Posted in Book Stuff

Eugenides Advice on Writing

To follow literary fashion, to write for money, to censor your true feelings and thoughts or adopt ideas because they’re popular requires a writer to suppress the very promptings that got him or her writing in the first place. When you started writing, in high school or college, it wasn’t out of a wish to be published, or to be successful, or even to win a lovely award like the one you’re receiving tonight. It was in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive. Remember?

via Jeffrey Eugenides's Advice to Young Writers : The New Yorker.

I wanted to stand up and cheer. Here is another line I loved that Eugenides pulled from Colm Toibin: “It seems that the essential impulse in working is … to allow what haunts you to have a voice, to chart what is deeply private and etched on the soul, and find a form and structure for it.” As Eugenides says, finding a form for what haunts you cannot be a commercial enterprise.”

But read his whole post. It’s a needed shot in the arm, an inoculation against the well intended and deadening advice in print and all over the internet, from agents and editors and good-hearted people in the business, to sell yourself and appeal to the fad of the moment if you can catch onto its shirt-tails, advice that is reinforced by accolades and attention to those who take it by chance or calculation.

Eugenides’ final words of wisdom: “Not to be a slave to fashion or commerce, not to succumb to arid self-censorship, not to bow to popular opinion—what is all that but a description of the educated, enlightened life?”



Lilian is the author of Web of Angels, a novel about a mom with DID (multiple personalities). She's also the author of the historical novels, The River Midnight and The Singing Fire, about secrets, friendship and motherhood in 19th century Poland and London.

5 thoughts on “Eugenides Advice on Writing

  1. Oh hallelujah! I love this, and it speaks the honest good sense that I sometimes despair of reading in writers’ forums across the net. No, I do not want to write out of my wallet – I want to write out of my soul, no matter how unfashionable it might be! 🙂 Thank you, LIlian for posting that bit of encouragement.

  2. Hello, hello, Lilian – I’ve a brief window (in which I should be researching and writing…) to say HELLO and quickly, oh so quickly (and greedily) gulp down your recent posts. Brilliant news about the fun MS already being with your agent, and yes, I love this one too. But please stay away from war zones – your kids need your French toast, and goodness knows the creative front needs defending.

    1. Di! I was just thinking of you! Not to worry about war zones. I’m far too much of a homebody! I think that anyone who follows the creative spirit and tries to write truthfully is in a good fight. And so much better to do that and have French toast!

  3. I love those comments too. That we write “in response to the wondrousness and humiliation of being alive”. And the quote from Colm Toibin. Nice to print these out as encouragement.

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