Monday, March 13, 2017
Letters to a Young Writer
Colum McCann has put together a collection of essays advising would-be writers. In an age where anyone can publish, this book addresses the serious writer and not those who engage in the profession as an endeavor to earn a fast buck. This book is about the craft of writing and the process of creation. It’s not about getting rich quickly.
Sure, we’d all love a best seller. However, financially motivated art often lacks the substance needed to draw an audience. This book is about the process which may or may not result in financial gain. If you have the disease of writing it is in your blood and you will seek to cultivate it more or less like an addiction, rather than an occupation. There is no way not to write if it’s within you. The worst part is that simply scratching down words isn’t enough: those of us with the writing bug must also continually seek improvement. That’s where this book comes into play.
A good part of writing is finding the connection with readers, and that only happens when we’re engaged and willing to be exposed in order to establish this relationship. McCann addresses this in his essay “The First Line.” He advises that each story should open with a natural flow, without forcing too much information upon the reader too quickly. Think of it like a first date: the goal is to incite interest but not to overwhelm or frighten the reader. This is the art of pacing or as McCann says, “achieving a balance.”
The book addresses the rules of writing by stating that “there are no rules,” but when the author states that you can dispose of grammar only when you know these rules he is really saying that you must understand this agreement of structure between the writer and reader before making the decision of when to ignore it. It’s like knowing when to use slang and when to avoid it. Once you know the purpose of these rules you can make a more informed decision about how well your piece fits into - or needs to be free from them.
This book was outstanding and one of the best I've read concerning the art of writing. It encourages creative types to get out of their internal vortex and to see their work from the reader's perspective, which is essential for gaining an appreciative audience. It also 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. The essays are short and filled with bits of wisdom and insight that can assist writers at all stages of a career.
If you loved Stephen King's "On Writing" then this book is definitely for you. If you’re very new to writing and looking for practical advice on how to get your published, then the book isn’t for you. However, if you know that writing is your calling and there’s no way to avoid it - this is highly recommended reading.
Letters to a Young Writer is releasing on April 4, 2017.