Zadie Smith delivered a lecture at Columbia’s University’s Writing Program, on 24th of March, 2008, under the brief “to speak about some aspect of her craft.” The lecture is appropriately titled “That Crafty Feeling” and it is also included in the author’s collection “Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays”. In the essay, she talks about the various stages of writing and also mentions some of the writing advice she uses while writing her books.
That Crafty Feeling | Summary and Analysis
That Crafty Feeling | Summary and Analysis – Introduction
Smith opens the essay and the lecture by admitting that she was indecisive about the prospect of presenting a paper and telling people about “craft”. The author finds writing fiction comparatively easy than presenting a paper; she finds writing fiction something she is able to do. Fiction doesn’t necessarily have to change someone’s mind or influence them whereas a paper or lecture is presented to make people understand things better so; it is understandable to the reader or the listener why the author was rather anxious. The author advices the reader to never read something called “The Art of Fiction,” unless it is about some specific books and not generalized because she believes that each piece of fiction is unique and different. The author feels honest about writing about craft only when she is writing about her own creations or when she has a specific piece of fiction as a reference.
The author further classifies the lectures on craft in two categories where the first is more useful and practical than the second one. The first kind of lecture is best given by critics and academics whereas the second one is given by authors who want to say something profound about their novel. The second one causes a disconnection because every writer has a different writing style which the others may or may not understand. The writers feel rather uncomfortable sharing their innermost thoughts and their writing process with the world. Smith tells the audience that even if she was writing a novel for ten years and was asked to give “some aspect of the craft”, she would be unable to do so. The reader understands this dilemma because writers often don’t like to share their innermost thoughts and feelings with others unless it’s in the form of a story. The fact makes sense as to why Zadie Smith does not want to lay her writing process and insights out in the open.
Zadie says that the fact that the word ‘craft’ is used here to describe the way she writes most of her story in her pyjamas seems bizarre to her. This provides an insight about the process of writing a book that though sometimes, authors use eloquent words and various different metaphors to describe a single thing, in the end; they are also human beings like everyone who is going to read their books. A writer pours their heart and soul out in a story while writing and manages to complete several drafts, cross out and add on so many paragraphs, before the finished product makes its way to be publishes, whereas the critics only see the finished work and not the process it took to finish it. Thus, their analysis is done after the completion. They are not concerned with the inner workings of the writer. Therefore, the author believes that they are less likely to help writers on their pieces.
James Wood’s book How Fiction Works describes the “intimate third person”. Zadie Smith, while reading the book, felt as if the reader part of her brain was stunned about how much happens in the making of a single piece of fiction while the writer in her who has actually written in the same writing style was stunned because of how accurate the description was. She believes that any critic would be able to tell the readers about craft more than she ever could. She admits that she has been fraudulent before while sharing about her writing process and finally she wanted to try an honest approach instead. The lecture thereafter is divided into ten different sectio0ns which talk about the different phases a writer, namely the author here, goes through while writing fiction.
That Crafty Feeling | Summary and Analysis – OPD in the First Twenty Pages
Smith categorizes writers into two different ways namely the Macro Planner and the Micro Manager. The Macro Manager is a writer who plans everything and can be recognized from his abundance of post its and moleskins. Such a writer makes notes and knows the plot beforehand. Because of the clarity, it is possible for them to start their story in the middle and continue forward or backward from there. They also ponder upon the ending and have many possible endings to the stories; they even change the setting and the title many a times.
Smith says that she is a Micro manager and she starts with the first sentence and finishes with the last sentence. She can’t have various endings because she doesn’t know the ending until she writes it. She makes up the story as she proceeds. The Macro Managers seem to move the furniture around their house numerous times whereas the Micro Managers build the house a floor at a time.
Smith says that she has OPD, or Obsessive Perspective Disorder. When she writes the first twenty pages of a new book, she is never satisfied with them and edits them frequently. She changes narrative and the perspective again and again. She reads other people’s novels to see if she can find some other Micro Managers and she finds their first twenty pages to be the same as hers. When she completes the first twenty pages, the rest of novel get finished comparatively faster because once she gets the tone, everything else follows.
That Crafty Feeling | Summary – Other People’s Words, Part One
Writing a novel requires confidence, or at the least, tricking yourself into thinking that you are confident. Smith says that she does not need cheerleaders; instead she needs people who will make her feel bad. For some time, she had a quote on her wall that made her feel bad. She used to think that her novel needs to have hidden agendas and clues otherwise it would not be worth. Like many writers, she is also ashamed of some of her past work and feels as if that was written by a different person; same as a Portuguese novelist she once met who told her to not read his first novel. This is what happens with other people’s words, they are important until they are not. All writers feel as if they were a different person two novels ago. People change and grow just as writers do; after all, writers are people too. Smith says that whenever she writes her novel, she looks forward to the time when she would start hating the piece.
That Crafty Feeling | Summary – Other People’s Words, Part Two
Some writers, while writing their own novel, would never read a single sentence that is not their own because they think that it would cause them to be influenced by the writing and their words would not be completely their original thoughts. Smith says that she does not do that, she wants to read other people stories and be influenced. Though she admits that she does not want to read any story that is been handed to her; while writing, she only wants to read the best literature she can find because she feels that then only, she would be able to write her best work. She says that she has a formed a bond with Keats and holds him in high regard. She feels that she connects to him and his way of writing more than that of any other author.
That Crafty Feeling | Analysis – Middle-of-the-Novel Magical Thinking
The middle of the novel is not a physical place but a mental place where the author forgets everything and just immerses them into the art of writing. It is the state of mind where the author starts living the story instead of just writing it and they also forget that they are not in the story world. Words flow freely and the author loses sense of everything while remaining blissfully unaware of them. The only thing that exists is their story. It is a state of mind where the story starts unravelling and everything starts making sense to the author. Everything starts correlating to the book the author is writing, even a random poetry book off the shelf seems to find the perfect place in the narrative.
Dismantling the Scaffolding
The author says that while writing a novel, one uses a lot of scaffolding, some of which is necessary and some unnecessary. Smith says that she divides the whole novel into sections of chapters. She uses it to divide the novel into parts so it does not seem like an endless manual and still makes sense to the reader. Later, she realizes that a lot of the scaffolding was unnecessary so she advices her audience, if they use scaffolding, to remove it later.
First Twenty Pages, Redux
During the end chapters of the novel, Smith reads the first twenty pages one more time and realizes that a lot of the material on the paper does not make sense, even to her own eyes. So, she tries to fix and edit those pages. Instead of trying too hard on making the reader understand the plot, she tries to keep her focus on the story and the character and improve them. Though she thinks that her characters don’t make much sense and are not interesting enough.
- The Last Day
Being a Micro Manager has this advantage because, when Smith writes the last sentence, it is really the last sentence and she has no more things to say. She also has a habit of editing as she goes along. In this part, she describes the happiness she feels after her novel is complete and she seems to enjoy other little things in life.
- Step Away from the Vehicle
Smith says that even if she does not follow this advice, she is telling this to others so that they can. She says that after finishing a novel, the author should let the novel rest for as much time as they can. Because as mentioned earlier, writers grow in time and become better, so if they are editing their novel after some time it’s been written then they would be able to edit it in a much better way and they would produce a work like never before.
- The Unbearable Cruelty of Proofs
Smith says that she does not like her books being proofed because they lose so much essence. She feels like all the hard work she has done in a page is just crossed out by a single line. Every time someone finds faults in her writings, she just wants to take it back and start all over again but she can’t because at that time, she would be exhausted.
- Years Later: Nausea, Surprise and Feeling OK
Like most writers, Smith also finds it difficult to read her own writing after it has been published. She says that she never reads the whole book because she gets nausea. One time, she did read some parts of her book and she says that she was genuinely surprised because there were things that she didn’t remember writing. She felt a strange feeling neither pleasant nor unpleasant. There were some moments, while reading her own book, which she felt that she had captured the essence of what she wanted to say perfectly. She felt OK, maybe good even.
That Crafty Feeling | About the Author- Zadie Smith
Zadie Adeline Smith (born Sadie Adeline Smith; 25 October 1975) is an English novelist, essayist, and short-story writer. Her debut novel, White Teeth (2000), immediately became a best-seller and won a number of awards. She has been a tenured professor in the Creative Writing faculty of New York University since September 2010.