“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sat backstage with a line of novelists at some festival, all of us with red pens in hand, frantically editing our published novels into fit form so that we might go onstage and read from them. It’s an unfortuante thing, but it turns out that the perfect state of mind to edit your own novel is two years after it’s published, ten minutes before you go onstage at a literary festival.
“At that moment, every redundant phrase, each show off, pointless metaphor, all the pieces of deadwood, stupidity, vanity and tedium are distressingly obvious. Two years earlier, when the proofs came, you looked at the same page and couldn’t see a comma out of place.
“[This] is the only absolutely twenty-four-carat-gold-plated piece of advice I have to give you. I’ve never taken it myself, though one day I hope to.”
From “That Crafty Feeling”, a probing and illuminating essay in Zadie Smith’s new book, Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays (Hamish Hamilton).
BOOK REVIEW: Changing My Mind. In this essay collection Smith, as always, writes not just with brain and spine, as her hero Nabokov urged, but with stomach too. And heart and funny bone. Divided into five sections entitled “Reading,” “Being,” “Seeing,” “Feeling,” and “Remembering”, the collection is eclectic, including travel journalism, family histories and movie reviews, which range from blow-your-mind brilliant to, in one or two cases, a little flat. But – and this is not a sentence you get to write too often – it’s the lit crit that really sparkles. The essays about consuming and producing literature are what will earn this book a place on the shelf of every serious creative reader and writer. I loved, and learned from and yes, had my mind changed by, their forensic effervescence.