Life Advice From Raymond Carver


Were it not for his untimely death, tomorrow would have been the 75th birthday of Raymond Carver, whose work has shaped readers and writers for many years. To celebrate the life of the literary giant, and to help you better emulate him, Flavorwire has collected some of Carver’s advice and musings on living and writing, from the pithy to the complex. Read his thoughts after the jump, and add any favorite quotes missing here to the comments.

“Years ago I read something in a letter by Chekhov that impressed me. It was a piece of advice to one of his many correspondents, and it went something like this: Friend, you don’t have to write about extraordinary people who accomplish extraordinary and memorable deeds. (Understand I was in college at the time and reading plays about princes and dukes and the overthrow of kingdoms. Quests and the like, large undertakings to establish heroes in their rightful places. Novels with larger-than-life heroes.) But reading what Chekhov had to say in that letter, and in other letters of his as well, and reading his stories, made me see things differently than I had before.” — Interview with The Paris Review , 1983.

“You’ve got to work with your mistakes until they look intended. Understand?” — Cathedral

“It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we’re talking about when we talk about love.” — What We Talk About When We Talk About Love

“Of course, you have to know what you’re doing when you turn your life’s stories into fiction. You have to be immensely daring, very skilled and imaginative and willing to tell everything on yourself. You’re told time and again when you’re young to write about what you know, and what do you know better than your own secrets? But unless you’re a special kind of writer, and a very talented one, it’s dangerous to try and write volume after volume on The Story of My Life. A great danger, or at least a great temptation, for many writers is to become too autobiographical in their approach to their fiction. A little autobiography and a lot of imagination are best.” — Interview with The Paris Review , 1983.

“That’s all we have, finally, the words, and they had better be the right ones, with the punctuation in the right places so that they can best say what they are meant to say.” — “A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

“I’m always learning something. Learning never ends.” — Cathedral

“Get in, get out. Don’t linger. Go on.” — “A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

“I don’t spend more than five minutes a month in the past. The past really is a foreign country, and they do do things differently there. Things happen.” — Interview with The Paris Review , 1983.

“Don’t complain, don’t explain.” — “A Storyteller’s Shoptalk

“What good are insights? They only make things worse.”