zadie smith. on buffy. on writing.

Zadie Smith once told me I had to be fearless if I wanted to be a writer.

We were talking about television shows we adored and daughters we didn’t have when I said it: “I just quit my job. To finish that novel everyone and their mothers are writing.” I bit my lip because I knew she had heard it a million times before. “I’m scared to death.”

I didn’t want to like her. The impossibly pretty woman from North London. With the shy face and the nervous foot. I made my mind up on it some time back in the Y2K era when I first heard of her success with the May Anthologies. Then I read her work.

Every now and again books come out to huge hype – and that’s all they ever are. I wanted hers to be this way. I wanted to believe it couldn’t be done because then I wouldn’t feel bad for being too afraid to try. But no one so effortlessly writes life as does Zadie Smith. The layers. The depth. The simplicity.

“You can’t be afraid.” She followed my declaration with a shake and a nod of her head. A kind of almost sigh that said I know. “If you’re going to do it, you have to make like The Slayer (we share an admiration for this thing Whedon-esque) and be fearless.”

Zadie Smith.  On Buffy.  On Writing.

The British novelist spends two hours a day perusing Gawker and doing other things mundane before she gets down to business. Before she casts off her own fear.

“This book (On Beauty) was incredibly hard work.” I imagined those graceful fingers drumming on a desk or holding a pen the way my grandfather would hold a shovel. Maybe. “Being a writer is hard work. But people do it.”

She did it.

Zadie Smith wasn’t Easton Ellis. She was working class. Before she made her own way. With a voice and a word. With perfect pitch and intonation and clarity of tone.

Today I’m trying to do it. But I’m afraid. Because when it is finished, it is done. I’ll no longer have the idea of all that may be to get me by. It will either do what it’s meant to do…or it won’t. And if it doesn’t, where will that leave me?

Truman Capote said that finishing a novel is like shooting a child. If he meant the mere thought makes you wretch and fall down in a sick faint, I’d have to agree. My own is almost complete; and I’m scared to death.

I guess it’s time to make like Zadie. To make like The Slayer. To be fearless.

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  • ldbug
    Dec 1, 2006 at 16:18

    Yeah, scary, but there’s always your next novel to think about!!

    I’ll bet it’s great, and good luck:-)

  • Brittany
    Dec 1, 2006 at 17:04

    I absolutely adore Zadie Smith. She is without, one of my favorite authors. I remember, after reading White Teeth, thinking “This is what I want to do. This is what I want to aspire to everyday.” It’s so great that she’s given you such great advice. Good luck with your novel, once again! I will be first in line to purchase it, when it is, of course, fought over by all of the major publishing companies 🙂

  • Frannie Farmer
    Dec 1, 2006 at 18:52

    I am afraid to admit that I haven’t heard of Zadie, but I am certain to check her out now.
    All I can say to YOU, is that I can not wait until your book is out there because I know that it will be brilliant!

  • continuitygirl
    Dec 1, 2006 at 23:03

    I love White Teeth, and I’m glad to hear Zadie Smith is a Joss Whedon Fan – good luck with the book

  • Katherine
    Dec 1, 2006 at 23:12

    I’m looking forward to reading it!

  • hattigrace
    Dec 2, 2006 at 11:08

    If you love Zadie, she must be something else, because your work is divine. I will check her out while I am waiting for your book.

  • S William Shaw
    Dec 2, 2006 at 15:43

    Like shooting a child, eh? I view it as like setting a dysfunctional friend out to sea.

  • B.A.Carter
    Dec 2, 2006 at 21:04

    “Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”~Gene Fowler

    I think that sums it up.

  • terry
    Dec 3, 2006 at 15:34

    just do it x

  • anne
    Dec 3, 2006 at 16:51

    Getting a peak at your writing here – makes me believe the full size of it will be equally as wonderful.

  • Dating Dummy
    Dec 3, 2006 at 22:01

    Go get ’em!

    Hey, btw, I just wanted to see if you were gonna be in on our little workout group? If not, let me know!

  • fridaycat
    Dec 4, 2006 at 4:19

    This post reminded me why I love to write.

    Why I should write.

    And why fear is a lame excuse after all.

    all the best – you know you can do it 🙂

  • steph
    Dec 4, 2006 at 14:05

    be the fearless slayer buff!!………..i want to read it now!!! 🙂 i cant wait..when you dont even try, you can do such good work! i cant wait to read something that you have been pooring your heart into!!! i love you

  • Ryane
    Dec 4, 2006 at 14:11

    “There would be nothing to frighten you if you refused to be afraid”.

    I don’t mean to be trite, but you can do this, Buffy! If ever I thought a blogger should/could publish a book, you are her. Best of luck–I, too, will be a happy fan when you DO get published. 😉

  • Hey Pretty
    Dec 4, 2006 at 15:19

    If you’ve come this far, I’m sure you can do it. My novel of 5 pages and I are quite jealous that you’ve made it even this far…

  • ShadowDog
    Dec 4, 2006 at 15:22

    Wow. I can already tell that this blog is a treasure trove. I look forward to going through it during the random moments in my day when I need ten minutes off from my work.

    Good luck with your project. I can definitely relate to your fear. It took me years to finish my first novel for this very reason. It was something that the nonwriters in my life could never really understand.

  • Clairebell
    Dec 4, 2006 at 16:04

    I feel you. Fear of failure is a bigger road block for me than even the snarkiest critic.

  • Night Writer
    Dec 4, 2006 at 16:14

    Buffy, I’ve never been where you are in this process, but for what it’s worth it strikes me that you’re at the same point as when the roller coaster has tipped over the crest of the long plunge and there’s nothing to do but ride the sickening thrill to the end while all your internal organs move 8 inches higher in your body. But when you get to the bottom – man, what a rush!

    As far as “shooting your child” – I don’t know. I have enough experience for what Capote said to resonate, but I think finishing a book is more like having a child leave the nest. As the parent of an 18-year-old beginning to make her own way I marvel at how what I’ve “created” has taken on a life of her own; how the countless hours spent shaping and imagining and agonizing over just the right word has inspired dialogue with subtleties, nuances and complexities I never realized were within me, and how a true character has emerged fully-formed and bursting to go forth. For years this book was mainly blank pages; pages that consumed my life and were never far from my thoughts no matter what else I happened to be doing. Day by day those pages were filled, and while there are things I’d like to go back and rewrite there’s no guarantee that the story would be even better than it is now; even so I wrestle with the temptation/obsession to continue to tweak and polish.

    Will anyone else understand the humor of page 112, or appreciate how difficult it was to write Chapter 19? Certainly not at the level I do, but that knowledge is for my own book, the one written on my heart. Now, though, it is time to see this through; to be proud to see all the time, work and love realized in a tangible package; to admire not just the cover but the spine; to breathe deep the aroma of the fresh pages and the glue that holds them together. It is good.

  • Flora
    Dec 4, 2006 at 16:44

    I agree with ldbug. After this one, there will be another to write. You won’t ever run out of ideas. Don’t fear running out of ideas or think that this will ever be your only idea ever for a novel. Go for it!

  • holly hodder
    Dec 4, 2006 at 20:36

    I used to tell my authors, once they held their book in their hands, that it is iterative. A book is iterative. There are signposts, as when the physical object rests there, open. But in truth, in practice, there are often second and more printings, a typo that gets fixed, a foreign rights sale that requires a re-edit, the change (in the U.S., quaintly still so) from hardcover to paperback – and if you hit the lottery, audio, telvision, and/or film versions. Heck, many agents insist on negotiating at least two-book deals. You’re in it. You’re doing it. That’s what counts. Brava. Oh, and White Teeth is killer.

  • clearlykels
    Dec 5, 2006 at 14:01

    From what I have read, I am excited that you are writing a book. What a scary thing to embark on!! I am very excited for you!

  • Marina
    Dec 5, 2006 at 22:05

    I’ve heard of Zadie Smith but haven’t managed to get to her yet. Adding to the ever growing list!

  • Bre
    Dec 6, 2006 at 4:15

    It’s extremely scary…. and I’ll expect an autographed copy when it hits big (of which I have no doubt) 😉

  • lux lisbon
    Dec 7, 2006 at 8:52

    I will keep checking back to see when your book is published! You can never read enough books.

    I heard so much hype about Zadie Smith and then I read White Teeth. Not a fan.

  • Richard
    Dec 7, 2006 at 11:52

    Great post – truth-filled.

    Good luck.

  • Banana Esq
    Dec 11, 2006 at 18:17

    Oh my word — FINISHING a novel! That’s amazing — I’ve had a goal to start writing a novel, just as scary, once you pass page five or something.

    Either way, best of luck & much braveness!

    best, (or is it thank you?)