There are some things writers don’t say out loud; at least I’ve almost never heard them said. I’m at the point right now where I’m spending a couple of hours a day looking (squinting) at a PDF of my novel, a sheer sense of exhaustion setting in. How many times, I wonder, have I read this book? This book I began when I was 23? 100 times? 150? Reading Zadie Smith’s lecture made me laugh and gave me some hope. Here are some memorable quotes:
“Craft is too grand and foreign a word to describe what gets done most days in your pajamas.”
“It’s such a confidence trick, writing a novel. The main person you have to trick into confidence is yourself”
“[Page] proofs are the wasteland where the dream of your novel dies and cold reality asserts itself.”
Smith obsesses about the first 20 pages of a book, which in the case of On Beauty took 2 years. Then she finished in 5 months. “Once I get the tone, everything follows. You hear interior decorators say the same about a shade of paint.”
And stellar advice:
“When you finish your novel, if money is not a desperate priority…put it in a drawer. For as long as you can manage. A year or more is ideal– but even three months will do. … The secret to editing your work is simple: you need to become its reader instead of its writer.”
At this stage, with my novel preparing to surface into the world, in just over 2 months, after a seven year labor, this essay was exactly what I needed to read.