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Wisdom

Hilton Als

Writer, Scholar, Critic

Hilton Als is an American writer and theater critic. He is an associate professor of writing at Columbia University and a staff writer and theater critic for The New Yorker magazine. He won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. He previously appeared on The Creative Independent talking about writing, curation, and criticism.

How do you orchestrate your writing life?

I was just telling someone that great George Balanchine story about when someone asked him what inspired him and he said, “The union, dear. I have to be finished by six o’clock.” I always have a deadline that I have to honor in some way, and that helps me. It not only grounds me, but it also frees the imagination in a certain way because you have to be creative in a certain limited amount of time. I think for longer writing projects I’m very disciplined because… well, they just take a long time. You have to be, otherwise you don’t get it done. Writing takes a long time compared to curatorial work, which involves other people and ideas. In my work, I love how one thing feeds off the other. It’s really just one thing having to do with communication and community.

How do you orchestrate your writing life?

Also, in regards to writing, you have to support yourself and you want to do it the best way… you don’t want to be embarrassed. I think of that great Joan Didion line, something like, “Writing involves the mortal humiliation of seeing one’s own words in print.” That’s one thing that saves us. We don’t want to look ridiculous to ourselves, let alone other people. Even though we usually earn a lot less money than most people, as writers we also have diversity of mind; that our minds and our work can explore different avenues is such an amazing thing, too. I’m feeling more fortunate about writing than I used to be because I can see how people get messed up in the corporate world. Thinking about Alice Neel was so helpful to me in that way. She worked for many, many decades in obscurity. It was just about the work for her, and I respect that. That is something to aspire to. Do your work.

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