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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Zadie Smith on Reading and Writing

I don’t write that much. There are people who write every day, and it’s part of their life, and I go for months, and recently years, without writing fiction, for example. For me, it is not a matter of daily survival. And I’ve heard writers speak of something that they can’t help but do. The only thing I can’t help but do is read. If I don’t read every day I’m just completely doomed. I think the more effective question for me is what does reading do for you because it’s reading that I am really addicted to. Writing is a kind of outgrowth of that passion.

OK, what does reading do for you?

I’m just completely addicted to it. Nothing will stop me doing it. I realize now with my baby, I’m breast feeding her and all I do is read all the time. My husband reminded me, “You know you have to speak to the child occasionally” – because otherwise, she might never learn to speak! She’s used to just sitting on my lap and then when I turn a page, she jerks. That will be her childhood memory: this page-turning noise. So I don’t know, it’s something that allows me not to be myself, or allows me to be in other places among other people, and I get great joy out of good sentence making. Nothing makes me happier. I usually spend the mornings reading and then I do my best to write something in the afternoon. The afternoon thing almost never happens, whereas the morning thing always happens.

Extracted from Eleanor Wachtel In Conversation with Zadie Smith; from Brick Magazine No. 85

5 Responses to “Zadie Smith on Reading and Writing”

  1. Jim Murdoch says:

    I sometimes wonder about being a writer because a) I can also go for long stretches without writing and b) I find reading hard work most of the time. I think that’s one of the reasons I wanted my daughter to develop a love for reading early in life. I’d bought her 100 books before she was even born. And it was a success although having a mother who was a voracious readers no doubt helped. I’m not sure what it is with me and reading. Neither of my parents read – I never saw one of them open a novel – although my dad did read us books at bedtime. I’m an impatient reader. I like authors to get to the point. I hate books where you can pass over whole paragraphs and feel like you’ve missed nothing. That’s why I never read more than about 40 pages at a time because I start to skip chunks. It’s also why I read so many novellas.

  2. john baker says:

    I can’t go for long stretches without writing, though I can go for a very long time with only writing a small amount. Since finishing writing my last novel there’ve only been a couple of occasions when I’ve thought of writing another one; but I still wake up in the morning with a head-full of words that need to be written down.
    I’ve written some short-stories and will continue with others.
    Reading, on the other hand seems to be a continuous process. I don’t leave a gap between finishing one novel and beginning another, but I also don’t waste any time on continuing with the reading of something that isn’t working for me.
    And, oh yes, novellas are certainly the way forward. I want to write one of those.

  3. Rachel Fox says:

    I’m a big fan of the Smith! And not writing too much is probably one reason I like her.

  4. john baker says:

    It’s an interesting article, Rachel, if you can manage to take a look.

  5. Rachel Fox says:

    I’ve just started reading ‘Changing my mind’ – one of mum’s books (she was a fan too).