Sunday, March 31, 2013

Secret to Success: George Saunders

George Saunders — writer (most recently of Tenth of December: Stories), New York Times best seller, 2006 MacArthur Fellowship winner

What's the best piece of advice you have ever received?
"When I was in my 20s, I had this big plan to go down to El Salvador and write about the war. Never mind that I had never written anything and didn’t speak Spanish. I ran into the father of a friend of mine, and told him about my plan. I kind of expected him to shoot me down but he didn’t. Instead, he thought about it a bit, then said, 'Well, if that’s your dream, you’ve got to do it. Because you know who you’re going to blame if you don’t, right?'
"I thought about this, and was pretty sure I knew where he was going. 'Yes,' I said, 'I’ll blame myself.'
"'Bullshit!' he said. 'You’ll blame your wife and kids, when you get them."
"Somehow this has stayed with me all of these years; this idea that, one reason to try and do the things you want to do (especially artistically) is that, if you don’t at least try, you’ll be discontent, and may take this discontent out on those closest to you. Or, to put it more positively: If you at least try to do the things that excite you, it will make you a more expansive and present person — you’ll feel, at the end of your life, that at least you took the shot."

What does success mean to you?
"Artistically, it means getting as much truth and fondness for life as I can into a story without becoming sentimental — making a beautiful weird little life-evoking machine out of words. Personally, it means having the freedom to interest yourself in the highest things possible — to gradually be lucky enough to leave behind the 'have-to' things and get to turn your attention to the 'want to' things. And this, in turn, might lead to more chances to give back — to your art form, your community, young writers, etc., etc."

What's the one thing you do every day that is critical to your success?
"Well, I try to take a little time to remember to do whatever it is I am doing that day out of a positive, light, playful place — as opposed to doing it out of fear or anxiety. Not easy, but I find if I can remember this, things tend to go better."

Photo: Courtesy of Random House
Content: Courtesy of Refinery 29
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