Paul Auster to Young Writers: Lose the Ego

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, 2009Interviewed by Austin Allen

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