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Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules For Writing Fiction

The Guardian published White Teeth author Zadie Smith’s 10 rules for writing in 2010, and they’re pretty awesome.

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  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.
  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.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  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.

Some of her tips remind me of Jonathan Franzen’s, especially #7. Franzen put it this way: “It’s doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction.”

The point: Cut out the distractions. I think she touches on that with #8 as well.

And I love #3. It reminds me of I post I wrote a few years ago: “Whoever said writing was romantic?” Forget about the stupid writing cabin in the woods. Write where you are.

Finally, I think point #9 is a tough one. When people are telling you how good you are, when you win an award, it’s hard not to let that get to your head, to not consider that as an “achievement.” That said, her point is a good one. Honors and true achievement are not the same thing.

Great tips here. Any strike a nerve with you?

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Source: The Guardian

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30 Comments Post a comment
  1. Liked by 1 person

    June 18, 2015
  2. Brandon #

    Don’t totally agree with #6. Having other people feed into your work can be invaluable. Off the top of my head I can think of the Paris expat group that included Hemingway, Stein, and Fitzgerald. Also the Inklings in England: Tolkien, Lewis, and Sayers.

    Different strokes for different folks though.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 18, 2015
  3. They are realy awesome rules…

    Liked by 1 person

    June 18, 2015
  4. told in a very precise and clear way

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  5. Reblogged this on bonniecrafts's Blog.

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  6. Agree with most of these, especially: “Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.” That was something it took me a little while to learn.

    But I agree with Brandon, that’s kind of a bizarre tip. Being around other people is invaluable for your writing!

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  7. Reblogged this on mira prabhu and commented:
    Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules For Writing Fiction! Thanks Robert!

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  8. Along with Murdoch’s messy “Under The Net”, “White Teeth” is probably the worst entry on the TIME 100 list, imo…

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  9. Best book about the craft of writing is Stephen King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.” Read that and nothing else will compare. Also, Zadie Smith is saying about the same thing as King about NOT sharing your work. He says, “Write with the door closed” don’t let anyone in until the polished copy is ready to be released to friends, loved ones, agents, editors. Great article though.

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  10. Great article!! Thanks!!!

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  11. kenyonarcopeland01 #

    Reblogged this on KENYONA R. COPELAND and commented:
    Valid Point …

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  12. “Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.” That’s one rule I doubt if I will ever learn to follow.

    Like

    June 18, 2015
  13. Reblogged this on Pingguo Productions.

    Like

    June 19, 2015
  14. I gave up on being a starving artist a long time ago. I like to eat too much.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 19, 2015
  15. “Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.” so true!!

    Like

    June 20, 2015
  16. I need to disconnect my computer to finish my book before the end of summer because guess what I am doing now instead of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    June 22, 2015
  17. pudgycat #

    These are great tips! A little harsh, perhaps, but honest.

    Like

    June 22, 2015
  18. What a cracking list… book marking this for the day I extend reading to writing 🙂

    Like

    June 23, 2015
  19. Interesting. Don’t agree with everything, but some good points in there none the less.

    Like

    June 23, 2015
  20. Mahee Ferlini #

    Great tips from an interesting perspective! Thank you for sharing them!

    Like

    June 23, 2015
  21. Rule # 1 is kind of useless after the fact.

    Rule # 4 is avoiding the issue entirely. I guess that’s why some people love capitalizing words.

    Rule # 7 is only for those writers who can’t remain focused. Smith and Franzen: an odd but mutually understanding couple.

    There is only one rule of writing and every other ‘rule’ follows from it: write clearly. This works at the sentence level, the paragraph, the chapter to the the structure of the novel, the motifs, symbols, themes and the message.

    Like

    June 24, 2015
  22. prachidhaka #

    Reblogged this on readwhichnovels.

    Like

    June 24, 2015
  23. Reblogged this on Best-Seller, Best-Seller…Hoping and commented:
    #7 Makes me a bit uneasy. I need my pandora going! haha

    Like

    July 20, 2015
  24. Number 7 is going to be a hard one. Do I even own a thesaurus? haha. And my Pandora needs to be going. Everything else is fabulous, I say.

    Like

    July 20, 2015
  25. Emaan Zara Kazmi #

    Reblogged this on A Wound Unmended.

    Like

    July 31, 2015
  26. Best fiction book ever, The Perfect Author is my favourite book. Wont take much time to read.
    https://www.theperfectauthor.in/
    Really breath holding… Waiting for the next release !

    Like

    April 14, 2017

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  1. Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules For Writing Fiction | BIENaija
  2. Are rules made to be broken? | jean's writing
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