Letters to a Young Writer

If you are a writer seeking advice, or someone who is interested in how novels are written, I would recommend reading Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer. McCann is an award-winning author and writing instructor who has taught for more than 20 years at the graduate level. He knows what he’s talking about. Though even he admits in the book’s opening lines: no one can teach you how to write. His goal, really, is to inspire. To set you on fire for writing.

The letters convey lessons learned from years of work in the profession. Where do ideas come from? How do you write dialogue, develop characters? McCann shares his thoughts on these and other questions of craft, but he encourages young writers to discover something new, to be adventurous.

“Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know… The only true way to expand your world is to inhabit an otherness beyond ourselves.”

On grammar, a writer should be willing to forgo the rules for the sake of language: “On occasion we write a sentence that isn’t, in fact, correct, but it sings. And the question is: Would you rather be the ornithologist or the bird?”

Letters covers the business side of writing too—how to find an agent, deal with critics, solicit blurbs. His most important message may be to just keep going. Keep writing. Write and rewrite. Observe your surroundings, keep antennae up for future stories. Show up for work.

“A writer is not someone who thinks obsessively about writing, or talks about it, or plans it, or dissects it, or even reveres it: a writer is the one who puts his *rse in the chair.”

Letters to a Young Writer and Colum McCann’s National Book Award winner, Let the Great World Spin, are available at Heights Libraries and OverDrive.


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