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Letters to a Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice

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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 paean to the power of language, both by argument and by example, Letters to a Young Writer is fierce and honest in its testament to the bruises delivered by writing as both a profession and a calling. It charges aspiring writers to learn the rules and even break them.

These fifty-two essays are ultimately a profound challenge to a new generation to bring truth and light to a dark world through their art.

192 pages, Hardcover

First published April 4, 2017

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About the author

Colum McCann

77 books3,666 followers
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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 National Book Award in 2009. His fiction has been published in over 40 languages and has appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, GQ, Paris Review and other places. He has written for numerous publications including The Irish Times, Die Zeit, La Republicca, Paris Match, The New York Times, the Guardian and the Independent.

Colum has won numerous international awards and has been a bestseller on four continents. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, as well as the Irish association of artists, Aosdana. He has also received a Chevalier des Artes et des Lettres from the French government. He is the cofounder of the global non-profit story exchange organisation Narrative 4.

In 2003 Colum was named Esquire magazine's "Writer of the Year." Other awards and honors include a Pushcart Prize, the Rooney Prize, the Irish Independent Hughes and Hughes/Sunday Independent Novel of the Year 2003, and the 2002 Ireland Fund of Monaco Princess Grace Memorial Literary Award. He was recently inducted into the Hennessy Hall of Fame for Irish Literature.

His short film "Everything in this Country Must," directed by Gary McKendry, was nominated for an Academy Award Oscar in 2005.

Colum was born in Dublin in 1965 and began his career as a journalist in The Irish Press. In the early 1980's he took a bicycle across North America and then worked as a wilderness guide in a program for juvenile delinquents in Texas. After a year and a half in Japan, he and his wife Allison moved to New York where they currently live with their three children, Isabella, John Michael and Christian.

Colum teaches in Hunter College in New York, in the Creative Writing program, with fellow novelists Peter Carey and Tea Obreht.

Colum has completed his new novel, "Apeirogon." Crafted out of a universe of fictional and nonfictional material, McCann tells the story of Bassam Aramin and Rami Elhanan. One is Israeli. One is Palestinian. Both are fathers. Both have lost their daughters to the conflict. When Bassam and Rami learn of each other's stories they recognize the loss that connects them, and they begin to use their grief as a weapon for peace.

In the novel McCann crosses centuries and continents. He stitches together time, art, history, nature and politics in a tale both heartbreaking and hopeful. Musical, cinematic, muscular, delicate and soaring, Apeirogon is a novel for our times.

It is scheduled for release in the U.S in February 2020.

Advance copies will be available here on GoodReads!!!!

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 406 reviews
Profile Image for Kristin (KC).
251 reviews25.1k followers
June 4, 2018
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, but will greatly inspire the writer within you. For those of us who write, inspiration and motivation are key.

Although conveyed in a positive and honest light, these “letters” don't promise or delude; failure is almost guaranteed, but keep moving forward. Don't be afraid! Pick yourself up and try again. And again. Classes are helpful, but no one can show you how to write.

"The best teacher will know that she is not teaching you at all."

As a reader, I’ve always found that the writing/delivery of a story is more powerful than what is ultimately being told, and this guide affirms that not every idea will be unique, although every voice should be.

"Plot takes a backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens."

This helpful little ditty crossed my radar at the perfect time, and I know it's one I will seek out again for future guidance and support. Its messages are for all writers - young and old. Don’t trip over the title: Young means “New”, people! I’m on my way to 37, and although I’m not the springiest of chickens, I’m fairly new enough at this writing *stuff*. Best of luck to the rest of the newbies!

Sometimes we really do find the perfect book, at the perfect time...
Profile Image for Debbie.
456 reviews2,907 followers
November 16, 2017
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 never had. I’ll sit there forever, hoping you’ll just lean across the table and utter your entire book into my ear, this one long wise and brilliant poem with no beginning and no end. Of course, you’ve demanded that I carry a notebook, so I’ll scribble down snippets. Pure ecstasy, stuffing my head with your words as I stuff my mouth with the Chicken Kiev.

I love it that you practice what you preach. I know you know this, but your language sings like a happy canary. I absolutely loved these sentences:

“The idea of joy might need a long crazy ungrammatical sentence running on foolishly yeah breathlessly without care or custom just rapture pureness moving as if there’s a horse galloping underneath the words. Sadness, on the other hand, might need to be curt. Sharp. Dark. Alone.”

OMG do those sentences make my head dance! The rhythm slays me. I want to bring out my conga drum and let my fingers dance too! My head, my heart, my soul—all in! But then you’re liable to point out (without shaming me, I hope) that I’m being too noisy. I’m not a glass-is-half-full kind of gal, but I want to think that maybe you’ll encourage your family to get up and dance and we’ll all rock on out.

Okay, okay. You won't adopt me. I get it. It was a long shot. The paperwork alone would be a bitch. I'll just have to be happy being your devoted student. A compulsive one, one who had to highlight mostly every word of your book, which made the underlines sort of useless--nothing stands out because everything stands out. EVERYTHING!

Maybe I'll make a rule that if I highlight nine-tenths of a book, I have to reread it. Rereading it is not punishment, but a necessity, a treat, a piece of key lime pie. What can I say when I loved every single thing about this book? Your chapter titles alone pull me in: There Are No Rules; The Terror of the White Page; How Old Is a Young Writer. Then there’s the chapter Don’t Be a Dick, followed by the chapter: Then Again, Don’t Be Too Nice. I’m controlling myself by not listing the whole Table of Contents here--like I said, I loved Every. Single. Word.

Don’t take this the wrong way, but you’re a really bossy guy, you know. I love it. I’m so in awe of you and your mind, I want to follow every directive you give. It’s not a contradiction that you’re also incredibly humble. And most important, you are so very inspirational. In fact, this is the most inspirational book I have ever read, bar none. To my glee and surprise, I actually wrote half of a short story the second I finished your book, and I’m jonesin’ to get back to it, with your astute advice playing out in my efforts.

I just love how you open each chapter with a cool quote by a writer. You selected beauties; every one of them made me stop and think and nod my head yes. I appreciate, too, that your chapters are short. It’s great for this ADD age. And it makes it easy to pick up your book and get a dose whenever I want—it’s like having a glass of sparkling water at my side.

My key takeaway (though it’s nearly impossible to limit it to one) is to keep my arse in the chair. I’m trying to make that my mantra. Of course I’ll have to change it to “keep my ass in the chair” since I’m American. I hope that’s okay with you.

Other off-the-top-of-my-head takeaways (since I give up—I can’t stop myself): You're never too old to start. There are no rules. Know grammar so you can twist it when you want to. Make your words sing (and dance). Have fun. Stay on track. Slow is okay. Carry a notebook. I’ve heard many of those things before, but you make it this playful and wise poem that’s so totally addictive. You also introduced me to new ideas, like reading aloud. Although I know that will feel weird at first, I think it’s a good idea because I’ll be able to hear the rhythm of the words.

Even though your book is about writing, I think non-writers will adore it too. The last few chapters about the publishing process are targeted to writers, yes, but the rest of the book is universal. Your book made my head dance, it made my heart sing. And there's no describing what it did to my soul. Best book, ever. This book has so many stars, it doesn't know what to do with them. I count my lucky stars that I got to read it.

Thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy.
Profile Image for Larry H.
2,514 reviews29.5k followers
April 24, 2017
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 Young Writer: Some Practical and Philosophical Advice, it's just that there are always far too many books and far too little time, so I thought a foray into nonfiction might bog me down. And then the reviews started popping up—people were breathless with their praise, they were moved, some were even in tears! Well, hell, I couldn't let this one pass me by then.

The fact is, when I was in fifth grade I wrote my first novel. Since I was mostly influenced by my afterschool diet of soap operas and my prime-time consumption of television shows like The Love Boat and Fantasy Island (it was the 70s, after all), the book was a tad melodramatic. In fact, my very first reviewer, my aunt, said to me, "So, does anyone in this book do anything more than get married, have affairs, have babies, kill each other, and die?" Well, no. Needless to say, the novel died a quick death.

I have dreamed of being a writer for most of my life. I write quite a bit as part of my "real job," but not fiction (although the occasional marketing copy or memo to my Board of Directors might qualify). I've written a few short stories that I tried to get published, but I've never gotten that far. I know I have a story, or a novel, inside me, but I just can't seem to flesh out the ideas enough to get them on paper.

Needless to say, McCann's book didn't just speak to me, it sang. Filled both with new takes on advice I've heard before, and new perspectives I hadn't considered, Letters to a Young Writer both encouraged me and made me realize the things I've perhaps been doing wrong in my pursuit of the fiction deep within me.

"One day you might find yourself hating writing precisely because you want to make it so good. Yet this awful truth is just another form of joy. Get used to it. The sun also sets in order to rise."

Beyond the inspiration of this book, what I loved is that while McCann treated writing as a calling, something writers feel they must do, he recognizes it can't be the only thing. He talks about the need to escape the pressure of writing, the need to enjoy life outside (and the outside), and the importance and sheer beauty of reading, one of my most favorite activities in the world.

"You read to fire your heart aflame. You read to lop the top of your head off. You read because you're the bravest idiot around and you're willing to go on an adventure into the joy of confusion. You know when a book is working. Give it time. ... A good book will turn your world sideways."

I am energized by this book, with the desire to write, certainly, but also the desire to read more of McCann's work. The fact that he could dazzle me so with a book about writing, combined with how I felt about Thirteen Ways of Looking (see my original review), definitely convinces me to revisit the one novel of his I had trouble with, as well as his other books.

Do you need to be a writer, or want to write, in order to enjoy this book? It certainly helps, but the fact is, anyone with an appreciation of the craft of writing, or who simply marvels at the lyrical beauty of sentences will enjoy this. McCann is a writer at the top of his craft, sharing his craft with us as he tells us about his craft. It's a little meta, but it's a lot fantastic.

See all of my reviews at http://itseithersadnessoreuphoria.blo....
Profile Image for Angela M .
1,309 reviews2,191 followers
April 7, 2017
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 or one not so much, McCann has given me a new respect for the writer, a respect for the intimate process that writing is, for all that it takes to put those words down, to order those words perfectly, to tell a story that can "whisper something beautiful in your ear".

I appreciated the quotes from various writers at the beginning of each chapter, but I mostly loved the things that McCann says about writers knowing "the most silent hour of the night ", about "this crafty sullen art" . I had goosebumps when he talks about the importance of language, urging the writer to "Listen for that quiet line." As a reader I'm always listening for "that quiet line" so this spoke to me , a reader whose favorite books are those that tell stories quietly.

Highly recommended to writers, old and young, to anyone who has loved a book by Colum McCann, actually to anyone who can say that reading is a part of who they are and believes in what McCann says , " Literature proposes possibilities and then makes truths of them. In storytelling we are given some of the most profound evidence of being alive ."

A million thanks to you Colum McCann for sharing so much of yourself here and in all you write. I received an advanced copy of this book from Random House through NetGalley,
Profile Image for Esil.
1,118 reviews1,363 followers
April 3, 2017
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 is not just for the young and it applies to so much in life beyond writing.
-Because I loved his sincerity and humility.
-Because I felt inspired.
-Because I laughed a bit, and smiled and nodded a lot.
-Because while I really don't have any aspirations to becoming a writer, he planted a seed of desire and inspiration.
-Because there are a few people I need to give this book to.
-Because he says it's ok to end a sentence with a preposition every now and then, as long as you do it knowingly and for the right effect -- mind you, my sentence above was pure laziness.
-Because I wish I lived in a world in which writing so intelligently and beautifully was broadly recognized and applauded rather than viewed suspiciously by many as elitist.
-Because it's short, can be read in snippets, and enjoyed in small pieces.
-Because I will definitely read it again.

Highly recommended to pretty much anyone who is willing to take risks, and who aspires to do anything with depth and dedication.

Thanks to Netgalley and the publisher for an opportunity to read an advance copy.
Profile Image for Joe Valdez.
499 reviews858 followers
April 22, 2017
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 to a Young Writer, a slim 2017 self-help writing book by Colum McCann, which I picked up and started flipping through while Bryan was pacing around.

McCann grabbed my attention. His chapters strike like lightning and are intended to power the young writer to push through negativity or self-doubt or other common stumbling blocks in order to write. The author offers few specifics about his own life or career, with pithy chapters titled "Your First Line," "Read Aloud," or "Don't Be a Dick."

The book is a lot like a pep rally. Up to ten minutes or so, I was fired up to kill Lincoln High, but as McCann's cheering and positive can-do went on, I started tuning him out. That's no fault of the author's, I just grew tired of what he was doing. Like most self-aware writing instructors, I'm sure he advises the reader to put down the book and go write at one point. I think this is good advice.

Scenes from the pep rally:

-- Good writing will knock the living daylights out of you. Very few people talk about it, but writers have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation. The dropping of the bucket down into the near-empty well over and over again. Moving a word around a page. Moving it back again. Questioning it. Doubting it. Trying it in bold. Looking at it in italic. Increasing the font size, Spelling it differently. Putting it in another accent. Shifting it around again and again. Single space, double space, justify right and left, go back to single space. Sounding it out. Figuring the best way to leave it alone. Hanging in there as the clock ticks on. Not conceding victory to the negative. Railing against the attractively defeatist. Understanding not only what words are for, but also what words stand against. Getting up off the ground when you've punched yourself to the floor. Dusting yourself off. Readjusting your mouth guard. Sustaining what you have inherited from previous days of work.

-- Writing a character into being is like meeting someone you want to fall in love with. You don't care (yet) about the facts of his/her life. Don't overload us with too much information. Allow that to seep out later. We are attracted by a moment in time--a singular moment of flux or change or collapse--not by grand resumes or curricula vitae. So don't generalize. Be specific. Go granular. The reader must fall in love with your characters quickly (or indeed, learn to hate them quickly). We have to have something happen to them: something that jolts our tired hearts awake. Make it traumatic, make it mournful, make it jubilant, it doesn't matter--just allow your reader to care for the physical body that your words evoke, the person behind the language. Later on in the story we can settle down with them and get to know them in a wider sense.

-- Still, seek out those truths that are not self-evident. The more freedom a writer has, the more she must become a critic of the place she lives. Look around you. Depth begins at home. Find out what is wrong and then begin to write about it, in order to stay away from it. Even if you're creating an elsewhere, you are still writing about what is close to home. You don't owe allegiance to your government. Nor to accepted ideas. But you do owe allegiance to that elusive notion of truth. Elusive, why? Because once you have found it, it has probably already changed into something new, something even more pernicious. There will always be new cruelties to confront. New problems to occupy. In the end writing solves nothing. Be joyful about that. But--at the same time--never forget that it matters. Do I contradict myself? Very well then. I contradict myself. Whitman says we contain multitudes. Joyce says that good writing re-creates life out of life. Who are we to argue with the greats? Just strike the word down on the page. No preaching involved. No sermonizing. No pointless barking at the passing streams. Just earnest endeavor and grit. A true mining of your world. The ability to force yourself into the darkest corner in order to discover something that hasn't yet been said.

Another thing: McCann considers Ulysses by James Joyce the greatest novel ever written and the only music he mentions is "And Now the Weather" by Colm Mac Con Iomaire. Come on. Give me Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov and "Love Deluxe" by Sade any day. "Feel No Pain," "Like a Tattoo," "Bullet Proof Soul" ... "Love Deluxe" is a writer's LP!

I'd recommend this writing manual to young writers to pick up, leaf through and see how many of the ideas McCann mentions you're already conscious of and doing. Keep doing them. If you're seeking a more instructive autobiography on the writer's life, I would recommend On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King instead.
Profile Image for Diane S ☔.
4,783 reviews14.2k followers
April 3, 2017
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 that part down pat. Loved this quote on the overusing of metaphors,

"No more hot tears please. No more milky-white thighs. No more dream sequences. No more blood-red sunsets even. (Cormack McCarthy got them all.) So there is definitely humor in his advice.

Can see where this would be a very useful guide to new authors. Now of he would just hurry and write another fiction book.

ARC from Publisher.
Profile Image for Iris P.
171 reviews206 followers
June 24, 2017
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 son and I have had lengthy discussions about why humans have the need to tell and pass along stories. He believes that science offers perfectly plausible explanations to this question. I, on the other hand, feel more conflicted about it and see something more spiritual and dare I say, divine at play here?

And so, why do we tell stories is one of the questions Colum McCann contemplates in this illuminating selection of essays. He does acknowledge the mysterious nature of the writing process but instead of focusing on the where this need comes from, he directs his attention to the why and for what purpose. For him, storytelling is all about finding ways to fulfill our craving for new, alternative realities.

He encourages writers to be mindful and respectful of this ability and to treat it with respect:
"The whole point of good literature is to make newness durable. You are creating alternative time. You are making vivid that which did not exist before. You are not just the clockmaker, but the measure of the clockmaker’s creation. You are shaping past, present, and future. This is quite a responsibility. Respect it."

These fifty-two essays are short in length but full on passion and even if you are not are a writer or plan on becoming one, McCann's zeal for his craft is so contagious that if you are anything like me, you would find yourself inspired by how beautifully and intimately he describes it.

Aspiring young writers will also find quite a bit of advice. This ranges from the purely utilitarian and practical ("Write wherever you feel comfortable","Read Aloud,"Carry a notebook), to the more essential ("To MFA or Not to MFA", "Language and Plot", "How to get an agent"). Still, the author's goal seems to be to sustain his reader's aspirations and inspirations, rather than to provide a laundry list on how to become a successful writer.

At times McCann comes across like a concerned parent who is desperately trying to help his children avoid the pitfalls that he knows, are waiting for them in their difficult quest. He can be repetitive, even a little bit obsessive sometimes, but it's clear that his motivations are noble and that his heart is in the right place.

On the last essay, called "Letter to a Young Writer, Redux", McCann makes a passionate call for his young protégés to reclaim the moral mantle that he believes writers have lost in the last decades and to challenge themselves as potential agents of change.
The Amazing thing about good writing, he says, is that it can find the pulse of the wound without having to inflict the actual violence" and "We have to understand that language is power, no matter how often power tries to strip us of language."
Which reminds me of that old adage"the pen is mightier that the sword".

Although I am obviously not part of the book's intended audience, I still found quite a few helpful philosophical nuggets and practical advice such as "There are moments when you just have to rely on your instincts" and "In life, just like in writing, there are no manuals" and "Sometimes rules have to be broken" and last but certainly not least, "Don't be a dick"!

McCann ends the essay called There Are No Literary Olympics with this passage:
"It's only for a short while that you, young writer, will have such brazen confidence as to think the morning lasts forever. It’s only for a short while that you can be as optimistic as you currently are. Because, like it or not, eventually the younger writer becomes the older one, celebrating the joyful shuffle."
Indeed, and isn't this a good lesson for any young person, even those that aren't aspiring writers?

As for the author's audio narration, what can I say? There's something about the expression "Just keep your arse on the chair" that sounds much better in an Irish accent. Pure perfection.

A moving, inspiring and powerful manifesto. Highly Recommended.
Profile Image for Brina.
933 reviews4 followers
December 17, 2017
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 books including Let the Great World Spin and Transatlantic, McCann has offered take on how a potential author from age fifteen through sixty five can get started on a career. A slim book of advice, humor, and wit, McCann has left me with much food for thought as I move toward the new year ahead.

Another favorite author of mine, Anna Quindlen, has suggested that reading leads to rereading leads to writing. McCann concurs noting that an author in the middle of writing a book should read and read and read some more, both in the genre that he is writing about and all other quality books. McCann quotes Tolstoy's iconic passage in Anna Karenina that all happy families are the same and all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. He applies this to writing as well noting that all successful authors are the same, whereas unpublished authors are sad in their own way and must find their way in the publishing world. The bulk of this book is McCann's attempt to assist authors on their road to publication from the rough draft to the final first edition. Along the way there will be bumps in the road, but that is par for the course in a literary career.

McCann's work is a chock full of humor as well as practical. One of the best feelings he has had while writing is discarding a manuscript that he spent eighteen months writing. It did not feel right to him so he decided on a whim to let it go and he felt lighter after tearing the paper to shreds. He notes to writers to not rewrite their own family history but recreate the family in a fictional manner, in a way that will make it fun and imaginative to tell the story of a character that is based on one's own family but not completely true either. This will lead to less conflict with one's actual family members along the way and also make an author's work stand out as original writing. I concede that I may be on to something as I attempt to recreate stories in my head constantly so perhaps I am also on the path to writing a novel. As McCann points out, one does not need to be eighteen to write their first novel so it does not hurt to try no matter how old one is.

Letters to a Young Writer is a thin volume full of advice for life, not just writing. It is a book that can be read quickly but should be savored because the writing itself is impeccable and full of uplifting anecdotes. I thank my goodreads friend Ellie for steering me in the direction of reading Colum McCann as he is a new author for me. I look forward to reading one of his novels in the years to come as I am sure it will be a treat to read.

4+ stars
Profile Image for Elyse Walters.
4,010 reviews626 followers
October 24, 2022
Audiobook…read by Colum
….2hours and 38 minutes

I’m a reader…not a writer…
after finishing and thoroughly enjoying listening to McCann read this book:
“Letters to a Young Writer”
…..or old farts…
I’ve concluded that part of my reading repertoire must include books on writing — (estimating at least one a year would be wise for me)…
Because every time I do read a book on writing….
….”Bird by Bird”, by Anne Lamott
….”Writing Down the Bones”, by Natalie Goldberg
….”On Writing”, by Stephen King….
I pick up new insights about the process of writing —in ways that help me be a better reader. (at least a more observant reader).

This was a delightful walking-companion this morning…
McCann helped me add zip to my steps.

“Letters to a Young Writer”, is a light-hearted audio for *BOOK PEOPLE*…
Colum McCann has a wonderful - ‘anti-cranky’ voice….
He is generous - humble - and personably candied.

A few basic 101 quickie-tidbits:
[there’s much more]
…..”Who, what, where, when, and why”…..are the fuel for writers.

…..”Research! Google is not enough”.

…..SIT!!! keep sitting… keep writing.


…..”Life is dark but bring a little flaming joy to the torch”.

…..”Be interested in
any amount of joy”.

…..”Take a break”
go on holiday, take everything you need but leave your notebook behind.

…..”Every once in a while send your editor flowers out of the blue”.

…..Have patience.
After writing… there is editing. Then there’s more editing. Then there is ‘more’ editing again.

…..Beware: Blurbs are literary porn.

Read the great stuff but also read the crappy stuff.

…..”Stories are not about plot they are about rhythm and language and style”.

…..”Make sure the words are yours—but be clear no words are solely your own. We are the voice of many voices”.

…..”Leave the reviews to the reviewer‘s. Don’t believe the good ones or the bad ones… Better yet, don’t read them”.

….I’m not looking for serious advice, or instructions…
I’m just an old fart reader who is thankful to writers:
Many are my best friends(but they don’t even know it)…
Writers feed my little brain and soul with life nourishment.
I’m happy there are books for writers to get tips and inspiration—so they can be better writers!
A win-win for us readers, too.
Profile Image for Diane.
1,081 reviews2,720 followers
May 30, 2017
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 and which will be treasured for decades.

Five glorious stars to Mr. McCann! Thank you for writing such an inspiring and helpful book.

Further Reading
If you're interested in reading more books by writers talking about writing, here are my favorites: Stephen King's On Writing; Ann Patchett has a wonderful essay on writing called "The Getaway Car," published in This is the Story of a Happy Marriage; Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic; and Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own.

Favorite Quotes
"Often a writer will not know the true reason for writing until long after the work is finished. It is when she gives it to others that its purpose becomes apparent."

"A dialogue might not be true, but it must be honest. And what it must do is have the appearance of ease. It must look as if it just naturally slipped its way onto the page."

"Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens ... Maybe in this day and age we are diseased by plot. Let's face it, plots are good for movies, but when over-considered they tend to make books creak. So, unbloat your plot. Listen for the quiet line. Anyone can tell a big story, yes, but not everyone can whisper something beautiful in your ear."

"Google helps [with research], but the world is so much deeper than Google. A search engine can't hold a candle to all the libraries in the world where the books actually exist, live, breathe, and argue with one another, even in the dusty basement."

"Your energies should be directed entirely at your own work. The success or failure of others will not make a new sentence appear from your fingertips. Just because someone else got a good review will not take away from your own possibility of a good review: it's not as if there is a limited supply."

"Too many young writers think of themselves as writers rather than that which they have written. Get used to this: it must be on the page. So don't walk around thinking of yourself as a writer. Nothing worse than an author constantly obsessed with himself."

"A young writer must read. She must read and read and read. Adventurously. Promiscuously. Unfailingly. It sounds so simple. Yet it is not. Not even the simplification of it. She must read everything that comes her way. The classics, the old books that speak to her from the shelves, the tomes recommended by teachers, the chapbooks left on the subway seats, the old dog-eared novels in the railway station, the ancient hardcover in the holiday cottage. Read, read, read. The brain is an agile canister. Your mind can contain so much. The more difficult the book, the better. The greater the agility of your reading, the greater the elasticity of your own work."

"A good book will turn your world sideways. It will also turn your own writing inside out. The prose writers should read the poets. The poets should read the novelists. The playwrights should read the philosophers. The journalists should read the short story writers. The philosophers should read through the entire crew. In fact, we all should read the entire crew. Nobody makes it alone."

"I have heard young writers say they don't have time to read. That's most likely because they have already taken too much time shooting their mouths off."

"Ultimately your ideal reader is you. You are the one who has to take responsibility for it in the end. You must be prepared to listen to the deepest, most critical part of yourself. When you write something, try to imagine yourself a couple decades from now, reading over the same piece, wondering if it still has worth."

"Depression is an occupational hazard, young writer. But don't wallow in it. Don't become fossilized in despair. Don't paralyze yourself in the aspic of gloom. If you stare into the abyss long enough, it will stare out from you. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life can be soul crushing, too."

"The Theory of Purpose will help you get out of bed in the morning. It proves the value of your struggle. The work matters. The story needs to be told. Death is not an option, at least for now."
Profile Image for Cathrine ☯️ .
635 reviews349 followers
April 25, 2018
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 reader.

Mr. McCann I promise to read and no doubt enjoy your books with due diligence and renewed respect for the art and magic created by the stories you and others tell. I can't wait.

Sincerely yours,

Ms. In a High State of Anticipation.
Profile Image for Julie.
Author 6 books1,865 followers
October 5, 2022
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 the end, rinse-repeat until McCann's nuggets of wisdom, tenderness, and no bullshit advice on the writing life are ingrained in my brain. It doesn't matter how much one has or hasn't written, published or not published, Colum McCann writes to our deepest fears and hopes, with the solid conviction that we must write on. Rage on.
Profile Image for Lynne.
610 reviews60 followers
March 13, 2017
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.
Profile Image for Jenny Baker.
1,286 reviews194 followers
April 23, 2017
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 the one who puts his arse in the chair when the last thing he wants to do is have his arse in the chair.”

I can talk about writing my next novel nonstop, but I can go weeks without opening up my latest Word document to work on the novel I’ve already started. I’m actually working on my third novel. The first two are only first drafts and I still have rewritten them. People ask me if I’m going to get them published. They’re shocked when I tell them no. They incredulously ask me “why not?” I just want to roll my eyes at them. I don’t know any writer who published the first novel they ever wrote. If you know of such a writer, then please tell me and I’ll bow down and kiss their feet for being a genius writer. The first several novels that you write are practice, because it takes that long to develop your writing skills. Several. I don’t know if people are naïve or impatient when they think you can slap down one novel and get it published.

”To hell with grammar, but only if you know the grammar first. To hell with formality, but only if you have learned what it means to be formal. To hell with plot, but you better at some stage make something happen. To hell with structure, but only if you have though it through so thoroughly that you can safely walk through your work with your eyes closed.
The great ones break the rules on purpose.”

This reminds me of all of those writing advice books that claim they have the magic formula for writing the next bestseller. The problem with those books is that they use a cookie cutter formula that may work for the author, but it’s not one-size-fits-all. You can’t stuff your creativity inside somebody else’s box if it doesn’t fit. It’s like trying to squeeze your butt into a size 6 pair of jeans knowing that you’re a size 8.

”Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know.”

If authors only wrote what they knew, the entire fantasy fiction genre wouldn’t exist. I’m fairly certain that J. K. Rowling never once lived in a magical world filled with weird creatures where she learned how to fix broken noses and unlock doors by flipping a wand around.

There’s a great chapter on creating life-like characters.

“Your characters must be intricate, complicated, flawed.”

“In the end you should probably know your characters as well as you know yourself.”

Yes, yes, yes. There’s nothing more annoying than reading a novel with one-dimensional characters. Most of us are still thinking about Harry Potter characters years after we’ve read the books, because they’re so fully developed that we sometimes forget that they’re not real.

I love the chapter called Be a Camera. He reminds us to “Make us feel as if we are there”. Later he says, “It is a good trick to assume that you have a number of changeable lenses.”

Another good chapter is on writing dialogue.

”Make each character distinct. Give them verbal ticks.”

“Make action occur within the conversation.”

“Even if using dialect, or patois, or Dublinese, you must realize that there is a reader at the end of the sentence. Don’t confuse them. Don’t knock them out o the story. A wee bit is enough to get a Northern Irish accent. Don’t go Oirish on yourself. Don’t fall into stereotype. No arragh bejaysus and begob. No overdone Southern twang. It’ll make y’all wanna holler. No Jamaican overdose, mahn. No Bhrrooklyn nasal noise.”

Hahahaha. I laughed so hard when I read that. I think we’ve all read a book or two that fell victim to that.

I’m just going to list some of the other advice that I liked:

• Read your work aloud.

• Answer the Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How questions.

• Structure is developed from your characters and plot, not a preconceived idea.

• What happens in your story isn’t as important and how it happens.

• Good grammar becomes intuitive from reading a lot.
• Research beyond Google.

• Don’t flood your novel with too much detail, but toss in some odd details that only an expert would know.

• Only be in competition with yourself.

Another great chapter is called Read, Read, Read. He recommends reading everything you can get your hands on, from your own contemporaries to the difficult classics that confuse the heck out of you.

There’s so much more that I didn’t even cover. I borrowed this book from the library, but I still want to add this little book to my collection so that I can reread it and highlight my favorite sections. I highly recommend this book to aspiring writers and get ready to take notes.

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April 25, 2017
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 qualities are.

Much of the book has practical advice and wisdom than can be applied to life (i.e. Don't Be A Dick") , not just writing. And it will make me approach the books I read with a different eye and certainly with a renewed respect for the craft.

Short, entertaining, and often humorous, I highly recommend this one to both writers and readers.

** thank you to Netgalley and Random house for an advance e-copy of this book for review
Profile Image for Nad Gandia.
173 reviews40 followers
August 26, 2021
`Al fin y al cabo estamos condenados a cortejar e incluso a favorecer la decepción. Finalmente hemos comprendido que la verdad absoluta no existe en absoluto. Y pese a todo, lo que nunca debería dejar de interesarte es la diferencia entre el pensamiento auténtico y sus desperdicios, entre la honestidad y la farsa intelectual. ´

—Llevo todo el día trabajando duro en el Ulises —dijo Joyce.

—¿Significa eso que has escrito un montón? —pregunté.

—Dos frases —dijo Joyce.

—¿Has estado buscando el mot juste?

—No —replicó Joyce—. Las palabras ya las tengo. Lo que estoy buscando es su orden perfecto en la frase.


Al final, como advierte al principio del libro la escritura no forma parte de un saber hacerla, sino que toma forma al hacerla, el caso es que cualquier trabajo creativo tiene más que ver con la constancia y saber llegar a un final. El proceso puede ser fastuoso, pero al final siempre encontramos las herramientas necesarias con el trabajo constante, el trabajo constante lo que tiene en su haber es el hecho de avanzar, pero también de volver dos pasos y ver los errores que se han cometido, en mi opinión, escribir pertenece más a un hecho de práctica, más que de tener un don, o esperar a que vengan la musas (el tema de las musas no es más que la constancia en contar una historia).
Mi formación académica es relativa, y puedo asegurar la inmensa mayoría de veces que más que inspiración es una idea, una idea a la que simplemente le tienes que encontrar el hilo conductor que te llevará al final.
El trabajo creativo en general, es el trabajo de los hilos conductores de las ideas, siempre y cuando sepas dónde quieres llegar, no suele haber ningún problema, así que, un trabajo de este tipo, es 99% constancia y trabajo (no son lo mismo) y 1% de inspiración, o lo que coloquialmente se conoce como la musa. Las ideas están ahí, solo hay que cogerlas, lo mismo pasa con las historias, todo el mundo tiene una historia que contar, esa es la gracia también de la vida y de descubrir a otras personas.
Profile Image for Ellie.
1,495 reviews378 followers
May 1, 2017
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 find and deal with yourself.

As far as the last goes, it is relevant to other people, not only writers.

The book is inspirational, I felt energized and stronger reading it. The end section is a grand exhortation to remain committed to truth, compassion, speaking out, and, of course, the power of language. In a time when we see language so devalued, used so poorly and yet manipulatively, the last is a call to all of us.

I can't imagine not loving this book. The chapters are short, headed by interesting and often fascinating and intriguing epigrams that made me think almost as much as the chapters themselves. There are times when McCann concerns himself with issues specific to writers (e.g., how to find an agent) but even there are messages about courage and taking risks that apply to all of us.

I finished this book wanting to write. I finished this book wanting to feel more alive in the way that the book made me feel, to continue the adventure of life that often seems (to me, anyway) overwhelming and difficult. I finished this book feeling empowered. I also finished it wanting to get back to my reading. It reignited the fire of my love for books and language.

I'm going to reread McCann's Let the Great World Spin (which I loved) as well as read the rest of his work. Then I'm going back to doing my best to do read everything else I can in this short life.
Profile Image for Diane Barnes.
1,302 reviews450 followers
April 24, 2017
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.
Author 0 books248 followers
June 29, 2022
The writing shows the power of short, crisp sentences. A powerful package of wisdom summed up in a tiny book.
Profile Image for Girish Gowda.
89 reviews85 followers
January 22, 2021
"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 what this astounding book has done. It has breathed life into the cynically uninspired young writer in me.
This book is a labor of love. McCann’s endless love for the craft of writing is so succinct yet so invigorating, that I can place my bet as this being the most finely edited book I have ever read. Not a single word out of place, or redundant. Every word pushes his agenda to inspire the writer. But it’s not all sugar-coating though. He in fact opens the book somewhat in this manner: ‘I can’t teach you anything. Now that you know this, go learn’. He is honest, blunt, and tells it as it is.
As I previously mentioned in my updates, I firmly believe that you can’t talk about a mysterious process such as making art, without straying away from the clichés. Yes, we know, a writer is one who writes and reads intensely. Yes, we know, that you can’t teach something like writing but can only learn it. We need to go into ourselves. All of this gets mentioned, but lots more too. The book is not quite original, but it’s heartfelt and authentic.
He walks the line of exhorting someone to write in the most fundamental way, but also talks about the business bit of the process too; such as editing, blurbs, agents.
This is the book for the endlessly inspired, yet unable to sort of materialize it into anything owing to the trepidation and self-doubtfulness. Go into this knowing that the book is for a ‘young writer’, as in someone who’s quite new to the craft and the artiness of the whole thing. I can only hope you’ll find it just as inspiring as I did.

Few of my favorite quotes, out of the many dozens:

Invention is not about telling lies. Far from it. Invention is about carving out the authentic

Why is your narrator telling the story? If you can uncover your character’s true need for telling her story, you will have found a reason to keep telling it.

Structure is the sculpture within the stone. You chisel it into life. It will eventually find its way into the museum of good storytelling. Begin with language and the content will then shape the form.

Failure admits ambition. Failure admits bravery.

It is your duty to reflect the world, yes, but it’s also your duty to bring a bit of brightness to it too. The best writing makes us sit up and take notice and it makes us glad that we are—however briefly —alive.

The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life can be soul-crushing too.
Write to outdistance yourself from misery.

Find the language. Literature reminds us that life is not already written down. There are still infinite possibilities.
Profile Image for Karen R.
847 reviews498 followers
April 20, 2017
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 rules.” Told in 52 essays with attention grabbing titles such as “No Rust on Your Sentences Please”, “Fuhgeddaboudit: Writing Dialogue” and “Don’t Be a Dick”, McCann’s insight into the art of writing is inspirational and down to earth, His advice seems to come from the heart and his own lessons learned. This book will make a great gift for fledgeling writers and, although I am not a writer, there were a number of things that will make me as a reader approach books more thoughtfully.
Profile Image for Susan.
1,062 reviews200 followers
April 4, 2017
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 write. How true this is. No day dreaming, no postponing, no excuses- just plop your butt in your chair and write. This is what is called practice and no matter what you do, you must practice. Quality does not come easily. You have to work at it. I have read one of the reasons the Beatles were so good is they played in bars in Germany 7-8 hours a day. They didn't sit in their garage and shoot the breeze. They went out and did it. They practiced. No matter what you do this is sage advice. Work hard.

The second piece of advice is actually my favorite. Don't be an ass (not the word he used) but you get the drift. Don't act like a big shot. Be nice, be kind, be considerate and value your readers (or customers or whatever). I can't tell you how important this is. I took my 75 year old mother to a Tony Hillerman writers conference in Albuquerque about 10-12 years ago. Hillerman wrote the delightful Joe Leapfrog mysteries. Faye and Jonathan Kellerman also appeared there. I liked both of their separate series and was quite excited. Jonathon was a jerk. He would look over people's heads as they talked to him. He wore a pained expression on his face like what am I doing here at this rinky dinky thing? He was unkind and disrespectful to his readers. I never read him again. As much as I liked his Alex Delaware series, life is too short too support anyone who thinks he's too good for his readers. I hasten to add that his wife, Faye, was quite charming and Tony Hillerman was a great gentleman. So this is great advice. Kellerman lost about 50 readers who were so put off by him. Maybe he thinks it doesn't matter. This is also great advice for anyone in life. Life is too short to be a jerk.

McCann loves James Joyce. He advises writers not to worry so much about a plot. He says, "The greatest novel ever written has very little apparent plot. A cuckold walks around Dublin for twenty-four hours. No shootouts, no cheap shots, no car crashes." He continues though that every story has some kind of plot and what the plot must do is "twist our hearts in some way."

If you love reading or writing, this is a wonderful addition to your library.

My thanks to NetGalley, Random House and Jess Bonet for the opportunity to read this book.
Profile Image for Lou.
879 reviews865 followers
May 21, 2017
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, layered down so clearly and precise with voice and heart it will demand many re-reads for the writer or the lover of writing.

“We get our voice from the voices of others. Read promiscuously. Imitate, copy, but become your own voice. Write about that which you want to know. Better still, write toward that which you don’t know. The best work comes from outside yourself. Only then will it reach within. Be bold in the face of the blank sheet.”

“So you go back and begin again. Open elegantly. Open fiercely. Open delicately. Open with surprise. Open with everything at stake. This, of course, is a bit like being told to walk a tightrope. Go ahead, then, walk the tightrope! Relax yourself into the tension of the wire. The first line, like the first step, is only the first of many, yet it sets the shape of what is to come. Try walking a foot off the ground, then two feet, then three. Eventually you might go a quarter mile in the sky. Then again, you might stumble and fall. No matter. It is, after all, a work of the imagination. You won’t die trying. At least not yet.”

“DON’T WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW, WRITE toward what you want to know. Step out of your skin. Risk yourself. This opens up the world. Go to another place. Investigate what lies beyond your curtains, beyond the wall, beyond the corner, beyond your town, beyond the edges of your own known country.”

“DON’T LET THE TERROR OF THE WHITE page shrink-wrap your mind. The excuse that you have writer’s block is far too easy. You have to show up for work. You have to sit in the chair and fight the blankness. Don’t leave your desk. Don’t abandon the room. Don’t go off to pay the bills. Don’t wash the dishes. Don’t check the sports pages. Don’t open the mail. Don’t distract yourself in any way until you feel you have fought and tried. You have to put in the time. If you are not there, the words will not appear. Simple as that.”

Profile Image for Chavelli Sulikowska.
226 reviews219 followers
December 21, 2021
“Nobody can advise you, nobody…” and how true this is. I found this slim novel deeply assuring - that a writer must ultimately find their own way and listen to their own inner writer compass.
While teaching and courses and learning techniques and skills from the most accomplished authors is immeasurably helpful - ultimately no one can sit down and write what is in your head. That is uniquely you.
What is also clear from McCann’s advice is that writing is not a linear or easy process - it is fraught with back and forth, self doubt, cross outs and hastily torn pages (or deleted paragraphs!) For most, even the most accomplished and awarded writers, the actual task of writing is WORK. It involves hard labour and can be as unrewarding as any other slog!
This novel enables a sigh of relief and offers deep encouragement for anyone who has attempted to take up the pen! Don’t give up. Tell your story and tell it your way.
Profile Image for Barbara.
1,691 reviews26 followers
April 27, 2017
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 read from the book he was working on. It was Let the Great World Spin and was probably sometime in 2007. I've seen him two or three times since then and he is always gracious, warm, and enchanting.

I recommend this book not only to aspiring writers, and writers in general, but to those who love reading.
Profile Image for Sofia.
836 reviews100 followers
May 16, 2022
Um livro com conselhos bastante práticos sobre escrever.
Não é um manual de escrita criativa, é mais uma compilação de linhas orientadoras (guidelines) do exercício de escrita.
Profile Image for Amy Neftzger.
Author 13 books173 followers
March 12, 2017
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 creative types to get out of their internal vortex and to see their work from the reader's perspective. It covers topics such as writer's block (which he refers to as "The terror of the white page"), why we tell stories, and handling critics.

If you loved Stephen King's "On Writing" then this book is definitely for you.

Note: I was given a free ARC of this copy by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. Also note that I will be purchasing this book and giving copies away as gifts. I rarely do that, but it was that good and says everything that I would tell a writer when they ask me for advice.
Profile Image for Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance.
5,874 reviews292 followers
May 24, 2020
Author Colum McCann shares advice for writers, covering every aspect of writing, including research, withholding judgment, struggling with failure, and finding an agent.
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