In 2010 author Zadie Smith offered these 10 tips for writing as part of a project for The Guardian inspired by a similar list Elmore Leonard provided The NY Times 10 years earlier. Other authors participated in this exercise, but Zadie’s was the one I found on Tumblr today, and it stopped me dead in my tracks with it’s leveling wisdom. Numbers four, nine, and ten can apply to absolutely anything in life, but number three gets down to the core of it: “You can either write good sentences or you can’t.”
I already did number one exactly as she described, so I am good on that front. The rest of it is a bit of a struggle, especially number seven.
- 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 romanticize 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 honors 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.
PHOTO by SEBASTIAN KIM