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Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,617 ratings  ·  336 reviews
From the bestselling author of the National Book Award winner Let the Great World Spin comes a lesson in how to be a writer--and so much more than that.

Intriguing and inspirational, this book is a call to look outward rather than inward. McCann asks his readers to constantly push the boundaries of experience, to see empathy and wonder in the stories we craft and hear.

A pae
Hardcover, 192 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Random House
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Average rating 4.20  · 
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 ·  1,617 ratings  ·  336 reviews

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Kristin (KC)
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Time for a quick reread!
*5 star advice, folks!*

Letters to a Young Writer is a quick read with brief, bold chapters and a voice so upbeat you can just about dance to it. It offers a multitude of helpful suggestions and persuades writers not to recreate what they already know, but to write toward what they want to know; to look outward, rather than in.

"All writing is imagination. It creates out of dust. Even what they choose to call nonfiction."

This guide will not make a writer out of you,
Larry H
Apr 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love following friends on Goodreads who have similar tastes in books to mine. It's always fascinating to see different people's perspectives on books you've read, to see if they love the same ones you do, and if they were as disappointed as the ones which let you down. The potential downside? When it seems as if EVERYONE has read a book that you hadn't even considered, or just haven't gotten to yet. You know what I mean...

It's not that I hadn't considered reading Colum McCann's Letters to a Y
Five zillion stars!

Dear Mr. McCann,

Could you adopt me? I know that's an unusual request coming from a 60-something woman, but I just had to ask. I know you have a family, but I won’t be noisy and interrupt the routine. I’ll try hard to keep my mouth shut. You’ll be batting around story ideas in your head and won’t even know I’m there.

I have it all planned. We'll all be at the dinner table and I’ll ask you to pass the pepper and then you'll just start reciting your book. The meal-time poetry I n
Apr 02, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
Why would someone like me -- a middle aged non writer with no aspirations to become a writer -- read and love Calum McCann's Letters to a Young Writer:

-Because when the publisher sent me an advance copy, I thought "why not", having previously loved McCann's fiction.
-Because it's beautifully written from beginning to end -- so many delicious sentences and passages worth highlighting and revisiting.
-Because while McCann purports to provide advice to young writers, he does much more -- his advice i
Angela M
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
5 stars is just not enough. I am not a writer but, I did not hesitate in the least to accept a digital review copy of this book when it was offered. If I were asked to name my favorite contemporary writers, Colum McCann would without a doubt be on that list. I knew that this would be beautifully written and it was.

This book was so meaningful to me even though I read this purely from the perspective of a an avid reader. It will change how I read a book from here on in. Whether it's a book I love
Joe Valdez
It's on a blue moon I read non-fiction and even rarer that I'll pick up a writing or publishing how-to manual or self-help book. I'm trying to read a novel per week and not fall down the rabbit hole of non-fiction. Every day I'm not at the office, I'm writing, at McClain's Coffeehouse in Fullerton, mixing with students who are also working, or others who need to get out of the house and have a cigarette or bite to eat. A young writer friend of mine named Bryan Klose was handed a copy of Letters ...more
Diane S ☔
Apr 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not a writer, nor do I have plans of becoming one, but this is McCann, the author who has never let me down. Would read anything he wrote. Thought to pick up some insights on his writing and I feel as if that was accomplished. Much of this advice to young writers could be applied to life as well, and certainly to readers.

Considers punctuation a necessity, for those of us decrying the non use of quotation marks in recent fiction. Tells them to research and read, read and read. Loved that, got th
Iris P
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers interested in the creative process, writing
Recommended to Iris P by: Debbie
Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

"Why do we tell stories? Why do we have a deep need to tell one another that which is real and invented both? Why do we need to lean across the table, or the fireside, or the fabulously intertwined wires of the Internet, and whisper “Listen”? We do it because we’re sick of reality and we need to create what isn’t yet there."

Colum McCann - Letters To A Young Writer

Cesar, my 20-year-old
Dec 14, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: writing-life, essays
My favorite part of Goodreads in December is seeing all of the year end reviews and getting ideas about what to read in the following year and beyond. My goodreads friend Ellie included Colum McCann's Letters to a Young Writer as one of her favorites in her year end review this year. Intrigued and seeing that my library had a copy, I decided to go ahead and read McCann's inspirational advice before the year came to a close. A MFA instructor at Hunter College and author of a number of fiction boo ...more
May 28, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What a marvelous book of writing advice!

Colum McCann is a celebrated novelist who also teaches creative writing at Hunter College in New York. In this delightful and impassioned book, he composed a series of letters to a young writer on different subjects, such as characters, dialogue, grammar, punctuation, structure, editing and finding an agent. McCann's advice is stern but also kind, impassioned but also critical. This is the kind of book that I will add to my beloved Writers on Writing shelf
Cathrine ☯️
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: group-challenge
5 💎 💎 💎 💎 💎
Why would someone who is not a writer want to read a book of letters of advice to young writers? I read it to find out after GR friends were bestowing stars and praise all over the pages though I've never read the author's other work (soon to be remedied).
My takeaway is that much of the wisdom contained in this small chest of jewels (no cubic zirconia or paste to be found) can be applied to many life circumstances, including but not limited to, how to be a better, more appreciative re
Mar 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Outstanding advice for those who want to write, and for current writers who want to fine tune their writing. I've read a few books who would have benefited greatly from the advice in Theis book. Thank you NetGalley for the ARC. ...more
Julie Christine
I need a new category/shelf: Books That Make Me Cry Because I Think The Author Sees Into My Soul.

I've been reading this slowly these past few weeks, just a short essay or two in the morning before turning to work on my novel-in-progress. It's served as a devotional, an inspiration, a kick in the ass, a point of focus, permission, forgiveness, scolding, hope. I think it will remain on the coffee table beside my morning writing spot, and I'll return to the beginning and keep rereading through to t
Jenny Baker
Apr 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2017, writing
This book is inspiring and liberating. I feel like Colum McCann cut my puppet strings and gave my writing free will. There were many times when a passage jumped out at me as if the author were speaking directly to me.

I’m going to try to limit my quotes and not quote half of the book. This one quote made me feel like he was pointing his finger at me.

”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 t
Girish Gowda
Jan 19, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"A lot can be taken from you— even your life—but not your stories about that life. So, this, then, is a word, not without love and respect, to a young writer: write"

In the author’s note of Underworld, Don DeLillo while remarking the ‘moment’ that made the novel for him, casually mentions the archaic meaning of ‘inspire’, which is to breathe life into. Let that hang in the air for a moment. To inspire something is to breathe life into it. To inflate the very liveliness into the unlively. That’s w
Apr 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: netgalley
I'm a reader, not a writer, nor do I have any aspirations to write. Yet, when I was offered a copy of this book from Netgalley, I jumped at the chance, simply because I loved McCann's book, Thirteen Ways of Looking.

I read this as an avid reader, one who loves the written word, and it offered me a peek into the world of writing. It's often hard for me to articulate why some books speak to me and others don't...that indefinable (to me) quality...and this book helped me to see just what those qual
This is a great book! I am so grateful to the reviewers at Goodreads (thanks Esil) for their excitement in reviewing this one.

I highlighted so much it's almost useless (thank goodness for the different colors of highlighters on the Kindle; at least, it will make my reread easier). This is a book to be savored and reread. The advice to writers is not specifically about craft but about attitude, coping, and challenging oneself. It's about how to find and deal with various subject matters, how to f
Diane Barnes
Apr 24, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not a writer, I am a reader. First and foremost, a reader. Since I learned to read, it has been an important part of my life, it has enriched my life, and, I truly believe, it has made me a better person.

So trust me when I say that I wish it could be mandatory for every aspiring author to read this book.

On behalf of readers everywhere, thank you, Mr. McCann, for understanding us.
Karen R
Apr 20, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Colum McCann is a great writer, no doubt about it in my mind, but what I didn’t know until picking up this book is that he is a well-respected instructor and mentor, teaching a writing class for some of the smartest young writers in America, chosen from a pool of many, some of whom have gone on to receive prestigious book awards.

Do not expect a writing manual. Far from it. Expect simple, practical and mindful wisdom, tips for the novice writer and encouragement to be adventurous and ‘break the r
Apr 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: net-galley
I was hesitant about reading this book because I am a reader not a writer but it was so full of the joy of books that it was just plain wonderful. He writes no nonsense advice to novice writers that can be applied to any real life job. He also includes lots of quotes from other authors that are so insightful and helpful not only to writing but reading as well. My favorite was by Oscar Wilde, "The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it." How great is that?

His first piece of advice is to wri
May 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
This is an essential work on writing.
Filled with inspiration and tried and tested advice.
This work of his can been added to the Canon of great books on writing like that of The Art of Fiction: Notes on Craft for Young Writers by John Gardner, On Writing by Stephen King, Bird is Bird by Ann Dillard, Stein On Writing by Sol Stein, and others.
Words not wasted, no straying into random nonsense, every piece of information and advice vital, his passion is clear, and he gives a lot in this writing, lay
Colum McCann is a wonderful, giving human being. What greater gift could a writer give to young writers. McCann is impeccably honest, and generous. I loved listening to the audiobook but there are so many gems in this volume of essays, it is a book I want to have on my shelves. I love the fact that he loves Joyce and thinks Ulysses is the greatest novel of all time.

McCann's own road to fame was long, and he is immensely humble. I first saw McCann in a small gathering in Washington, DC when he re
Amy Neftzger
Mar 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book was outstanding and one of the best I've read concerning the art of writing. If you want to be a better writer, then do not hesitate: get this short book and read it. Hold onto it and read it again in a year or two. This volume gives practical advice (that I can verify from experience) while counseling writers to understand the rules of the trade before breaking them: this is not a black/ white issue - there are appropriate and inappropriate times to do so. The book also encourages cre ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
May 24, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing
Author Colum McCann shares advice for writers, covering every aspect of writing, including research, withholding judgment, struggling with failure, and finding an agent.
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book. I was looking for some writing inspiration to help get me out of a funk and this book was just what I needed.

I was hesitant at first when I saw the title of "young writer" but Colum McCann clears that up - it's not about age! Young could be 13, 27, 45, 65 or beyond. It's for a newer writer. It's for a writer starting out. It's for a writer who is having trouble getting over the finish line. Who feels stalled. Blocked. Discouraged. All the bad feels. Or the writer who
Viji (Bookish endeavors)
”Dilate your nostrils. Fill your lungs with language. A lot can be taken from you—even your life—but not your stories about that life.”

Yes, our stories are our attempts at achieving immortality. We write so that we may live in someone’s mind long after we are gone. Well, at least for some. For the rest, they write because they can’t contain this idea that is about to explode inside their head. They have to put it out there, because otherwise they will go insane. Not that insanity is a bad thing,
Kamila Kunda
May 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, own
I found this book (hardcover, in a pristine condition) in a microlibrary on the street and knowing nothing about it decided to take it home. I am very glad I did. In 52 very short chapters Colum McCann succinctly covers nearly all aspects of writing. From concerns about grammar and sentence structure, finding ideas or time to write, creating a plot and characters to matters such as finding an agent, deleting written material, reading while writing, receiving bad reviews, and many more, he always ...more
Chris Blocker
May 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I could use more Colum McCann in my life. I'd shell out some money just to have a little Colum figure in my office that dispenses wisdom from time to time. Better yet, I'll make a nice comfy spot in the corner and perhaps the author can stop by once or twice a day and share a tidbit or two. What say you, Mr. McCann? I'll get you a nice desk and you can have half the room and I'll make the coffee the way you like. And if you like my half of the room better, I'll even trade you. I'm amiable and qu ...more
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
This wee book of writing advice was delightful. Other than the maxim 'just get off your arse and write!', I have no idea how helpful it would be to an aspiring writer. Back in the Pre-Cambrian era I considered myself to be such an aspirant, and bought every single book like this, even read quite a few of them; that was as far as I ever got with my illustrious literary career. Anyway, this was wonderful on audio, read by McCann himself. ...more
Jun 07, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A book to pick you up, brush off some of the dust from your shoulders and set you on your way again. This book was so invigorating I somehow found time to read the whole thing on a day when I worked at all 3 of my jobs . . . which totally entailed sneaking into the back room to read a few pages from time to time. Thanks for passing it to me, V!
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Colum McCann is the author of three collections of short stories and six novels, including "Apeirogon," due to be published in Spring 2020. His other books include "TransAtlantic," "Let the Great World Spin," "This Side of Brightness,""Dancer" and “Zoli,” all of which were international best-sellers.

“Let the Great World Spin” won the Natio

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