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Letters to a Young Writer by Colum McCann (5/10)

Reading writers on writing when you should be reading or writing…The excuse is you’ll either get practical advice or inspiration. Colum McCann’s Letters to a Young Writer is far heavier on the latter. He is a teacher of writing at Hunter College, and I was hoping the book would have more exercises and examples. If you’re just looking for a meditation on writing (and a second half with some of the professional elements like getting an agent) the short read is worth it. If you’ve read E.M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel, Stephen King’s On Writing, or Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird not much new ground is covered.

My Notes:

“Often the opening line won’t be found until you’re halfway through your first draft. You hit page 157 and you suddenly realize, Ah, that’s where I should have begun. So you go back and begin again.” (p. 9)

“Don’t write what you know, write toward what you want to know.” (p. 11)

“You have to put in the time…Very few people talk about ti, but writers have to have the stamina of world-class athletes. The exhaustion of sitting in the one place. The errors. The retrieval. The mental taxation…” (p.15)

“Writing a character into being is like meeting someone you want to fall in love with…Don’t overload us with too much information. Allow that to seep out later.” p. 25-26

“Jump out from the conversation long before it truly finishes.” (p. 42)

“Everything unsaid leads eventually to what is said.” (p. 43)

“When it comes to structure, you will often be surprised by how mathematical the work of great writers happens to be. Don’t worry. This math is a discovered thing. They didn’t set out to be this way: they found it as they worked their way through.” (p.56)

“Plot takes the backseat in a good story because what happens is never as interesting as how it happens.” (p. 59)

“Nothing more effective than your character momentarily paralyzed by life…[further down page]…And even if nothing happens, the world still changes, second by second, word by word. Perhaps this is the most astounding plot of all.” (p. 61)

“Don’t corrupt your texts with facts facts facts…Texture is much more important than fact.” (p. 69)

Throw it all Away: a chapter meditating on whether you need to stop an old work and encouragement that it may have been necessary to go forward (p. 112)

Should I Read While Writing? (p. 137) Widely at start, more targeted in middle, no at the end. Hmmm, maybe.

Write Yourself a Credo (p. 145). Would be much stronger about why one should do this and sample credos. Does his change every year or every five years? What were his old credos?

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