Years ago, at SXSW 2009, I drew a panel called “Try Making Yourself More Interesting.” It introduced me to this (possibly apocryphal) story about the writer Barry Hannah, told by Rick Bass in his introduction to Boomerang and Never Die:
Another passed-down tale: a student getting her story back from Barry, with the honest criticism on it: This just isn’t interesting.
As I understand it, the student, a whiner, complained, What can I do to make it be interesting?
The cruelest advice I ever heard, but also the best—advice that I do not think I could have withstood had it been given to me directly, but which I have remembered. Barry, I am told, looked long and hard at the student, decided she was earnest about becoming a better writer, and told her the truth[:] “Try making yourself a more interesting person.
Brutal, so brutal, but so dead on. J. Maureen Henderson said the same thing in a friendlier way in this article about advice she gives to students:
Work on being an interesting person other people want to be around and are willing to open doors for…. There are many roads to becoming an interesting person, but they all involve developing your curiosity and your desire to know and understand — yourself, others, the world around you. You can read. You can pursue a new activity like knitting or rock climbing. You can volunteer. You can commit to asking three people a day an open-ended question about themselves and really listening to their responses. You can share your information and connections freely.
My friend Jessica Hagy wrote a whole book about it called… How To Be Interesting.
I wrote about it in Show Your Work!:
If you want followers, be someone worth following. [“Have you tried making yourself more interesting?”] seems like a really mean thing to say, unless you think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.
As I’ve said before, if you want to be the noun you have to do the verb.