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Life Advice from Jennifer Egan and All Your Other Favorite Authors

One of our go-to Monday morning reads (seriously, bookmark it) is The Days of Yore, a stellar blog that interviews artists of all stripes about the time before they were successful. It is consistently inspiring, thoughtful and flat-out wonderful to read – and whether you’re an aspiring artist, writer, musician or some combination thereof, there will be someone to give you some pithy life advice. When one of our very favorite authors, Jennifer Egan, won the Pulitzer this week for her mind-blowing novel A Visit From The Goon Squad, we were thrilled to see her Days of Yore interview go up soon after, and it got us thinking about all the great life advice from amazing authors just dangling out there in the universe, waiting to be collected. Click through for some curated advice and musings from Jennifer Egan, George Saunders, Gary Shteyngart, Wells Tower, and well, you know, anyone who’s anyone, and if you get inspired, be sure to click over to the whole interview.

Jennifer Egan

Do you have any advice for young writers?

My advice is so basic. Number one: Read. I feel like it’s amazing how many people I know who want to be writers who don’t really read. I’m not convinced someone wants to be a writer if they don’t read. I don’t think the problem is that they need to read more; I think they might need to readjust their life goals. Reading is the nourishment that lets you do interesting work. To be reading good things. I feel that you should be reading what you want to write. Nothing less.

The second thing is, I feel like getting in the habit of it is huge. I guess that was my one accomplishment of those two years [with the first failed novel]— making it a routine is a gigantic part of it.

One corollary of that— and this is probably the most important thing for me— is being willing to write really badly. It won’t hurt you to do that. I think there is this fear of writing badly, something primal about it, like: “This bad stuff is coming out of me…” Forget it! Let it float away and the good stuff follows. For me, the bad beginning is just something to build on. It’s no big deal. You have to give yourself permission to do that because you can’t expect to write regularly and always write well. That’s when people get into the habit of waiting for the good moments, and that is where I think writer’s block comes from. Like: It’s not happening. Well, maybe good writing isn’t happening, but let some bad writing happen. Let it happen!

I mean, when I was writing The Keep, my writing was so terrible. It was God-awful. My working title for that first draft was, A Short Bad Novel. I thought: “How can I disappoint?”

So, just write and be happy that you did it. You stuck to the routine. You’re kind of holding the place so that you’re present for when something good is ready to come.

And then it’s all about rewriting. Re-visiting, re-visiting and re-writing. I think it’s a mistake to be too precious about one’s words. I feel the same way about the criticism. You’re not going to break! It’s pretty tough to stick it out, to do this. So, get used to it! People are going to not like it. Okay! You’ll live. So, it’s bad. Okay. You’ll live! They said ‘no.’ You know what? Everyone gets said ‘no’ to a thousand times. If that is really something that you can’t tolerate, this may not work.

Perseverance.

Yes, that is huge. That is my biggest gift.

Read the whole Jennifer Egan interview here.

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