Zadie Smith: Writers Doing It Right #1

Because the only thing I like better than successfully developing a series of blog posts is to start a theme and then abandon it, I’ve decided to start a Writers Doing it Right series. Some of my favorites are already immortalized [and also are] on my Quotes page but Zadie Smith gave a great 10 point list of her rules for writers to the Guardian awhile back…The rest of their actual series is here

1 When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

Check, I guess? Thanks to my parents, both great readers, the comforting embrace of many a library, an active imagination and Fairfax County Schools I probably spent at least 50% of my free time reading.

2 When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

Terrific. I try to do this with the blog in general and especially with reviews. At first I figured nobody was reading except people who already knew me and would understand what I meant even when what I said was nonsense/offensive/gibberish/half-baked. Now I do a family read-through, a strangers read-through and a Feminist Scholar read-through to see how it sounds from varying distances away. Haters gonna hate, so I try not to worry about the person who I know is out there curling their lip with contempt right this second. XOXO!

3 Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

W-O-R-D!! Please see all my anxieties about referring to myself as a writer or talking to other writers about stuff that we’ve written and ye gods how circular is this jerk. I’ve written some of my favorite stuff while swamped and overwhelmed, and scribbled out total crap after 3 days of lounging and “centering” myself before writing something.

4 Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

Ha – nicely put. Most of the genres/forms I can’t write in are actually genres/forms I really wish I could write in, and I like to keep my contempt as unmasked and pure as possible anyway.

5 Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

I am superbad about this one, but rereading all my portfolio essays from college is making me nod and *facepalm* sagely about its wisdom.

6 Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

It might not make it better, but if I were the Empress Queen of the World I bet I could get a group together that would assure me it is. Actually when I think of this I think of all the time I spent hanging out with groups of little kids when Gigantor was growing up. As de facto babysitter/emcee/big kid, I loved coming up with games and jokes to entertain them and because little kids are an easy crowd when they already love you and you’re willing to pratfall until your knees are purple…. I used to think I was HILARIOUS and SUPERGOOD at comedy. Until I joined an actual improv club. And the grisly reality of my limited skillset sank in.

7 Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.

I started to respond to this one but then had to check my internet/facebook/twitter/blog stats/google reader/kindle downloader/itunes/bankbalance/bittorrent and forgot to come back. Oh, now I remember – this is why I like to work on the subway. No chance of a wireless signal and guaranteed air conditioning.

8 Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

To enforce this seems dangerously close to the “writer’s lifestyle” fetish but I’ll do my best once school is in session.

9 Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

*looks sadly down at gold star given to self for just being self*

10 Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.

I love this. One of the best pieces of advice I got during my visit to *ahem* C-town a few weeks ago was to write like nobody’s ever going to read it, and then figure out what you’re willing to change if you feel like you need to show it to someone. Then assume that everyone is going to read it. To me, form is the veil that comes to hand… does this story get told as an essay, as a 140-character joke, as an aside in a review, as some sort of TBD prose poem that will make me cringe in 5 years? All of the above? 

“I’m just going to write, because I cannot help it.”

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9 Responses to Zadie Smith: Writers Doing It Right #1

  1. Pam Parker says:

    Thanks for this great post. I loved Zadie Smith’s On Beauty – and love her advice, and your wonderful comments to it. Well done. Thanks again.

  2. Jody Laferriere says:

    Your comments on the last one resonates most with me (well, they all do to a point). I didn’t grasp what she meant, but your comments contain my downfall: I self-edit as I write because I think anyone reading it will assume I’m writing about me and my experiences. Example: I am aware that creating an evil mom character would create a hurricane of horror trying to convince my own mom that it’s not meant to be her. It shuts me down so often – part of the reason I never finish anything?

    • mkpheartsnyc says:

      Maybe! I often experience the same thing… but we’ll never know if we’re quitting because what we’re writing isn’t adding anything new to the conversation or if our inner committees is getting the best of us unless we write all the way through to the end and then revisit later. That’s the great part about writing as opposed to performing, for me – there’s so much time to revise and reconsider and splice together drafts…eventually we’ll hit the right note.

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