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Advice for Young Authors

September 25, 2013 | 14 Comments

Dear Mr. Keillor, I am 18, just starting my first year of college. My Writing professor assigned us to write about the advice an author gives on writing and how we could learn from it. Having an affinity for your work I want to write my paper on you. My Professor has also asked that we research how the author's life influenced their work and careers as writers. 1) What is the most helpful piece of advice you could offer to young authors? 2) What do you believe most influenced your writing?

Thank you, sincerely
Calvin F. Connors
Sutton, Mass.


Dear Calvin,

I wasted so much time when I was 18 trying to write self-dramatizing stories about myself, my feelings of loneliness, about being misunderstood, being an outsider, being torn by spiritual conflict between the beliefs I was taught and what I saw in the world around me, and I wish I had devoted some of that time and effort to listening to my elders talk about their experiences and writing down what I heard. I grew up among men who had fought in World War II. My gym teacher took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy. My aunts and uncles went through the Great Depression on very little money. My aunt Ina bought a Model A Ford and, without benefit of driving lessons, drove it, with three friends, from Minneapolis to Yellowstone Park and back, on rough roads. My relatives were extremely reluctant to talk about themselves but I should have tried harder. Loneliness is utterly ordinary and banal and not worth a person's time trying to describe -- not compared to a car trip in 1926 by four young women, or a young man in a bobbing boat spotting German artillery at Normandy beach in June, 1944. And now their stories are gone. I feel sad just thinking about it.

What influenced my writing was the King James Bible and the New Yorker magazine and which was the bigger influence, I'm not sure.

Calvin Connors, by the way, is a terrific name for a writer. Also for an actor. Or anything else you decide to put your mind to. Good luck.



A lot of wisdom in there, Mr. Keillor. I wish I had done the same. But we all start growing up somewhere!

I'm 68 and never a day starts and ends when I realize again how much I don't know and would like to learn. So I'm a grateful apprentice.

... from Douglas Adams, who is still sorely missed:

Arthur: You know, it's at times like this that I really wish I had listened to what my mother had told me when I was young.
Ford: Why, what did she say?
Arthur: (crossly) I don't know, I didn't listen.

Mr. GK,

My wise and wonderful mother-in-law reminds us of the importance of passing wisdom down from generation to generation.

As I read your words and remember hers, I'm encouraged to speak less and hear more.

Paul Orr
Birmingham, AL

I heard faith, hope and love in this correspondence. Thank you, Calvin and GK.

I also wished I had talked to my grandparents and great grandparents and asked them questions and listened to their stories. I've probably said this 100 times. Most children don't think to ask questions until they are older and then it's too late. That is why it is a good idea for the grandparents to write down interesting stories about themselves to save for their children, grandchildren and great grands. It's one way to save memories that will otherwise be lost forever.

Michele Moon is another terrific name for an author, too!

Listen, Calvin.

A general distrust of authority, the status quo, and the nature of reality, combined with an overinflated belief in my own intelligence and capabilities, prevented me from seeking learned wisdom from elders or anyone including experts. I felt like I needed to figure everything out for myself. I did better on some things this way than others. Now that I'm older, I would definitely recommend seeking out wisdom of others, though, apropos, nobody seems to be seeking out mine.

Now that I am 75, I keep asking myself why I did not keep a diary. Of course, it was because 'nothing happened'.

But now I write little stories about my grandchildren, illustrated with pictures, (thank you windows), and this serves as a diary. I hope that when they grow up, they will enjoy reading them and remembering their childhoods.

When my mother was sick, she wrote about her childhood and her family. And some of the family added to it. I have a beautiful Memory Album with these stories.

Mr. Keillor (I will not address you as Garrison because we have not met.)

I have listened to your radio show since the mid 80s.

About the wisdom of our elders I have learned:
"The older I get the smarter my father gets".


Paul Michals ~//~

Mr. Keillor:

I sent the following to my Peeps honoring your wisdom recently offered in this venue:


Got memories? WRITE THEM DOWN!! Think they're too trivial and no one will care? YOU'RE WRONG!! Think you ain't a good speller/writer and people will laugh at you? YOU'RE WRONG!! People will honor and respect you for bequeathing them such a gift. Besides, you'll be surprised how much fun it is, and how much fun it will be, even just TO YOU, reading your accounts years later.

P.S. Another idea... whip out a video camera, or even a sound recorder, and record your rehashing old memories either by yourself or especially, next time you're with friends and relatives. (Ignore their whining - they'll one day worship you for forcing them to participate.) Then just keep the tapes/discs. Let someone else do all the work of committing it to writing. (They'll be happy to do it.)

...and remember, what seems mundane today will be SOLID GOLD in say, 5, 10, or 20 years. You'll be like, OMG I can't BELIEVE I was so right-on about Obamacare, or that I was wearing my hair that way, or that I was only paying $x.xx per gallon for gas and COMPLAINING about it, or that I was so hung up on that dude/chick from work that turned out to be such a jerk/bitch! :oD

I would add to Mr. Keillor's superb advice, Maintain a journal, and write in it daily.

Mr. Keillor - I find that as I'm going about my daily business - gardening, driving, going to the PO, etc. sudden words or thoughts come to mind. I stop and take a small notebook that's always in my pocket and make an instant catalyst memo w/the date. It works perfectly to recall and refine a topic or person I think would be a great subject for my autobiographical short stories. BTW I'm a published author but not in this sort of genre. Listening more and talking less is a great idea that too many don't adhere to. Aloha - AMAURY SAINT-GILLES, Hawaii

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