Novelist (and teacher) Colum McCann (whose Let the Great World Spin was an excellent book) has put out a small tome entitled Letters to a Young Writer, in which he distills some of his teaching and advice to writers who are about to venture, or are already there, in to the world of stories.
His most consistent and best advice: Put your arse in the chair and write write write!
Along with that bit of truth, McCann circles the wagons on the power of words — in fact, he relegates worrying about plot to the second tier of writing, and instead, he celebrates how writers use language to uncover the world. His rebalancing here had me wondering about how I teach my young writers about stories, where I find my focus on plot and structure to be important. Maybe I don’t let them play with language nearly enough.
The book weaves through topics such as editing and revision, and getting unstuck, about observing the world with notebook in hand and how to use your red pen to remove unnecessary baggage from your writing, and what to do when you stare at a blank page. He acknowledges the discouragement of rejection of writing, and cheers on those who persevere. He’s funny, and thoughtful, and knows that true writers have the unrelenting urge to write, as something intangible in the heart.
I found his first chapter and his last chapter most moving here, as he captures all of the ways writers interact and make sense of the world, and themselves — and therefore, others, too. His short sentences in these chapters play like a poem, digging deep into the heart and soul of writing.
It was worth a remix of sorts, so here are pieces of the first chapter, as digital interpretation:
I might still do something else with the last chapter, where he widens his focus to the role of the writer in the larger world.
Peace (get your arse there),