Jonathan Franzen, whose breakout novel The Corrections was published 19 years ago today, has since then gotten a reputation for being . . . well, kind of crotchety. He hates the internet (especially Twitter), he hates saying “I love you” at the end of phone calls, he hates “the tyranny of niceness,” he was mean to Oprah, he wrote (gulp) this list of rules for novelists. The list goes on. In the last couple of decades, he has sold truckloads of books and also become the subject of much controversy and vitriol and mocking, especially on the internets he so loathes.
Whether all that mocking is fair or not, it added up to me being surprised when I stumbled across this video of Jonathan Franzen giving his advice to young writers—because it’s really good advice. Sorry, but it’s true! Or at least I think so, since it’s a piece of advice that I personally subscribe to—and one that, had I heard it a decade ago, would probably have made writing my first novel a hell of a lot easier. The essence of it is have fun, but I’ll let him tell you: