May 27, 2008, 05:59AM

George Saunders Dispenses Literary Wisdom

Acclaimed writer George Saunders, best known for his hilariously satirical short stories, recently spoke with young writers about figuring out that thinking about fiction is miles away from writing it. His other major piece of advice is to avoid Ayn Rand at all costs.

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"In his youth, Saunders said, he focused too much on the conceptual aspect of writing by picking apart the writing of the authors he admires and attempting to transplant their voice into his own writing.

“I would write these stories that were kind of like Somerset Maugham on quaaludes,” he said.

“I was really trying to mimic my hero,” Saunders said of Hemingway. “At a certain point, the analysis is not the production.” After years of refusing to read current writers, he read Stuart Dybek, who writes short stories that are often set in Chicago and was inspired to find his own contemporary voice.

As a young man, Saunders was inspired to pursue higher education by the books of objectivist Ayn Rand, who espoused laissez-faire capitalism.

“I read Atlas Shrugged, and that is really why I went to college,” he said.

But after working for corporations and witnessing worker abuse firsthand, Saunders’s political stance turned liberal. His writing often addresses issues of consumerism and capitalism, but he said he avoids focusing on that while he writes in order to avoid being condescending.

“I think any kind of agenda in a story, which of course we all have, has to be examined all the time,” he said.

But despite all the theory and analysis, Saunders said that becoming a good writer ultimately requires actually putting that knowledge into practice and recommended writing for as little as 20 minutes a day.

“We just talked about stories for three hours. Let’s remember that that has very little to do with writing one,” he said.



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