Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.

storm

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do

Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself. An artist is a creature driven by demons. He doesn’t know why they chose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.


by William Faulkner (September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962)
from a 1956 Paris Review interview with Jean Stein
excerpted in The Paris Review Book: of Heartbreak, Madness, Sex, Love, Betrayal, Outsiders, Intoxication, War, Whimsy, Horrors, God, Death, Dinner, Baseball, Travels, … and Everything Else in the World Since 1953, 2004
The Art of Fiction XII
image – LiebeDich.

The Paris Review – Writing and the Writing Life

The Paris Review calls itself “America’s most renowned quarterly magazine of writing and the writing life.” For an astounding 50 years and counting, The Paris Review has published poetry and prose, new and classic, while bypassing literary critics in favor of writers speaking for themselves. Paris Review author interviews are legendary, historically significant literary treasures, and I will be excerpting more of them.

And, in case you’re wondering, Faulkner’s statement was in response to the question, “How does a writer become a serious novelist?”

The Paris Review began with a simple editorial mission: “Dear reader,” William Styron wrote in a letter in the inaugural issue, “The Paris Review hopes to emphasize creative work – fiction and poetry – not to the exclusion of criticism, but with the aim in mind of merely removing criticism from the dominating place it holds in most literary magazines and putting it pretty much where it belongs, i.e., somewhere near the back of the book. I think The Paris Review should welcome these people into its pages: the good writers and good poets, the non-drumbeaters and non-axe-grinders. So long as they’re good.”

from The Paris Review, History

“Removing criticism from the dominating place” – how’s that for a gutsy quickie boot in the hinder, for any heartfelt endeavor?

Want more?

Explore The Paris Review online, where you can find the entire 1956 Faulkner interview available as a pdf.

Check out Paris Review anthologies on Amazon or in your public library.

Top it off by listening to an NPR interview with George Plimpton, Paris Review founder and former lion tamer. Lion tamer? Yes. Lion tamer.

| More

3 Responses to “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”

  1. Abimbola Akanwo Says:

    Interesting…never heard of the Paris Review until I read your blog…

  2. E. A. Able Says:

    Abimbola, I’d seen The Paris Review around in passing. I didn’t appreciate how they’ve archived the thoughts of some of the best writers over the last 50 years – at least not until I was a few months into making QuoteSnack. If you’re curious about writers like Faulkner, T.S. Eliot or more recently Steven King, you may enjoy their interviews.

    The best bits have been compiled into books, many of which have generous previews if you’re logged into Amazon. The Paris Review’s web site is fun to dig around in, too. I wish I’d thought of this during NaNoWriMo!

  3. Children are game for anything. I throw them hard words, and they backhand them over the net. | E. B. White | Quote Snack Says:

    [...] more about The Paris Review, check out this Faulkner quote: “Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than….” It’s from Faulkner’s 1956 [...]

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.