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The Darkness

In the early 1990s I was researching a novel, part of which entailed getting to know some of the homeless people in the tunnels of New York. At that stage—before physics was applied to the World Trade Center, and the Guiliani administration locked off most access to the underground—there were a couple thousand people living beneath the city.

Your Last Line

Gogol said that the last line of every story was: “And nothing would ever be the same again.” Nothing in life ever really begins in one single place, and nothing ever truly ends. The last line of your story should be the first of your next. But stories have at least to pretend to finish.…

There Are No Rules

There are no rules. Or if there are any rules, they are only there to be broken. Embrace these contradictions. As a writer you must be prepared to hold two opposing ideas in the palm of your hand at the same time. To hell with grammar, but only if you know the grammar first. To…

To MFA or Not to MFA?

And what about that MFA? The truth is that nobody can teach you how to write. An MFA program might allow you to write, but it will not teach you. But allowing is the best form of teaching anyway. There is no school but your own school. There is no one particular way. As a…

The Terror of the White Page

The terror of the white page. The idea that you have writer’s block is far too easy. You have to sit on your arse and fight the blankness. Don’t stand up. Don’t leave your desk. Don’t pay the bills. Don’t wash the dishes. Don’t check the sports pages. Don’t open the mail. Don’t stray in…

The Music of What Happens

Imagine this: It is August, 1950. He is Irish. He is in London. He is engaged to be married in Westminster Church to a pretty farm-girl from Northern Ireland. He tells her in love letters that her beauty paints the world well. Shortly before the wedding she gets cold feet. She cancels the service. In his grief and confusion he joins the British Air Force and gets sent to Egypt as an intelligence officer.

Embrace the Critics

Embrace the critics, especially the idiot who wounds you the deepest. Don’t stew. Don’t lash out. Don’t talk behind his back. Walk up to him at the bar. Ask him if you can buy him a drink. Buy him an espresso, a beer, a whiskey. Watch him sip. Sip your own. Thank him for his…

Fail. Fail. Fail.

Fail. Fail. Fail. Failure admits ambition. It requires courage to fail and even more courage to know that you’re going to fail. Reach beyond yourself. The true courage is go to the postbox knowing that it will contain yet another rejection letter. Don’t rip it up. Don’t burn it. Use it as wallpaper instead. Read…

Writing is Entertainment

Never forget that it is entertainment. (Be wary of those who say that Nietzsche is pretentious, but sit up and take notice when he says that we have art so that we shall not die of too much reality!) This is not to deny that the world can so often be a terrible place. But that’s…

Shape the Truth

Shape the truth. Writing is both art and verisimilitude both. We have to hold the possibilities of truth and invention together in the exact same story. This is true for fiction, non-fiction, plays and poems. Just because something actually happened to you does not mean that it will make a true story, or even a good story. Just because someone said it in “real” life doesn’t make it superior. Just because someone says it is true, doesn’t mean that it’s actually true. Truth lies beyond the actual state of a matter. Truth lies beyond the mercenary nature of facts. (“Truth” has sent so many young people to war. Don’t let it send you…. unless you go with a pen).

Be A Camera

Be a camera.  “Language” us into vision. Make us feel like we are there. Colours, sounds, sights. Bring us to the pulse of the moment. See th

What Baseball Does to the Soul

IT was long before baseball ever enchanted me, and long before I ever knew anything of the Yankees, and long before I learned that a pitch could swerve, yet it came back to me, years later, sitting in the bleachers at Yankee Stadium, a curveball from the past.