The Case Against Will

When you will, make a resolution, set your jaw, you are expressing an imaginative fear that you won’t do the thing. If you knew you would do the thing, you would smile happily and set about it. 

So you see, the imagination needs moodling–long, inefficient, happy idling, dawdling and puttering.  ~Brenda Ueland, from If You Want to Write (Graywolf Press, 2007)

It is easy to see why Ueland’s work is a classic and hard to believe I have not read it until now. I know already that it will be one of those I will want to reread every couple of years, as I do other books of distilled wisdom (Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet, for example).

As one who has struggled for years to will self-care, I could not agree more with Ueland’s case against will. The harder I try to force myself to eat right and exercise more, the fiercer the rebellious resistance becomes. (If I knew I would do it, I would just smile happily and set about it!) She shares what I find to be an interesting insight: “People who try to boss themselves always want (however kindly) to boss other people. They always think they know best and are so stern and resolute about it they are not very open to new and better ideas.” (God forbid.) Describing herself as “a fearful self-disciplinarian” who has learned a better way, she promotes “dreamy idleness” as a way of quietly letting in imaginative thoughts. 

The best news is that Ueland’s “moodling” is (for the most part) simply being in the present moment! She says, “…when I walk in a carefree way, without straining to get to my destination, then I am living in the present. And it is only then that the creative power flourishes.” She tells us that “…it is the way you are to feel when you are writing–happy, truthful, and free, with that wonderful contented absorption of a child stringing beads in kindergarten.”

P. S. Did Ueland coin the word “moodling?” Merriam-Webster does not know it.

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4 Responses to The Case Against Will

  1. […] when I am shining from my center, and not by willing myself to do so. On rereading a previous post (The Case Against Will), I am determined to spend the day “moodling” in dreamy […]

  2. […] few spaces and silences, I think we must protect that dreamy idleness Ueland calls moodling (more here); that percolation process Bonni Goldberg writes about in her book on writing, Beyond the […]

  3. […] The Case Against Will helps me remember that only what I want to do, I will do. No “should-ing” will help me get there. […]

  4. […] am having a pleasant morning moodling (for a definition, see this entry). I think it is necessary for creative work. I am going to think of Sunday as Moodling […]

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