Letter to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

Colum McCann, author of Thirteen Ways of Looking, shares some advice for the young (and not so young) writer. It is also wonderful advice for anyone who wants to live life with purpose and meaning.

Colum McCann’s Letter to a Young Writer

Do the things that do not compute.
Be earnest. Be devoted. Be subversive of ease.
Read aloud. Risk yourself.
Do not be afraid of sentiment even when others call it sentimentality.

Be ready to get ripped to pieces: It happens.
Permit yourself anger.
Fail. Take pause.
Accept the rejections. Be vivified by collapse.

Try resuscitation. Have wonder.
Bear your portion of the world.
Find a reader you trust. Trust them back.
Be a student, not a teacher, even when you teach.

Don’t bullshit yourself.
If you believe the good reviews, you must believe the bad.
Still, don’t hammer yourself.
Do not allow your heart to harden.

Face it, the cynics have better one-liners than we do.
Take heart: they can never finish their stories.
Have trust in the staying power of what is good.
Enjoy difficulty. Embrace mystery.

Find the universal in the local.
Put your faith in language—character will follow and plot, too, will eventually emerge. Push yourself further. Do not tread water.
It is possible to survive that way, but impossible to write.

Transcend the personal. Prove that you are alive.
We get our voice from the voices of others.
Read promiscuously. Imitate.
Become your own voice. Sing.

Write about that which you want to know.
Better still, write towards that which you don’t know.
The best work comes from outside yourself. Only then will it reach within.
Restore what has been devalued by others.

Write beyond despair.
Make justice from reality. Make vision from the dark.
The considered grief is so much better than the unconsidered.
Be suspicious of that which gives you too much consolation.

Hope and belief and faith will fail you often.
So what? Share your rage.
Resist. Denounce. Have stamina. Have courage. Have perseverance.
The quiet lines matter as much as those which make noise.

Trust your blue pen, but don’t forget the red one.
Allow your fear.
Don’t be didactic.
Make an argument for the imagined.

Begin with doubt. Be an explorer, not a tourist.
Go somewhere nobody else has gone, preferably towards beauty, hard beauty.
Fight for repair. Believe in detail.
Unique your language.

A story begins long before its first word. It ends long after its last.
Don’t panic. Trust your reader.
Reveal a truth that isn’t yet there. At the same time, entertain.
Satisfy the appetite for seriousness and joy.

Dilate your nostrils. Fill your lungs with language.
A lot can be taken from you—even your life—but not your stories about your life.

So this, then, is a word, not without love, to a young writer: Write.

-Original Source-

My favourite line?
“Go somewhere nobody else has gone, preferably towards beauty, hard beauty.”

letter to a young writer - colum mccann t

What is your favourite part?

About Katie Paul

Embracing my midlife sexy while exploring modern love & relationships • Devoted to all things beautiful • Master of Arts in creative writing & non-fiction writing • Join the hottest group on FB → Sassy Midlife Women

11 thoughts on “Letter to a Young Writer by Colum McCann

  1. Put your faith in language—character will follow and plot, too, will eventually emerge.

    Read promiscuously. Imitate.
    Become your own voice. Sing.

    These are the greatest truths I have learned as well.

  2. OK, now that I’ve read this about three more times, I think maybe I have a favorite part – hard, though, because I truly love it all. I think it might be “The quiet lines matter as much as those which make noise.” The obvious is not always the only thing worthy of examination. I also loved “Read promiscuously” and “Dilate your nostrils. Fill your lungs with language.” – makes me think of just absorbing all that surrounds and letting it filter through and become part of you. So much of this is true not only of writing, but of living.

  3. “Begin with doubt. Be an explorer, not a tourist.
    Go somewhere nobody else has gone, preferably towards beauty, hard beauty.
    Fight for repair. Believe in detail.
    Unique your language.”

    Love, LOVE this bit. Especially as I tend to be a bit of a neologiser. (<– like right there)

    And the end…just WRITE! Yes….always 🙂 Thank you for sharing this.

  4. I love the whole thing, but this line jumped out at me the most.

    “Be suspicious of that which gives you too much consolation”

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