David Foster Wallace’s Advice For Writers

David Foster Wallace, who is known for his 1,000-page novel, Infinite Jest and many other works, knew a thing or two about writing. Even now after his passing, his voice is still one of the most well-respected in the literary world, and he had plenty to share with us.

In 1999 he and dictionary maker, Bryan A. Garner had very in-depth conversations about their careers. These conversations eventually turned into Quack This Way: David Foster Wallace & Bryan A. Garner Talk Language and Writing, a book filled with Wallace’s relationship with writing, self-improvement, and becoming who we are.

In it Wallace describes the importance of a good opening, the “puzzle” that is the middle of a novel, and shares a few thoughts on what comprises good writing including, “[getting] across massive amounts of information and various favorable impressions of the communicator with minimal effort on the part of the reader.”

But, before all of this, Wallace has a key piece of advice he gave to all of his students: always keep a usage dictionary on hand. To him, dictionaries were “linguistic hard drives” and when paired with a thesaurus, a writer is ready to get to work!

“A usage dictionary is one of the great bathroom books of all time. Because it has the appeal of trivia, the entries are for the most part brief, and you end up within 48 hours — due to that weird psychological effect — actually drawing on exactly what you learned in some weird, coincidental way.”

We love Wallace’s idea, the dictionary is one of the most important books in the world after all. You can read more excerpts from his conversations with Garner here!   


Featured image courtesy of