Seeing Things As They Are: Zadie Smith on Writing, Reading, and Escaping the Self

Posted on 06 March 2014

I still have quite a lot of catching up to do on this blog – specifically, I have multiple AWP recap posts in the hopper – but for now, I’d like to share some wisdom from Zadie Smith, who read in Toledo last night. My MFA cohort and I piled into a few cars and headed to the Stranahan Theater to hear Smith read her essay “Why Write,” which considers challenges today’s writers face. Here’s a slice of what she had to offer, both in her essay and in her Q&A:

On feeling stuck behind the times: To say you’re a writer in the 21st century is like saying “I like gaslights” or “I’m a town crier.”

On hard times: Is it really harder to write now than it used to be? The truth is, writers always felt neglected.

On writers vs. readers: At my readings, people come because I’m a writer and they are too. They identify as writers, not as readers.

On feeling “despair” when we write: “Despair” is a literary thing to say. To say, “When I sit in front of the computer, I feel a bit pointless,” is more realistic.

On managing the intimidating writing process: I write to simply make this sentence.

On balancing teaching, writing, mothering, reading, and more: Some weeks, none of it goes well for anybody.

On the virtues of flying: It’s hard to travel to be away from my kids, but I have that time on the plane to read.

On finding the time to write: I had to cut down on the online life. I can’t have it [the Internet] completely embedded in my life . . . It’s amazing how much time you waste online. Now that I only have 4-5 hours [to write], I can’t Google for two hours. I have to get to it faster.

On feeling confident in her own work: I don’t feel what I do is good. I don’t have that feeling. I often think it’s no good. That feeling doesn’t go away . . . I think it’s a lifelong thing.

On why it’s hard to feel that confidence: You always start over with a blank page. Clichés and idiocy and mistakes are always available to you.

On what made her become a writer: My mother had as many books in the house as possible. That’s the stuff you need if you’re going to be a writer. There’s no mystery to it.

On her children: I don’t want them to become writers.

On reading vs. writing: Reading is much more important [to me] than writing.

On what it means to be a writer: Writing lets you have the one thing that society offers in theory and obliterates in practice: self-determination. When I write . . . my self disperses. I can be everyone in fiction. Writing is a de-selfing activity.”

And last but not least:

On why we write: Why write? Because you desire to see things as they are.

For a more in-depth look at Smith’s reading, see “Zadie Smith Puts Value Back in Written Word.” And let it be known that while I was compiling this blog post, I set my stove top on fire (we’re talking a full-flame, smoke-alarm fire) because I was so engrossed in Smith’s words and didn’t realize I’d turned on the wrong burner. Everything’s okay now, but consider yourselves warned: words (and obliviousness) can start fires.


Responses are closed for this post.

Recent Posts

Tag Cloud

5 random things acceptance American Literary Review AWP AWP 2012 book reviews books Bread Loaf 2012 cat lady cats Cirrus Cleveland Cleveland writers contests failure Fiction Writers Review first drafts Huda Al-Marashi literary magazines living arrangements Mac's Backs Mid-American Review NaNoWriMo novel revisions Opal Poets & Writers publishing reading rejection revision rust belt chic Saucy Sophie Kerr Prize Stories on Stage The Writing Life this is what the publishing process looks like tricia springstubb Washington College writing advice writing buddies writing frustrations writing goals writing groups writing retreat writing workshops

Meta

Laura Maylene Walter is proudly powered by WordPress and the SubtleFlux theme.

Copyright © Laura Maylene Walter