That Crafty Feeling

Zadie Smith on the Psychology of the Two Types of Writers

If you are a writer who is trying to create a novel, don’t miss this post on  Zadie Smith’s two types of writer personalities. Smith delivered a lecture at Columbia University’s Writing Program in which she described writers as “macro-planners” or “micro-managers.” That and more on the mysteries of writing is captured in this morning’s dispatch from Maria Popova in Brain Pickings, her “cross-disciplinary LEGO treasure chest, full of pieces spanning art, science, psychology, design, philosophy, history, politics, anthropology, and more.”

It’s an insightful and fun read that made me laugh out loud when I realized that I fit the micro-manager profile.

Zadie Smith’s 10 Rules of Writing

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

Zadie

 

–Zadie Smith

— DJ

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Night and Day — Episode 4

Night

I am sitting next to Bill Gates. We are in an auditorium getting ready for a launch presentation when he turns to me and asks, “Do you think writers have a responsibility to tell the whole story?”

I tell him that I think writers have a responsibility to be as honest as possible in their storytelling. But that doesn’t mean that they have to tell the whole story. Especially when it comes to matters of the heart. And that sometimes means you need to leave certain things out.

Day

Who are you writing for?

That was the topic of a conversation I had with a friend recently. It’s an interesting question and we both came at it from a different vantage point.

As a fiction writer, he is concerned with the reader. With fiction, you have a lot of latitude when it comes to what you write, even if you are following a tried-and-true method that involves character development, plot, and conflict resolution. After all, you are making stuff up and whether that stuff comes from actual events in your life or your imagination, you can pretty much run with it. The fiction writer needs to be outer-directed, taking care to use his or her creativity to bring the reader along as the story unfolds. I think most writers would agree that is the right approach for fiction.

I mostly write non-fiction, so my writing practice is highly tuned to telling stories about science and technology that strive to make complex and often remote subjects interesting and understandable. It is almost always a learning exercise for me–something of a puzzle to solve. I learn a lot during this process and I usually get to talk to some incredibly smart and interesting people along the way. So clearly non-fiction is outer-directed too, because you are still concerned with keeping the reader with you. You want them to trust what you are saying, so you need to be credible, relevant, and clear. Your currency is the relay of information and facts. This kind of writing is what I call work.

But when I write in my journal the reader is me, which makes my writing there inner-directed and strictly personal. To me, it is an art form. And the kind of honesty that good art requires is hard to do, and even harder to share. Because it exposes you to strangers in a trusting way that says, “this is how I am experiencing the world, can you relate?”

Here’s the thing: It doesn’t matter if it is a poem, a painting, or music. If you are just skimming the surface of an experience in your art it will either come across as phony, or even worse, dull. And if you spend too much time worrying about what other people think about your art, it will force you to change it in ways that will completely mess it up. So all you can really do is make your art and see what happens.

I enjoy many different styles of art and writing. I like seeing the different filters people use to manipulate reality, and I especially like to see how the imagination can soar. It is truly inspiring to me. But I don’t confuse my art with my work. And I usually know exactly whom I am writing for. At least I think I do.

So to answer the original question, I think the reader changes depending on the form the writing takes. What do you think?

–DJ

Night and Day is an online journal that contrasts my dreams with my daytime activities. I refer to these posts as episodes because I only recall my dreams sporadically, and because they are at best loosely connected to my days.