Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing

Reading time: About 1 minute

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 novelist Zadie Smith’s 10 rules of writing. 

I read and was impressed by Zadie Smith’s 2000 novel White Teeth many years ago. Just recently, however, I discovered her 10 rules for writing.

I won’t pretend they’re recent; she published them in the Guardian newspaper in 2010. (Sadly, the newspaper has taken down the page because it’s copyright has expired.)

But I love her rules, recently republished on the website Brain Pickings, and agree with all of them. The two that move me the most are…

Rule #5: Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

Rule # 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.

Rule 5 is so important and, interestingly, it’s the one I often have the hardest time “selling” to others. I’m working with a group of authors right now, all engaged in long-term projects (either books or theses), and many of them struggle with the idea of leaving space between the writing and the editing. I have to keep reminding them of the value of incubation time. Let me take that word back. What I really mean is the necessity.

Rule 10 provides an apt summary. Did you know that being a writer means having a lifelong sadness  from never ­being satisfied? It’s true, I’m afraid.

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