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La Pietra Dialogues On the World On-Line
Advice for those who want to write: A Dialogue with Pete Hamill
Kate Lardner, Taylor Neal, Mariana Cameli and Francesca York, NYU Florence students
La Pietra Dialogues
October 28, 2011

In his talk at La Pietra this past Monday October 24, 2011, Pete Hamill shared stories from his past growing up in a poor family in New York and the relationship he developed with books at an early age (he was lucky, he said, to have grown up before television!). He encouraged everyone- students, aspiring writers, businessmen and postmen alike - to become keen observers of human nature and thoughtful readers of good books, “slow food” in opposition to “fast food” reading that is so common today on the internet. Reading makes everyone more sensitive to the full range of human experience and will help any writer, or human being, improve themselves.

 Some other pieces of advice:

  • Fiction is the work of the imagination, and that’s the one thing that you can’t (or shouldn´t) use in journalism.
  • In fiction, you have to deal with the interior lives of characters. In journalism you can´t do that, you have to stick to the facts.
  • People have an unfortunate habit of lying… they think the lie will make the story sound better.  If you want it to be true, it usually is not. So in journalism you can´t go with the good story, you have to go with the real story.
  • Great fiction, like journalism, is made up of these questions: Who, What, When, Where, and Why.
  • Literature is like food: it is readily available to everyone and by consuming it “like a predator,” it makes you more human.
  • You must be able to find a way, at least for an hour or two each day, to escape the immediate world and get into a corner and absorb a book. Take your time, don’t read it like a prosecutor.
  • Ideas of fiction come to you on long walks, or around midnight hour, right before you fall asleep, and out of the middle of nowhere.
  • There are things to learn from the amazing depth and complexities of human experience and human nature.
  • From the trigger of memory or imagination comes fiction. Look with curiosity – That old woman on the subway was once 14 and in love with some dope who didn´t love her back !!!
  • Some people learn to write fiction methodically, but every great writer teaches himself.
  • You can learn something from tough critics. You can read good critics and learn from them, but don’t be obsessed by them.
  • Always hope to be astonished, to become closer to wisdom, and to enter into a new world.
  • In Florence you can just walk around the corner and be inspired, generate new creative ideas - you students are lucky to be living here!
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