It’s a cycle. You start a story, and it’s stupid. You don’t have any ideas. You’re washed up. Finished. And then you get a sliver of an idea, but it’s kind of dumb. Ugh. Then you start working it, and it becomes, oh, maybe. Alright. Yeah, I am going to finish this story. I did finish it! It’s not terrible! [Then] you don’t have any ideas. Is that what life is? It’s just a series of enacting the cycle. Lately, it’s become kind of wonderful to say, ‘Yeah, so now I’m at the point where I don’t have any ideas. Is is a crisis? No, it’s not a crisis. You’ve been here before. And maybe even you could enjoy that moment when you’re bereft of ideas… The goal would be to keep enacting that [cycle], live to 190, and put the period on the best story ever.
Why do we love our writing teachers so much? Why, years later, do we think of them with such gratitude? I think it’s because they come along when we need them most, when we are young and vulnerable and are tentatively approaching this craft that our culture doesn’t have much respect for, but which we are beginning to love. They have so much power.
—  George Saunders, “My Writing Education: A Time Line

So here’s something I know to be true, although it’s a little corny, and I don’t quite know what to do with it:

What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.

Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.

Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?

Those who were kindest to you, I bet.

It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.

—  In his absolutely fantastic Syracuse commencement address on the immense value of kindness, George Saunders echoes Albert Einstein and adds to this year’s most memorable graduation speeches, including Debbie Millman on courage and the creative life, Greil Marcus on the false divide between “high” and “low” culture, Arianna Huffington on success, Joss Whedon on embracing our inner contradictions, Oprah Winfrey on failure and finding your purpose, and Judith Butler on the value of reading and the humanities.
A work of art is something produced by a person, but is not that person — it is of her, but is not her. It’s a reach, really — the artist is trying to inhabit, temporarily, a more compact, distilled, efficient, wittier, more true-seeing, precise version of herself — one that she can’t replicate in so-called ‘real’ life, no matter how hard she tries. That’s why she writes: to try and briefly be more than she truly is.
Let’s say that you were madly in love with someone. And your mission was to tell the person that you love them. Here are two scenarios. One is you can take a week long train trip with the person, take your time. You’ll be in boring situations, beautiful scenery, everything. That’s a novel. The second scenario is she’s stepping on the train and you have three minutes. So you have to make all that decoration in three minutes. That’s a short story. You just have to shout it as she goes.
—  George Saunders
[Revision] is so much like what you do with the person you love – you come back to them again and again, and try to intuit their real expansiveness, you try to keep them close to you, you try to give them the benefit of the doubt… You can see revision as a form of active love… love in progress.
—  George Saunders on how to tell a good story. Complement with Hemingway on writing and the art of revision, then revisit this ongoing library of advice on the craft from some of humanity’s greatest writers