Advice from Author Junot Diaz

September 14, 2012 § Leave a comment

Though I haven’t read any of Junot Diaz’s work, I’ve heard his name thrown about so often that I was excited to attend a reading by him this week. Which turned out to be not a reading at all, but a Q&A. Which was – perhaps – even better (he had so many good things to say on creating), but also a little ironic considering his advice on becoming a better writer: “Don’t write every day,” he said. “Read every day. There’s more to being a writer than writing.”

And it wasn’t just daily reading habits he was promoting, but a mentality to engage the world as fully as possible for art to be any good.

“To be an artist worth anything means a deep commitment to the world. People want news from the world and that can only be gained by being in the world. If you run the risk of asking people to be transformed by your work, which is why we do art at all, you need to be transformed yourself.”

Diaz took 16 years to write a novel. “I am deeply committed to fucking things up,” he said. He doesn’t shy away from failure and when someone asked about the length of time it takes him to create, he responded by saying that we have adopted a corporate workflow to outputting artistic work, which is damaging to art. Art should and does take time to create, and we as artists should and do go under the process of being transformed “to be the people we need to be to write the book we want to write.”

“What it means to be an artist is that no one’s fucking dying to read your shit. And that’s ok. Uncouple yourself from the assembly line. Any work of art worth anything requires you to be fundamentally lost in it for awhile.

Fight the desire for approval, fight the desire to turn art into a profession,  and fight the desire to escape from the world rather than commit to an invitation to be in the world.”

On teaching, he says:

“What we do as teachers of the arts is model compassion. How one looks at their work is how one looks at their flawed, vulnerable self. They need to see their past work as part of the journey, not just mistakes. Lack of compassion – which is what helps us to make it through college, hold a job, and hold it together – makes us terrible artists. Learn what compassion is [suffering together]. Get an operational definition of it, and practice it.”

A nod to Junot Diaz.


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