What David Foster Wallace Taught Me


“What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves. They’re entirely themselves, they’ve got their own vision, they have their own way of fracturing reality, and if it’s authentic and true, you will feel it in your nerve endings.” – David Foster Wallace

David Foster Wallace, a literary genius we lost too soon, and although he’d probably hate anyone calling him a genius, it’s the truth. And I’m glad he left behind a footprint, a deep and palpable one. If you haven’t read any of his work, I highly suggest you pick up one of his books, especially the Infinite Jest, it’s 1,092 pages, but I guarantee each page will be well worth your time. If you’re a writer, he will unlock the blank spaces that seem to be missing in between your words because he will simply give you a new perspective and challenge you to fracture your reality.

For the past three years, I’ve taken a break from “publishing”, something I should have done a long time ago. Here’s what I mean, I’ve taken a break from feeling that need to be “published”, that push in essence. Sure it’s a great accomplishment to reach and if you’ve gotten there, an applause is well deserved. But most seem to go into writing believing that once they’re published, it’ll give them that confirmation that they’re “good enough” or “publishable enough” or “smart enough”, and once they’ve made it there, they’ve unlocked something, whether inside themselves, or outside of themselves. And honestly, I think that’s the crappiest thing you could ever do to yourself in any creative work, it puts too much pressure on our work and on us. So many creatives I know think that if they just work harder, pull out more hair, or create that commercial hook that their luck will change and they’ll get “in” (even if they are published). This way of thinking will only lead to that want of stepping up higher on the ladder, or needing to rip out more hair because you may not be there yet, and if you only rip out more hair and get less sleep that you’ll get there too because “so and so” has and that got them there, so why not you? But what happened to the idea of allowing our work to marinate; giving our words time to mean something—our stories, especially our characters?

If you think of your creative work as a relationship, and you’re always expecting it to be perfection, then your focus is going to be skewed, and that relationship may not last very long, and statistically, it will end faster than you can blink your eyes. Three years ago, I decided to think of my creative life as a relationship. I’ve been nurturing it with great books, contemplation, craft, friends, and most of all love. I never expect perfection; I only try my best, and in any relationship, that’s all you can do.

Passion is everything, but if we’re chasing something that isn’t true to who we are, how are we going to be true to ourselves and our work?

“I don’t think there’s a person alive who doesn’t have certain passions. I think if you’re lucky, either by genetics or you just get a really good education, you find things that become passions that are just really rich and really good and really joyful, as opposed to the passion being, you know, getting drunk and watching football. Which has its appeals, right? But it is not the sort of calories that get you through your 20s, and then your 30s, and then your 40s, and, “Ooh, here comes death,” you know, the big stuff. . .

It’s also true that we go through cycles. . . .These are actually good — one’s being larval. . .

But I think the hard thing to distinguish among my friends is who . . . who’s the 45-year-old who doesn’t know what she likes or what she wants to do? Is she immature? Or is she somebody who’s getting reborn over and over and over again? In a way, that’s rather cool.”

 – David Foster Wallace

As artists, it’s our responsibility to be true to ourselves. It’s not about style, trends, or marketability, it’s about our stories, our visions, our truths, and how we authentically tune into the world around us. And if it takes us a lifetime to be reborn again and again until we find what’s authentic to us, that’s okay. The creative process doesn’t end; it grows and changes, if you open yourself up to that change and growth. That’s what great relationships are made of. David Foster Wallace taught me that. He taught me to slow down and pull out a notebook instead of typing manically on my computer. He taught me to write the way I see the world, or simply, how I view the simplest of things in my daily life and how they can domino into something so much bigger, or deeper.

If you are running in a creative race right now, slow down. There’s no one behind or in front of you, it’s just you. Pull out your pen and breathe, turn off the noise, and be authentic to who you are because that alone may change someone’s life someday, maybe even your own.