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Wisdom

Hermione Hoby

Writer

Hermione Hoby grew up in south London and has lived in New York since 2010. Her first novel, Neon in Daylight, was published by Catapult in January 2018 and was a two-time New York Times Editors’ choice, and a “Book of the Times.” She writes about culture for the Guardian, the New Yorker, the New York Times, and others, and teaches in the Creative Writing Department of Columbia University.

There’s no clear path to success, and opportunities can be hard to come by. How do you go about creating your own path and opportunities?

I suspect this comes down to the not-at-all-easy thing of knowing yourself, and asking what the kind of work you want to make looks like, and what kind of work is completely honest to you. If you can answer that question and then invest in that, disregarding everything else, then ego falls away, and you can proceed from a place of sincerity. And, not to sound hopelessly wafty and mystical, but when you do that I really do think opportunities just come to you.

There’s no clear path to success, and opportunities can be hard to come by. How do you go about creating your own path and opportunities?

I’d also caution against any kind of mindset of seeking permission, because good writing, or good any kind of art, has to come from the self in all its unanswerable weirdness and awkwardness and vulnerability—rather than from any kind of notion of what other people might want your stuff to be, what your work “should” be. If there’s too much of the latter, the work will just be hollow. By which I mean, try and interrogate the idea of “opportunity.” Things that look amazing—things generally regarded as “great opportunities”—might be a disservice to your work, and there might be more creative satisfaction (which is the only kind of success that matters) in doing something small, or poorly paid, or weird, or all of the above.

There’s no clear path to success, and opportunities can be hard to come by. How do you go about creating your own path and opportunities?

You just have to do your thing and calmly adopt a position of “fuck the narrative” for what that thing should be. In terms of writing, it’s wonderful to get to publish at established outlets with solid reputations, but we’re also lucky to live in a time when a fantastic essay, for example, might gain huge traction just by being circulated on Twitter. Self publish! The good stuff so often rises to the top. Obviously every artist wants their work to reach people, but there is such a difference between the “success” of external approbation (in case it wasn’t clear, these quotation marks indicate “nah”) and then making things you believe in and are proud of. Isn’t it better to make something fantastic that deeply resonates with like, three people, than to put out something crappy, something you feel eh about, that gets a wide audience? We all have to pay rent, of course, and one big thing for me was realizing it was sort of a disservice to my work if I put any kind of financial pressure on it. That’s like… asking a toddler to do your taxes. That’s just not its job, that’s not what it’s there for, it’s unfair to ask that of it. I like having a really clear distinction between: here’s my day job, for money, for health care, and for survival, and here’s my work, which doesn’t need to earn me money, and I won’t ask that of it. You have to protect it in that way, I think.

There’s no clear path to success, and opportunities can be hard to come by. How do you go about creating your own path and opportunities?

But to be a bit more practical. Just go see/hear the kind of people whose work means something to you. Again, not the artists you’re “meant” to love, but the ones that you actually do. Be open and curious, and let humility be a tool. Don’t seek connections with people in terms of what they can do for you, but in terms of what you might learn from them. I’m a fan of the fan letter: by which I mean, it can just be a good spiritual practice to let people know when their work meant something to you. Forget about success in the way we talk about it, it will only slow you down as an artist. Art is kind of the opposite, that’s why we need it.

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