On a trip to New York City, I located a signed copy of Letters to a Young Writer, by Colum McCann, in the craft section of Strand bookstore. I had no intention on purchasing it. I had come to this store with a short list of recommended titles for writing – many classics in their own right – but for whatever reason I decided to purchase this book instead. As I perused his introduction, I became sucked into the first essay and floated, almost unaware, to the check out.
I won’t make you read to the end to share my summative opinion. Letters to A Young Writer should be a staple for any writer – young or old. It should receive a prominent home on your desk top where it will act like an MFA writing coach for a significantly lower price tag. But here are my cautions before you find yourself floating to the virtual checkout.
Caution #1: Read this book slowly. Relish in each new revelation before proceeding.
Letters to a Young Writer is a collection of essays steeped in wisdom and lyrical mastery. Beautiful succinct prose is an indulgence, but when paired with practical lessons it becomes addictive. Each one of his letters could fill you with enough inspiration to last the week. If you cannot resist reading the whole compilation in that period of time be prepared for a toxic overdose of new ideas, only curtailed by illegible sticky note summaries and tissue paper bookmarks.
Caution #2: Do not make this your only craft book on writing.
This is not a how-to manual for writing novels or poetry. Practical topics, such as first and last lines, and creating memorable characters are highlighted, but in a way that challenges you to think deeper than craft. McCann pushes you to the purpose and passion behind the craft. Each letter acts as a moral check-point on why you choose to write, and reminds you through mini pep talks about why you need to write.
Caution #3: If you are heading towards a mid-life writing crisis, this is still the book for you.
It is a gift to show others that, within the chaos, there is a message. That message will not be shared unless you are passionate enough to struggle through the internal voices that say you can’t or shouldn’t. Writers need these pep-talks to be reminded of why we want to improve- not just for ourselves, but for the one or hundreds of people who will read our words. McCann encourages – no demands – that you not give up or become stagnant in your goals.
To McCann, I want to say thank you. For igniting a fire. For pushing us past the uncertainty. For fueling a passion to express an imagined world that is yet to exist- a world that can only exist through the experiences and words we dare to create.
For young writers who are daring to jump into the fire, I challenge you to read this book. You will not regret it and may find yourself leaping ahead with renewed passion and vision.
To learn more about Tara Ross check out her blog www.hopeprose.com, where she shares book reviews, inspired quotes, and her thoughts on how today’s youth and young at heart can stream beautiful light into a sometimes messed up world. Her debut contemporary YA novel will be published through IlluminateYA (An imprint of LPC). Sign up for her quarterly newsletters to find out more.