taught seventh grade, my struggling students always floored me with their poetry; it was raw and real because they put their hearts into it and spoke the truth. They didn’t yet have the self-consciousness or ambitions that trip most of us up.

Talent and skill and craft and effort will all increase the effectiveness of our writing, but the essential ingredients for stirring a reader’s heart are available to everyone who loves writing: curiosity, dedication, and courage. Much of the work of learning to write effectively involves stripping away all that interferes with our natural inclinations to explore, and expanding our capacity to recognize and name the truth. 5


from “Living Revision” by Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew