Thursday 9 July 2020

What Makes a Good Writer? (originally written by Zadie Smith)

Still from the archive. 2nd part.
The craft that defies craftsmanship
That is the end of the tale of Clive. Its purpose was to suggest that somewhere between a critic’s necessary superficiality and a writer’s natural dishonesty, the truth of how we judge literary success or failure is lost. It is very hard to get writers to speak frankly about their own work, particularly in a literary market where they are required to be not only writers, but also hucksters selling product. It is always easier to depersonalise the question. In preparation for this essay I emailed many writers (under the promise of anonymity) to ask how they judge their own work. One writer, of a naturally analytical and philosophical bent, replied by refining my simple question into a series of more interesting ones: I’ve often thought it would be fascinating to ask living writers: “Never mind critics, what do you yourself think is wrong with your writing? How did you dream of your book before it was created? What were your best hopes? How have you let yourself down?” A map of disappointments — that would be a revelation.
(Click here to continue reading)


  1. Your questions are much better. I heard a quote once that said something like if you think you are a writer you are a writer. I think it's also a matter of luck. Much like actors and musicians there are many talented people who never make it.

  2. Sadly I am unable to read the full article.
    And yes, I would love to hear the answers to those questions, particularly if I knew the author's work.

  3. Once more, excellent writing and interesting thinking.
    Stay safe and well!

  4. me encanta tu blog las fotos lo que escribes
    Cuando vas al mio puedes comentar en ingles si quieres
    Un saludo al lugar maravilloso donde vives

  5. I agree with Ms. Springfield. There are many talented people in many fields, and whether one does or does not make it to the pinnacle in any field usually involves being in the right place at the right time. In terms of personalities, charisma certainly is a factor and not taking "no" for an answer translates into unbridled persistence, which ultimately can make a difference.

    Success, like beauty, also is measured in degrees and means different things to different people. In short, CiL, you ask questions which have no absolute answers or formulas which guarantee positive results .... if it were otherwise, anyone who takes pen to paper could produce best sellers.

    Fun to talk about and to speculate about, though ....

  6. It's another interesting article and I was drawn to this statement near the end: "Though we rarely say it publicly, we know that our fictions are not as disconnected from our selves as you like to imagine and we like to pretend."

    I've had to look up Zadie Smith and while her novels look interesting, I think I might enjoy her collection of essays more.

  7. Interesting thoughts thanks for sharing. Similar to what makes a good actor, artist,...a certain
    'je ne sais quois' quality.

  8. Interesting thinking and in my opinion humane if there is also anxious thoughts before an article or book will be published.

  9. Great thought about the concept of being a good writer.
    Thank you for sharing!

  10. I know this is not the point - or is it? - but "I thought Casablanca was in Tunisia" made me laugh.
    Critics are always welcomed here, as your advise (esp the last one, thank you, I try to have my chin up).
    I read - or stopped reading, if too bad - a lot of books. I wonder how some, to me (!) "bad" books make it even out there and seem to be so good I buy them even, just to let go (thanks to kindle no waste of real paper).

  11. Like Iris, I have begun reading many books that initially appeared really good (either from the blurb or, in some cases, the illustration on the covers) that I have had to abandon roughly half way through. The reasons vary...some were too complicated to follow, some boring with so many characters that the essential story is too rambling, and then others that I've read through to the end only to find that there is no real ending - and that is so frustrating.
    I don't know, maybe it is just me being dumb...but there are a lot of novels that seem to go way over my head!😉
    As for my own work, I don't think it is good enough to publish as it is simply a collection of my personal thoughts and imaginings. I have approached three publishers in the past, who all rejected it...and I'm not at all surprised. So I stay with blogger...where I can write exactly what I want to write. There is no way I could write for a would seem too contrived, so would feel like I was being untrue to my reasons for writing in the first place.
    I am sure there are many really good writers out there who never get the chance to publish their work...and that is so sad, especially as there are also many established writers who churn out such utter tosh!
    There, rant of the day over!!😉 Many thanks for another great thought-provoking post. You certainly had me airing my pent up greivences! Lol

    Have a great day, my friend.

    Greetings from Hampshire.

  12. Excellent questions. If we could nail down what's wrong with our writing, hopefully we could do a metamorphose.

  13. A very interesting topic indeed. I've never posted any of my "literary" writings, and I feel that it is because of how critical I am. Also because it is personal, and my blog no longer provides the anonimity it did five years ago. I will continue reading.


  14. Nice to know what authors say about their own writing, personally..I will ask some of my writing friends.Nice post !

  15. Excellent topic and intriguing post. Good writing should transport me, make me forget about my job, my bills, my surroundings. I want to get completely and joyously lost.

  16. I can write about my own experiences but I can´t invent anything :(

  17. Yes, I do remember you sharing this earlier, and it is the writer's curse: the final book in print is never as perfect as the concept in our head, but that makes us work harder on the next book. It helps not to feel alone in this, thanks.

  18. Es verdad, a veces uno teme por lo que digan los críticos, pero también hay que auto criticarse y calificarse el trabajo de uno mismo con toda la honestidad, creo que va lo mismo para los que componen letras. Saludos desde El Blog de Boris Estebitan.

  19. I think that one question :what do you yourself think is wrong with your writing? ..... can mend many things.

  20. Gracias por tu comentario y vista en el blog
    te lo agradezco mucho
    Espero estes bien con este dichoso covi 19

  21. I wonder if the desire to put oneself out in public in words and wondering or maybe even knowing it is not your best (which isn't even obtainable) or that it reveals some deep personal secret is why so many writers suffer from depression. Thanks for making us think!

  22. Hi ACIL - I guess one has to have faith in oneself and one's writing to be in the position of it being taken apart by others ... except of course this is done throughout life by so many ... teachers, university lecturers, and whomever we subject ourselves to. Too much thinking ... just write and accept ... take care - Hilary



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