From a link in a blog that I read yesterday, I was introduced to novelist and essayist Zadie Smith. Born and educated in England, she’s now a tenured professor of fiction at New York University. I know all of this from Wikipedia, and while the “free encyclopedia” doesn’t necessarily have the best of reputations, at least now I know more about this prolific writer. I’m intrigued by her novel entitled White Teeth, both the title and the plot, and I’m amazed at the number of fiction and nonfiction pieces she has published.
The above was a bit lengthy, but I wanted the reader to know a little bit about Ms. Smith so that when I quoted her, you wouldn’t wonder, “Who’s that?” As I mentioned in a recent post, now that I actually have more time to pursue a longtime goal of writing, writing, and more writing, I’ve learned that there’s a lot more to it than sitting down with a laptop on my lap. Sure, I do a lot of that too. Generally speaking, I’m more of a doer than a talker (regardless of what my children might say), and I adhere to Nike’s instruction to “Just do it!”
That said, there are two of Zadie Smith’s commandments about writing that ring true this afternoon: Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet and protect the time and space in which you write. She goes so far as to say, “Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.” Both of these instructions make perfect sense, and yet both are quite challenging.
Let’s look at working on a computer that’s disconnected from the internet. Ummm. That’s not too likely to happen around here, but truthfully, it’s not the internet that beckons me. It’s my iPhone. When I’m writing, I stay disciplined until I finish a piece…or at least a paragraph. I’ve learned that even taking a few minutes to check a source can lead to 30 minutes of hopping from site to interesting site, so I usually avoid it. But my phone? It has WWF, and I have to admit, “My name is Jayne, and I’m addicted to WWF.” I currently have seven games going, and every time I hear the little ding, I just have to see who just made a play. The only way I can avoid this diversion is to leave the phone in another room—on silent. So if you call, text, or signal me that it’s my turn and I don’t respond, it’s because I’m getting in a little writing time.
Protecting the time and space in which I write can be a little tricky. I’m fortunate beyond words (that’s a little dramatic but that’s how I feel at the moment) to have a room above our garage (a.k.a. a FROG), and one of life’s little pleasures is escaping up here to read and write. In On Writing, Stephen King says a closed door announces that you mean business. Actually, many well-known writers have said this, and I know that following this advice is immensely helpful…and important.
It’s just that I’m not gutsy enough to gain a reputation of being a recluse, especially when the writing I do is “small potatoes” compared to other writers. Plus, I don’t want to alienate, hurt, irritate, or anger others, especially those who are near and near. At those times (and this is one of them) when I’m concerned about coming across as rude, I remember reading that Stephen King also said, “If you intend to write as truthfully as you can, your days as a member of polite society are numbered.”
I’ve got a lot to learn about the writing life. As I recently posted, I’m in elementary school compared to where I am and where I have to go. Still, I’m willing to learn and “stay the course.” For today, I left the phone downstairs and shut the door to the FROG.