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1995: Lessons from David Foster Wallace


David Foster Wallace gave me the best writing lesson I ever had in less than four seconds.

It was the mid-90’s and he was a professor at Illinois State University and I’d often talk to him in the halls, rambling about tennis or books while he listened politely. 

When I first met him, I had no idea who he was (this is  before “Infinite Jest” was published). I just saw him as a cool professor with a penchant for bandannas. The other fiction professors were crusty old men, one of which told me I’d never have more than 20 readers, and the other had the audacity to assign his own book to the class. So David, it seemed, was about the only one I might be able to talk to about LSD and creativity. Especially since I also saw him coming and going from my neighbor’s townhouse (the one with blankets over his windows and the white dog named 8-ball).

A fellow student told me about Girl with Curious Hair so I read it, and then approached David after class one day and asked what he was trying to accomplish with “Little Expressionless Animals.”

He said: “I don’t know, I just wrote it.”

I was silent ~ the idea of abandoning any themes or motivation and simply letting the story tell itself. Just write it and let the critics and students sort it out! It was so simple and brilliant!

At least that’s what I think he meant.

Maybe he was just trying to get rid of a pesky student.

I’m betting on the latter…but it still sticks with me today.


Categorized as: Journal

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