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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