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Don’t Be A Dick

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > Don’t Be A Dick

Don’t get attached to the romantic illusions of yourself as a writer. It’s not about cocaine or the White Horse Tavern or the vial of laudanum or the late night of bottled beer bravado. It’s not about the hangover. Or the warehouse party. Or the jacket photo. Or the Facebook entries. Or the tweets or the twats or whatever they’re called. It’s not about the shirt you wear or the hat or the scarf or the white suit or any other ridiculous affectation, mea culpa. It’s not about the spotlight. It’s not about gloating. It’s not about reaching around to slap your own back. In the end nobody really gives a shit about a writer’s life unless the writing is there first. That’s all that matters. That’s the endpoint. What appears on the page is what makes your life interesting. It is also something to hide from. Are you Kerouac? No. Are you David Foster Wallace? No. Are you Virginia Woolf? No. Are you Denis Johnston? No. Are you Toni Morrison? Sadly, no. Too many young writers think of themselves as writers rather than that which they have written. The only thing that matters is the word following the other word. Get used to this notion. It must be on the page. And don’t walk around thinking you’re a writer. Nothing worse than a writer who constantly thinks of himself as such. You must be alive and distinct from the time that you are writing. You must be open to being written upon. Sure, the unexamined life is not worth living, but the over-examined life is not worth much either. Don’t get me wrong. You don’t have to advocate good behavior. You don’t have to live a mannered life. You don’t have to be well-behaved. You don’t have to be sober (but be sober while you write, please, don’t fall into that trap). You don’t have to be obsequious. You don’t have to kowtow to anyone. You don’t have to listen to older writers spouting their rubbish either. In fact, get off this page, open another file, go, get lost, go write. Forget this letter. Rip it up. Click it off. Write your own. But allow me four words of the sagest advice I know: Don’t be a dick. Simple as that. At the party. On the page. In your own head. Just don’t. Don’t. Don’t.