Never Let Anyone Tell You What You Want To Be

Posted on 17 January 2013

“Dear Dan Chaon: You must never let anyone tell you what you want to be. If you want to be a writer, be a writer. It’s that simple. When I was your age, I wrote every day of my life, and my stuff wasn’t half as good as yours. Quality doesn’t count, to begin with, quantity does. The more you write, the better you’ll get. If you write a short story a week for the next three or four years, think of the improvement you’ll find in yourself. And, above all, what fun! Are you intensely library-oriented?  I hope so. If not, from now on, you must be in the library, when you’re not writing, reading, finding, knowing poetry, essays, history, you name it! Keep at it!”

That’s a letter from Ray Bradbury to a very young Dan Chaon who wrote to him asking for writerly advice. Read the entire story here, including the correspondence they developed over the years, why Dan stopped writing back, and what happened when he saw Ray Bradbury in person years later.

And congratulations to Dan, who is a finalist for The Story Prize along with Junot Diaz and Claire Vaye Watkins.

Are you intensely library-oriented?

8 responses to Never Let Anyone Tell You What You Want To Be

  • Sarah W says:

    You could say I’m library-oriented . . .

    Except I had my performance review yesterday, and my supervisor said that I occasionally seemed to lose focus, especially during meetings, as if I was thinking about my personal writing instead of library-related matters.

    The first thing I thought was, “Losing focus? Seems like the other way around to me . . . What I should be working on is my Alert Meeting Face.”

    But I do appreciate Ray Bradbury’s advice. Writers write.

    Luckily, I didn’t say this out loud.

    • Sarah W says:

      I switched the last two sentences. Have no idea how that happened!

    • Did your supervisor actually say “as if you’re thinking about writing instead of work”? Because that seems like kind of a stretch. There are tons of reasons that can cause someone to lose focus in meetings, and it seems unfair to automatically peg it on your writing just because they’re aware you have outside ambitions. In either case, I hope the rest of your review went as well as I would expect for someone as intensely library-oriented as you!

  • margosita says:

    Aww! I love this! :)

  • MSB says:

    What a fascinating story. To think this connection came out of a class assignment is amazing. Very, very inspiring, in so many ways. Thank you.

  • Averil says:

    “I think that most of us are really writing for other writers”

    Yes, this.

  • Lyra says:

    What a fantastic story. Can you imagine being eleven and having your idol not only respond to a letter but continue to try and mentor you. I love that Ray Bradbury spoke to Dan as a peer of sorts, not dummifying his thoughts because stay in school was the right answer. It says so much more than just how to encourage kids. His responses show how kids respond when you treat them like a human being and not a piece of clay sitting around ready to be molded. Really fantastic. Thank you, my dear, for sharing this.

  • Catherine says:

    What a beautiful letter and rapport. If I were not chasing my family I would be more library-oriented. It’s where I would always be. I agree with not declaring yourself a writer, I’ve never really announced myself as that.

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