10 rules for writing fiction, or just for all endeavors

In 2010, the Guardian asked writers for some tips and guidance - for ten of their “personal dos and don’ts”. Zadie Smith’s read like a dictum for any creative endeavor:

When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.

When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.

Don’t romanticise your “vocation”. You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle”. All that matters is what you leave on the page.

Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.

Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.

Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.

Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet.

Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.

Don’t confuse honours with achievement.

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand - but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied.

These feel universal - truths across time and disciplines (granted, with a little adaptation). Most of them certainly feel relevant to my lil’corner of science.

Tags: science, work, writing, zadie smith

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