Last week, Norwegian novelist and playwright Jon Fosse was awarded the 2023 Nobel Prize in Literature, “for his innovative plays and prose, which give voice to the unsayable.” No one was overly surprised—Fosse has long been considered a worthy contender for the prize, and his work has frequently been lauded both in his native Norway and internationally. Last year, when Fosse’s A New Name: Septology VI-VII (translated by Damion Searls) was a finalist for the National Book Award for Translated Literature, Literary Hub asked him to tell us about the best or worst writing advice he’d ever received. Here’s what he said:
I think the best advice I’ve learned from life is to listen to yourself, not to others. Stick to what you have, not to what you want to have or wish you had. Stay close to yourself, to your inner voice and vision and how you want the writing to be.
When my first novel was published it got lots of bad reviews, and they haunted me, and if I had listened to them I would have stopped writing. I decided to listen to myself instead—to what I knew. Ever since then that has been a kind of rule for me.
Of course this goes both ways. For some years now my writing has been well received, and I’ve received many awards and so on, but I try to not let it influence my writing in any way. Good reaction or bad reaction: it doesn’t matter, I stick to what I know, what I feel I need to write, what I can do and not what I want to do. For example, my plays were a great success but I decided to stop writing plays, and I stopped for many years. Instead I went back to where I started, writing my kind of fiction and poetry.