I just want a big neon arrow pointing at my life’s road map saying, “Go here next!” I try to explain to the muses that I’m a little dense and I need loud clanging bells and whistles declaring, “this way, this way, this way!”
Sadly, life doesn’t come with obvious signs. It comes with whispers and gentle pushes in the right direction. If we are lucky, when I am lucky, I can sometimes, not always, pay attention long enough to find some of the signs.
Today, I got one. Clicking around the internet, bored, I found ten rules of writing by British writer, Zadie Smith. The rules are inspired by Elmore Leonard’s 10 rules of writing. And they ring true and bright. But who is this author, sadly, I did not know the name right off.
Reading about Zadie Smith’s life, I found my heart began to beat faster, her biography could be my own:
“As a child she was fond of tap dancing; as a teenager she considered a career as an actress in musical theatre; and as a university student she earned money as a jazz singer and wanted to become a journalist… Despite earlier ambitions, literature emerged as her principal interest and would provide a model for her future career.”
I get chills reading that again. I took tap for 16 years, wanted to make my mark in musical theater, did a jaunt as a journalist in college and found that it was literature that has become my driving force in my later years.
It’s hope that comes from these rules and reading about an author new to me. Hope that I’m going in the right direction, learning the lessons that need to be learned, getting there.
In the meantime, here are her rules for writing by Zadie Smith as found on Brain Pickings:
- 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 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.
- 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 honours 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.