Posted in Writing

4 Quotes by David Foster Wallace to Make You a Better Writer


David Foster Wallace (1962–2008) gave us the iconic novel Infinite Jest, along with the posthumously published The Pale King and the short story collection, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men.

Here are four of his quotes about writing to inspire you!

1. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside.

I don’t know about you, but writing for even just thirty minutes a day can do exactly what David Foster Wallace said: nourish me, heal me, and make me feel a bit less alone inside. Writing is an incredible practice if you let it take over. You feel a sense of purpose. You feel like you can do anything, especially when you begin a novel project you’re not sure you’ll ever complete but then weeks later you do, writing those two lovely words: THE END.

I genuinely don’t know how people who never write, and who have no interest in writing, vent their ideas and frustrations and beliefs and fears. The blank page is always there for me when I have something to say, and it’s there for you, too. There are endless possibilities. You can do whatever the hell you want. Write fiction or non-fiction. Write a flash fiction short story or write a 500-page novel. Write contemporary realism or hard science fiction.

So do exactly what you want as a writer and never look back. Let this process nourish you, heal you, and make you feel less alone inside every single day.

2. It looks like you can write a minimalist piece without much bleeding. And you can. But not a good one.

One of the most famous quotes about writing comes from Ernest Hemingway: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit at a typewriter and bleed.” And in a way Wallace took it a step further by suggesting that minimalism might allow you to bleed a little less. Because you’re not writing quite as much. Your writing is super concise. You get into the story and get out of it super fast.

Raymond Carver was one of the most famous minimalist writers, one who didn’t fancy up the language or describe every detail of the character and setting but instead implemented a stripped-down and matter-of-fact prose style that can be effective in its own way. Sometimes I like to read long passages of description and detail if I’m immersed in the story and the world and want to enjoy every second I spend in it. And then sometimes I like to just be told a story without the extra bells and whistles.

The problem with writing minimalist fiction is that you might bleed a little less, but the story itself might not be a good one. It takes talent and practice to write a strong and compelling work of minimalism, and it’s not for everyone. The reader has to do a lot of work on their part because they have to fill in the parts of the story that aren’t there, and the writer also has to work hard by figuring out everything that can be stripped out, as well as everything that needs to stay.

It might be worth your time to study minimalism and write a piece in that fashion just to see how it goes. But be prepared — it’s harder than you think.

3. I often think I can see it in myself and in other young writers, this desperate desire to please coupled with a kind of hostility to the reader.

Something that hurts your writing more than it helps it is focusing too much on your readers. At the end of the day, you have to write the story you want to write, and you want to write it for yourself. You want to write it to please yourself. Because you’re not going to please all the readers out there, it’s as simple as that. If you try to make everyone happy, your writing will suffer.

At the same time, though, it doesn’t hurt to imagine an ideal reader out there. The kind of person your latest story or novel is particularly aimed at. I write a lot of young adult fiction, and I often think about that fourteen-year-old closeted gay kid who desperately needs the latest story I’m working on. Thinking of your ideal reader in that regard is fine, and it can actually inspire you and motivate you more.

But Wallace was right in that when you’re thinking about a potential reader, there’s this desperate desire to please, as well as the feeling of hostility. You want to please everyone, after all. You want people to like your work and recommend it to friends. But there’s also hostility because you don’t want to be tied down by readers’ expectations either, especially when you write in a popular genre that comes with its own set of rules and obligations. So you have to find a middle ground, and, whenever possible, remain focused on writing the best story you can and try not to think about your potential readers so much.

4. I just think that fiction that isn’t exploring what it means to be human today isn’t art.

If there’s another quote you might want to write on a Post-It and stick to the side of your computer screen, it’s this one. I agree with it to the core of my being, and it’s something I’m always thinking about when I start a new writing project. Yes, you can write a fun adventure tale or a spooky ghost story or a mind-bending psychological thriller. You can take on whatever genre you love; you don’t have to write a stuffy literary novel about an impending divorce to create something that explores what it means to be human.

I actually think the mix of the literary with a popular genre creates the best kind of story because the reader gets to eat the cake and have it, too. They get the page-turner, and they get the story that explores the human condition. You want elements of both in your fiction. You want to write something compelling that has big stakes and plenty of conflict, but you don’t want the star of the show to be the plot. You don’t want your characters to be cookie cut-outs that have no real beating heart or backstory or motivation.

Instead, you want to write a great story that explores what it means to be human throughout. Create three-dimensional characters that have something they’re questioning, that they don’t understand about the lives they’re living. Allow moments of reflection from your characters, even if you’re writing a gruesome horror story that moves a mile a minute.

Give us characters we care about, give us stories that explore the human condition, and your work can eventually not only become art but also become stories people actually want to read.

PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!

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