Paul Auster to Young Writers: Lose the Ego

Question: How can someone read like a good writer?

Paul Auster: Well, again, we get into very murky territory here because it's all a matter of taste. I mean, I have the writers that I care about most, the writers that I think are the greatest of the past and of the present. But my list would be very different, perhaps, from yours. But I guess the important thing for young writers is to read, read the good ones. And I suppose by that, I mean, the ones who've withstood the test of time. You know, the great ones. Hawthorne, Melville, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy, Kafka, Dickens, that's where you're going to get the most, I think. And when you see how, you know, brilliantly they do things, Flaubert, you know, all the names that we know. But they're there for a reason, because they really are the best writers. And I think you have to learn from the great ones.

Question: What's the most common trap beginning writers fall into?

Paul Auster: Common trap, I suppose a kind of an egotism, self-importance, inability to look out of themselves, and I think it's important to look very closely at the world, everything happening around you, and sometimes for young people it's difficult to do that.

And the other thing is to, to get too attached to some of the things that you think are clever that you're doing. I think cleverness has its spots, its place in the world, perhaps, but the burning need to do it is what makes for good work. The wish to do it doesn't really help you. It's when it's absolutely necessary.

So when I talk to young writers, I mostly tell them, don't do it. Don't be a writer, it's a terrible way to live your life, there's nothing to be gained from it but poverty and obscurity and solitude. So if you have a taste for all those things, which means that you really are burning to do it, then go ahead and do it. But don't expect anything from anybody. The world doesn't owe you anything and no one is asking you to do it. And I suppose it's this feeling of accomplishment that young people feel sometimes is that, "Well, of course my book should be published! Of course I should be able to earn a living out of this." Well, it just doesn't work that way.

Recorded on November 5, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

The novelist believes that it's "the burning need to do it," not to be praised, that spurs great writing.

How New York's largest hospital system is predicting COVID-19 spikes

Northwell Health is using insights from website traffic to forecast COVID-19 hospitalizations two weeks in the future.

Credit: Getty Images
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • The machine-learning algorithm works by analyzing the online behavior of visitors to the Northwell Health website and comparing that data to future COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • The tool, which uses anonymized data, has so far predicted hospitalizations with an accuracy rate of 80 percent.
  • Machine-learning tools are helping health-care professionals worldwide better constrain and treat COVID-19.
Keep reading Show less

Dark matter axions possibly found near Magnificent 7 neutron stars

A new study proposes mysterious axions may be found in X-rays coming from a cluster of neutron stars.

Credit: D. Ducros; ESA/XMM-Newton, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Surprising Science
  • A study led by Berkeley Lab suggests axions may be present near neutron stars known as the Magnificent Seven.
  • The axions, theorized fundamental particles, could be found in the high-energy X-rays emitted from the stars.
  • Axions have yet to be observed directly and may be responsible for the elusive dark matter.
  • Keep reading Show less

    Put on a happy face? “Deep acting” associated with improved work life

    New research suggests you can't fake your emotional state to improve your work life — you have to feel it.

    Credit: Columbia Pictures
    Personal Growth
  • Deep acting is the work strategy of regulating your emotions to match a desired state.
  • New research suggests that deep acting reduces fatigue, improves trust, and advances goal progress over other regulation strategies.
  • Further research suggests learning to attune our emotions for deep acting is a beneficial work-life strategy.
  • Keep reading Show less

    3,000-pound Triceratops skull unearthed in South Dakota

    "You dream about these kinds of moments when you're a kid," said lead paleontologist David Schmidt.

    Credit: David Schmidt / Westminster College
    Surprising Science
    • The triceratops skull was first discovered in 2019, but was excavated over the summer of 2020.
    • It was discovered in the South Dakota Badlands, an area where the Triceratops roamed some 66 million years ago.
    • Studying dinosaurs helps scientists better understand the evolution of all life on Earth.
    Keep reading Show less

    World's oldest work of art found in a hidden Indonesian valley

    Archaeologists discover a cave painting of a wild pig that is now the world's oldest dated work of representational art.

    Credit: Maxime Aubert
    Surprising Science
    • Archaeologists find a cave painting of a wild pig that is at least 45,500 years old.
    • The painting is the earliest known work of representational art.
    • The discovery was made in a remote valley on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.
    Keep reading Show less
    Quantcast