Sarah Manguso is one of the best writers you may never have heard of. Aside from her body of work, she is the author of what TVWriter™ considers the Absolutely Most Revealing Sentence About Writerly Compulsion in the History of Humanity: “I revise the sentences in my diary from day to day.”
So when Ms. Manguso gives advice, we listen. Or read. Whatever. (Note to self: Probably should rewrite this paragraph!)
by Sarah Manguso
Work. Be relentless. All over the world, people are working harder than you. Don’t go to events; go to the receptions after the events. If possible, skip the receptions and go to the afterparties, where you can have a real conversation with someone.
Money. Learn to live on air. Buy the best health insurance you can afford. If you have roommates, work in the library. Run and do calisthenics instead of paying for a gym membership. Invest in ear plugs, good sneakers, and a coffee machine. Buy oatmeal in bulk. Learn to cook simple, nutritious meals. Save and eat leftovers. Cafes are a waste of money, calories, and time; leave them to the tourists. Buy books used, perform periodic culls, and resell them. Wasting money on clothes is the stupidest habit of all. You will only ever need two good outfits.
Health. Stay healthy; sickness is a waste of time and money. Smoking or overeating will eventually make you sick. Drinking and drugs interfere with clear perception, which you will need in order to make good work. It may be worth paying for psychotherapy sessions now instead of paying for inpatient treatment next year; see someone in-network.
Friends. Avoid all messy and needy people including family; they threaten your work. You may believe your messy life supplies material, but it in fact distracts you from understanding that material, and until you understand it, it is useless to you. Don’t confuse users, hangers-on, or idols with friends. If a former friend asks you why you don’t have time to see him or her anymore, say your existing responsibilities have made it impossible to socialize as much as you used to. Cutting someone out with no explanation is an insult that will come around.
Asking favors. When requesting a favor in writing, ask outright and respectfully for what you want. Don’t write what appears to be a long, friendly letter full of compliments and then ask for help at the end, pretending it’s an afterthought. Such behavior smacks of tit-for-tat, or prepayment for a commodity, and it’s ugly to point out the existence of the favor economy. Just do favors and ask favors in a vacuum. If a favor is given immediately after one is received by the giver, pretend not to notice the coincidence. When given a favor, honor those who helped you. Be gracious and sincere, and don’t overthank them.
Giving favors. Don’t give favors to people or institutions that lack authority or consequence. Publishing or showing work where no one will see it or giving a reading where no one will hear it is a favor. Learn graciously to decline. The world will catch on that you are a valuable commodity. When you find great work, help it along; expect nothing in return. Bringing great work to the world is your job, whether you or someone else created it….