The Writer Life
Photo Credit: NY Times Style Magazine. Photo by Jackie Nickerson.

Photo Credit: NY Times Style Magazine. Photo by Jackie Nickerson.


I first heard Zadie Smith speak on Lena Dunham’s Women of the Hour podcast. Her crisp British accent was a refreshing reprieve from the American accents I’d grown accustomed to listening to on podcasts. I think that’s when my fascination with accents began.

Or maybe my fascination with Zadie. Am I allowed to use her first name? It feels right.

I googled her. I had to see who the voice belonged to. I had to see the woman behind "White Teeth."

I’m not quite sure when I bought "White Teeth," but I’m beginning to think that, maybe, it landed on my bookshelf on its own, put there by the universe, as a favor to me. Or it could’ve been as simple as wandering into a bookstore and having it call my name. What I do know is that it changed my outlook of how characters can be written, and the power they have when a magical writer breathes life into them.

It’s no wonder that the novel, published in 2000, when Zadie was 24 years old (I know!), won numerous awards -- the Commonwealth Writers Prize for Overall Winner, Best First Book; the Guardian First Book Award, the Whitbread First Novel Award, and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. It became an international bestseller. Quite an accomplishment for a first novel.

Zadie’s second novel was not as well received as her first. "The Autograph Man," centered on a twenty-something Chinese Jew who lives on the outskirts of London, was hammered by critics, but this didn’t deter her.

Zadie went on to write classics like "On Beauty" (which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Best Book Award and the Orange Prize in 2006), and follows two contrasting, interconnected, mixed raced British/American families as they try to navigate life in a fictional college town outside of Boston and London; and "NW," a story about four culturally and racially diverse London locals living in “North West” London.

Her latest novel, “Swing Time,” was released last year, and tells the story of two childhood friends who lose touch in their twenties. The Guardian calls it her “finest” novel yet, with a plot alone that “makes for truly marvelous reading.”

"Every people have their trauma. It’s not a competition of traumas. But they’re different in nature. And this one is about having been removed from time." Zadie said, when describing the narrator of "Swing Time" in an intimate interview with The New York Times Style Magazine.

Zadie Smith is not only talented. She has discipline. And she has great advice for writers, young and old because let’s face it, age does not eliminate the need to become better writers. The Guardian has a list of rules by Zadie that are short and to the point, and quite helpful.

This doesn't mean that Zadie doesn't get distracted. On Ms. Dunham’s podcast, she uses the sites, Self Control and Freedom to block Facebook and Twitter, and even listens to brown noise, which helps her focus. Guess who started listening to brown noise shortly after? Me!

According to Zadie, a good book can put you in the perfect writing mind.

"It might not always feel meditative, but when the book is very good you'll notice it is because time passes in a strange way in a book you love." She said. "[That's] four hours you didn't even notice, you haven't even moved from the sofa. To me, that's kind of the ideal writing mind."

I can certainly attest to that. Reading Zadie’s books have made me a better writer. I feel like she’s my mentor. Am I jumping ahead of myself here? Yep. I certainly am.

Here are a list of Zadie’s books. Reading them will be one of the smartest things you’ll ever do. I promise!