Advice to My Younger Self

Perhaps I haven’t attained the stature to give advice to other writers, but here is what I would say to a younger version of myself, if I could:

1. Swing for the fences every time.
2. If there is a thing you want to get paid to do, but no one would think of paying you to do it, do it for free, and place it wherever it will reach the most eyeballs.
3. Don’t waste your time doing things for money which won’t get you closer to the things you really want to do, unless you need the money to live.
4. If you’re a prose writer, study poetry as much as you study prose.
5. Be humble enough to do things that you ought to be “past,” if they will help you get better. Stature comes from your work, ultimately, not your institutional position.
6. Write in other genres.
7. Do things that carry with them a high probability of failure. Keep failing at them until you’re not failing at them anymore.
8. Give yourself over to your teachers while they are your teachers, but be your own man or woman once you’ve learned what you can.
9. Don’t go to too many literary parties.
10. When people try to hurt you with words, don’t shut down the writing operation, even for a day. Put the hurtful words aside for a few days, then use them as fuel or material, going forward.
11. Don’t be too beholden to any exterior voice.
12. Know all the rules, push them as far as you can, but also: If you push it as far in the opposite direction as you can, there’s power there, too.
13. If your work receives a tepidly respectful reaction, it’s not there yet. If it makes some people soar in their hearts and others very angry, you’re probably onto something.
14. The academy is a good shelter, but it’s not your ultimate audience or validator. Let it hold you only loosely.
15. Have two things going all the time, because when the inevitable procrastination begins, you can use it to work on the other thing, and go back and forth without losing all that time.
16. Being drunk doesn’t help your writing in the long term. Neither does being neglectful of people you love. Be decent if you can.
17. If you do well, people will become jealous. Let them be, and be nice to them if you can.
18. Sometimes you will become jealous of others. Try to let it go, and extend yourself with extraordinary niceness, if you can.
19. Keep the books you really care about close to your work desk, so you can remember what the real stuff is.
20. Make some writing friends and love and serve them as much as you can.
21. Be nice to people who are still trying to figure out how to do it for the first time.
22. Avoid Internet articles about literary politics. Also: Avoid Internet discussions about literary politics.
23. If people spend a lot of energy attacking you, stop dealing with them altogether. Focus on your work, not on other people.
24. Focus on your work, not on other people.
25. Focus on your work, not on other people.
26. Focus on your work, not on other people.
27. Facebook is fun, though, for interacting with smart people who are interested in the same things you are interested in. Allow yourself such pleasures, in moderation.

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