You cannot be judging yourself as you write

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This is my weekly installment of “writing about writing,” in which I scan the world to find websites, books and articles to help other writers. Today I discuss an interview with novelist Jane Smiley.

I’ve never been a fan of the writer Jane Smiley. I don’t think she’s a bad writer. She’s just not to my taste. So, I’m glad her books are published. And I don’t blame others for liking her. It’s simply a case of de gustibus non est disputandum — in matters of taste there can be no dispute.

Despite my hesitation about her novels, I recognize her as an expert on writing. She’s clearly very smart and accomplished, with 14 novels, two short story collections and five non-fiction works.

And I very much enjoyed an interview with her in a recent issue of the Atlantic Magazine. She spoke knowledgeably about the writing process and emphasized the importance of what I call incubation. Here is what she said:

You cannot be judging yourself as you write the first draft—you want to harness that unexpected energy, and you don’t want to limit the possibilities of exploration. You don’t know what you’re writing until it’s done. So if a draft is 500 pages long, you have to suspend judgment for months. It takes effort to be good at suspending at judgment, to give the images and story priority over your ideas. 

Listen to what Smiley has to say! She’s right. It takes effort to stop yourself from judging and editing. But you will become a much better writer by incubating.

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