Letters to A Young Writer


Finding the Right Editor

A great editor is a precious thing. Maybe it’s your best friend. Maybe it’s a classmate. Maybe it’s a workshop participant. Maybe it’s your husband. Maybe it’s someone you hire. Or maybe it’s the editor at your publishing house. No matter what, the right editor has to be someone you trust. You have to give…

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What If I Don’t Get An Agent?

But what if I don’t get an agent? Don’t despair. Write on. Keep your arse in the seat. Get the words down on the page. Do what you love. Fight. Persevere. Find the magazines and journals you like. Go to the contributors list. Find the name of the editor. Then find his or her e-mail.…

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How To Get An Agent

How do I get an agent?  If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked this, I wouldn’t have to have an agent. Do you need an agent? Yes, yes and (most of the time) yes. Finding one isn’t all that difficult, but finding the right one can change your life. First of…

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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

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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).

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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…

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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.…

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