Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Zadie Smith on writers and writing

The British writer Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth and On Beauty, has an insightful article in the Guardian on writers and writing. Writing, she says, isn't merely a matter of skill:
"A skilled cabinet-maker will make good cabinets, and a skilled cobbler will mend your shoes, but skilled writers very rarely write good books and almost never write great ones. There is a rogue element somewhere - for convenience's sake we'll call it the self, although, in less metaphysically challenged times, the 'soul' would have done just as well."
In Smith's view, there's something incomprehensible involved in making a great work, and that something is linked to the writer's personality. The idea may be simple and elemental, but I haven't read anything elsewhere that expresses it in as nuanced and beautiful a way as she does in the sentences below:
"A writer's personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner. When you understand style in these terms, you don't think of it as merely a matter of fanciful syntax, or as the flamboyant icing atop a plain literary cake, nor as the uncontrollable result of some mysterious velocity coiled within language itself. Rather, you see style as a personal necessity, as the only possible expression of a particular human consciousness. Style is a writer's way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions."
Read the full article here. Other great articles on writing: Orhan Pamuk's Nobel lecture and Naipaul's article in the New York Review of Books.


Pallavi said...

Interesting piece of information and put together really well. I read Orhan Pamuk speech, its fascinating!

Hari said...

Thanks Pallavi! I like Pamuk's speech a lot too :)