Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Letter To A Young Writer

I want to share here this letter that writer Colum McCann posted lately to The Story Blog, in which he offers his advice to young writers. I'm posting it here because:
1/It offers brilliant, no-nonsense advice.
2/He's one of my contemporary favourte writers.
3/I could do with some writing advice right now - as could no doubt you, fellow aspiring writers tuning in...  Honestly, we can never have too much of it....
4/It is also a lovely nod to Rilke's 'Letters To A Young Poet' which contains some of the most beautiful lines of advice ever written about writing. 

Every sentiment of this is reflective of McCann's own writing style which is bold, unique,  poetic and powerful.  (I had the good fortune of meeting him once, and after asking him a question about his book, he immediately responded off-the-bat 'Are you a writer yourself?' to which I was pleasantly surprised, chuffed even, and still am. Well, if you're going to get recognition from anybody, lovely that it's a writer, one of your favourites and most highly regarded at that. (So thank you for that Colum.)  And by the way, he is such a nice guy in real life, highly intelligent and talkative, modest and courteous and kind.  

Anyway, he would know a lot about advice as he teaches Creative Writing at Hunter College in New York. He is by all accounts, not just a brilliant writer but an inspiring teacher as well. Anyway, words to  remember, to engrave into your writing heart:

'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.'

It's something isn't it? Well it has been a motivating force for me to post here in the past three months. [Apologies for that...]  

I think my absolute favourite line in this letter is: 'Be vivified by collaspe.' Indeed! An audacious concept. Collaspe is not the end, rather a means to reanimation. An aha revelation. The very notion of letting collaspe, exhaustion, failure vivify you is heartedly reassuring. And coming from McCann's voice, I believe it. Also: 'prove that you are alive' - couldn't that be the  core raison d'etre of writing? And, 'read promiscuously', oh yeah. Think I'm guilty of that alright. Finally  - 'Fill your lungs with language'. Inhale deeply: yes, yes, yes :)

And if you enjoyed what you've read here, then I implore you to check out Colum McCann's novels - powerfully affecting, linguistically brilliant. He has that mark of a great writer - the ability to wield language to his own thematic desires, until the technical telling becomes the story, the story itself life not just as we know it, but as it could be known.  Transcending, tremendous. 

~ Siobhán 

1 comment:

  1. Love this post. I've always thought of the end of one thing as the start of another too.


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