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