Revisit Patti Smith’s advice for young writers via the genius William S. Burroughs
Following the release of Patti Smith’s latest book Year of the Monkey, we thought we’d pass on some advice that Smith shared in 2012 for young writers. The advice was given to her during her formative years by none other than the legendary William S. Burroughs.
Patti Smith was speaking at the 2012 Louisiana Literature Festival at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and took to the stage to share some sage advice for any writers out there looking to make their mark in the world of literature.
With an absolute gigantic wealth of knowledge, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Smith would have always felt relatively confident in her skills. Her undoubted reign as the Queen of punk provided her with a range of avenues to explore when she was dabbling with both music and poetry.
In the footage, she offers up a very clear message for writers who are maybe struggling to connect, “A writer, or any artist, can’t expect to be embraced by the people [but] you just keep doing your work — because you have to, because it’s your calling.”
She also revealed that part of her success was following the advice from Burroughs at a low point in her career when she wasn’t making it as well as she had hoped. He said “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises, don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful — be concerned with doing good work and make the right choices and protect your work. And if you build a good name, eventually, that name will be its own currency.” Smith candidly jokes, “Yeah, but William, my name’s Smith”.
Burroughs has been long-involved with music, often finding collaborators such as David Bowie and Kurt Cobain vital to his work. Smith shared some more views of Burroughs in her 2010 memoir Just Kids, saying “William Burroughs was simultaneously old and young. Part sheriff, part gumshoe. All writer. He had a medicine chest he kept locked, but if you were in pain he would open it. ”
“He did not like to see his loved ones suffer. If you were infirm he would feed you. He’d appear at your door with a fish wrapped in newsprint and fry it up. He was inaccessible to a girl but I loved him anyway.”
In the clip, she also champions the democratising power of the internet and how it offers artists an opportunity to produce their work untouched by the capitalist nature of the industry. It’s a refreshing take on the world, even looking back now. While often considered an old soul, Smith has always championed the wondrous nature of youth and clearly marks them out as the future in this speech.
It’s Smith at her most honest, her most authentic, and her most pure. Actually, come to think of it, it is Patti Smith being, well, Patti Smith. Ever the artist, ever the encouraging ‘stage mom’ at the side of the spotlight constantly egging on the new generation to take up the mantel of art.
Watch below as Smith delivers a poignant message to young writers everywhere.