Get Lost, Get Found

Colum McCann > Letters to Young Writers > Get Lost, Get Found

“No need to hurry. No need to sparkle. No need to be anybody but oneself.” ― Virginia Woolf

When we write novels we often have no idea where we are going. We’re operating on the fumes of the language and the sudden feeling that what we are doing has texture and depth. A writer suddenly hits upon a word or an image and she realizes with a start that this is the path you were meant to take. You don’t know why. You don’t know where. You don’t even know how. It is a form of astounded hearing, a secret listening. You have made a daring raid on the inarticulate parts of yourself. Still, you have to trust that doubt. It has its own energy. You have to follow it. You’d be a fool if you didn’t at least pursue the sentence in whatever direction it is taking you. It’s like solving a perplexing question in a complex laboratory. There must be a moment when the solution is so simple and evident that you wonder why you hadn’t come upon it before: when, like Archimedes, the bathwater suddenly rises and you know you have found what you’ve been looking for. The simplicity of it is stunning simply because it seemed so difficult at first. Now it is there. Now it has appeared. Somehow the inarticulate has been ransacked. This is often called “sticking with it,” or, simply enough, “never giving up.” It also exists because writing is about trying to achieve a fundamental truth that everybody knows is there, but nobody has quite yet located.