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1995: Lesson 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 sometimes talk to him in the hall, rambling about tennis or books while he barely listened. 

I had no idea who he was at first – this is right before “Infinite Jest” was published. I just saw him as a cool professor with a penchant for bandanas. The other fiction professors were old struggling writers, 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 frequently saw him coming and going from my neighbor’s townhouse (the one with blankets over his windows and the fluffy white dog named 8-ball).

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

He said: “Shit, 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 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 that lesson still sticks with me today.


Categorized as: Journal

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