[...] And then you get, like, you start being able to make a living. So you get all that affirmation from the exterior, that when you're a young person you think will make everything all right. [...] But to realize--like you say, when it happens to you, when you realize, "Holy shit, this doesn't make everything all right." Um, for me, it fucked with my sort of "metaphysics of living" in an incredibly deep way.
And I think that the ultimate way you and I get lucky is if you have some success early in life, you get to find out early it doesn't mean anything. Which means you get to start early the work of figuring out what does mean something. [...]
But what I really remember is the times when working on that book was really hard. And I just gutted it out, you know? And I finished something. And I did it for the book, not trying to imagine whether David Lipsky would like it, or Michael Pietsch would like it. And that I feel like I've built some muscles inside me that I can now use for the rest of my life. And I feel like, "All right, like I'm a writer now." Whether I'm a successful writer or not, I don't know. But like, like this is who I am, this is what I do. And I know now how to live in such a way that I'm doing it for the work itself. Which I'm aware can come off sounding very pretentious. And it's also, it's what everybody says: "Ah, that other stuff doesn't matter."
DFW on the external trappings of success after IJ