Zadie Smith on style

Style is a writer’s way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions.

–Zadie Smith, “Fail Better

You are going to do this

You are going to do this. There is no stopping you. You’ve made your decision, and nothing will stand in your way, God willing. There is no fear. This is a fait accompli. All doubt is merely stage fright, the fear of imperfection. The only way to achieve perfection is through imperfection. You chip that im- prefix away, day by day. There is no delay in the chipping. The word perfection is already there, waiting. If you don’t chip at it, you are stuck with imperfection. That is unacceptable. You see your goal. You aren’t just writing a book; you are creating literature; you are creating a work of art. There is no compromise. There is no PlayStation3. There is only determined, indomitable pursuit of the goal you have set for yourself, which you will achieve. There is no question. You will write a stunningly beautiful work of literature. You will. Day by day. Don’t fear the mountain when all you have to do each day is walk a few steps. The mountain will cooperate if you simply climb one step at a time. So walk. Everyone knows you are a fantastic writer. They will say it can’t be done, that it shouldn’t be done, that people don’t read. But they don’t know what you know. They are the naysayers, the fearful—or they are those who have seen and know it can be done, and see that you will be one of those to do it. All you have to do is walk. It doesn’t matter if it isn’t perfect the first time. You won’t give up. You will make it stronger with each passing day until it is indestructible. You will not be afraid. You may not have all the answers but you will ask all the questions and you will find a way over, under, around or through. You may not know the answers, but not turning away despite not knowing is what makes you a man, an artist, a writer. You show up anyway, saying that you don’t have the answer, and working through that unknowing until you’ve put down words on the page. If they are the wrong ones, you will know, either sooner or later, and you will write the right ones. But first you need to cast out the wrong ones so what you have left, after searching within yourself, will be the right ones. Do not be afraid, and do not give up, ever. Remember who you were, who you are, and know who you will be. Decide that. Pray.

Jonathan Lethem on his writing process

Jonathan Lethem talks about his new book Chronic City with the LA Times (book excerpt in The New Yorker from a few months’ back). I didn’t read the whole interview, which is about a book I’ve not yet read but may later, but I did read and enjoy this paragraph: Read more

Getting away from science fiction

An article over in Wired got me thinking about the genre of science fiction. It seems that writers and directors of “sci-fi” shows and movies dislike using the term “science fiction.” It has everything to do with the fact that the term connotes images of robots and aliens, spaceships and lasers. It’s basically, as the article mentions, fantasy in space, replacing orcs with Vulcans, and magic spells with science spells.I myself dislike the “spaceship” genre of sci-fi, on the whole. I enjoyed bald Sisko kicking ass back in the day, but I find Star Trek to be a bore. And yet, I think science fiction — “classical” science fiction — is a wonderful genre. What do I mean by classical science fiction? Read more

The End and the death of perpetual storytelling

A few minutes ago, I finished the outline of the final chapter of my novel. In some ways, I am relieved that the end is finally in sight. Yet I can’t help but acknowledge that a great part of me right now almost mourns the loss of that perpetuity, that ongoing storytelling process.

I’ve known for some time now that I love beginnings. That “once upon a time” magic is something that inevitably morphs into something else somewhere in the middle. You can’t sustain “once upon a time” until the end of the story. At some point, the story changes into a series of “and then, and then.” It all culminates with those fateful words: “The End.” But those first few pages of a story are the pages I most love to write, because I get into this authorial storyteller role that gives me the same high as most people get from talking about themselves. Besides, it’s just a whole lot of fun to break into a new story, to take someone away, to take hold of them and not let go. Read more