Writing advice from Lydia Davis

One of the things I love about Lydia Davis’s advice to writers in her collection Essays One is that she is explicit that the writer’s education should be mostly self-directed.

Here are points 2 and 3 in full:

2. Always work (note, write) from your own interest, never from what you think you should be noting or writing. Trust your own interest. I have a strong interest, at the moment, in Roman building techniques…. My interest may pass. But for the moment I follow it and enjoy it, not knowing where it will go.

Let your interest, and particularly what you want to write about, be tested by time, not by other people—either real other people or imagined other people.

This is why writing workshops can be a little dangerous, it should be said; even the teachers or leaders of such workshops can be a little dangerous; this is why most of your learning should be on your own. Other people are often very sure that their opinions and their judgments are correct.

3. Be mostly self-taught.

There is a great deal to be learned from programs, courses, and teachers. But I suggest working equally hard, throughout your life, at learning new things on your own, from whatever sources seem most useful to you. I have found that pursuing my own interests in various directions and to various sources of information can take me on fantastic adventures: I have stayed up till the early hours of the morning poring over old phone books; or following genealogical lines back hundreds of years; or reading a book about what lies under a certain French city; or comparing early maps of Manhattan as I search for a particular farmhouse. These adventures become as gripping as a good novel.

Education is not a race