Friday, November 5, 2010

Best Writing Advice: Eyes on Your Own Test

Free-form Friday
The Klingons have a proverb:
Revenge is a dish best served cold.
There's something about the passage of time that amplifies the significance of some things.

The best writing advice I've received to date was something whose importance I didn't truly appreciate until long after I'd forgotten who gave me the advice. This is what they said:
Eyes on your own test.
Jeff Hirsch, blogging at the League of Extraordinary Writers recently, shared some of his favorite advice from the newly available archive of author interviews published The Paris Review. He included the following quote from Jonathan Lethem, who expands upon the theme of keeping your eyes on your own test.
"You’re not fighting the other writers—that Mailer boxing stuff seems silly to me. It’s more like golf. You’re not playing against the other people on the course. You’re playing against yourself. The question is, What’s in you that you can free up? How to say everything you know? Then there’s nothing to envy. The reason Tiger Woods has that eerie calm, the reason he drives everyone insane, is his implacable sense that his game has nothing to do with the others on the course. The others all talk about what Tiger is up to. Tiger only says, I had a pretty good day, I did what I wanted to do. Or, I could have a better day tomorrow. He never misunderstands. The game is against yourself. That same thousand-yard Tiger Woods stare is what makes someone like Murakami or Roth or DeLillo or Thomas Berger so eerie and inspiring. They’ve grasped that there’s nothing to one side of you. Just you and the course."

Image: Photography by BJWOK /

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