5 Zadie Smith Quotes On Writing That Will Change The Way You Think About Your Work

Ad failed to load

"I'm not trying to convince someone of an argument one way or another, generally," author Zadie Smith told cultural critic Wesley Morris, before a packed crowd in Brooklyn's St. Ann & The Holy Trinity Church on Wednesday night. "But I am trying to model a way of thinking."

She was referring, of course, to the essays that comprise her new collection, Feel Free — a title she admits she stole from a poem written by her husband, Nick Laird. In her essays about Jay-Z and Joni Mitchell, J.G. Ballard and Justin Bieber, libraries and Facebook, Smith traverses through many states of reflection. She rarely concludes the essays neatly — life is too complicated, and circumstances change too often and too quickly for that — but the journey through her various states of deliberation is the true joy of the collection. Indeed, in the foreword to the book, Smith admits that writing this collection — and her books — is a matter of finding balance between three essential things: "Writing exists (for me) at the intersection of three precarious, uncertain elements: language, the world, the self. The first is never wholly mine; the second I can only ever know in a partial sense; the third is a malleable and improvised response to the previous two."

In a conversation with Morris hosted by the Emma Straub-owned Books Are Magic bookstore at St. Ann's, Smith spoke in-depth about the way she operates as an author. Here are five brilliant things she said about writing:

Ad failed to load

Ad failed to load

On Meaning

Bryan Bedder/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"I'm always aware of being slightly out of step. Because again, that Sartre line about existence preceding essence. That's the most important part to me. That, there are no essential qualities, as far as I'm concerned. You exist. You're thrown into the world. And you have to put it together. You have to make this kind of meaning for yourself."

On Writing

"Writing at every point is a leap into a complete unknown [...] At every point, you have the possibility of not being able to do it at all. You restart at every blank piece of paper. That's really exhilarating for me."

On Restrictions

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"Sometimes, restrictions can be creative. Instead of feeling frustrated by them, which I did have a tendency to do, I just decided to make the most of it — of not being able to move, in fact."

Ad failed to load

On Fiction

"Satisfaction is so hard to get writing novels — both for reader and writer. It's a very embarrassing thing, a novel, I think. Don't you think for the most part? It has no real necessity for being. It's ridiculously personal or partial. It can't make an argument for itself in the world, you know. At the same time, at the moment I'm reading Denis Johnson stories, and I think there's a sublimity in that kind of fiction which no essay can approach. For me – it does something to me that no essay could ever achieve. But that's Johnson."

On Essays

D Dipasupil/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

"I think always about the Aristotelian idea of having ethos, pathos, and logos combined. [...] emotion is not a small part of it, it's incredibly important, an ethical part, too. But also the rational part. It's the rational part which normally, in my day to day life, I'm not fully engaged in rational thought. I'm a ranter like everyone else, and a shouter and a weeper and all that business. But when I'm writing, I get a chance to combine the three. Often, it's challenging. Because when you bring the three to bear, it's not always a pretty story for you. Speaking with emotion, you can always usually puff yourself up, defend your case, make yourself feel good. If you let the other two in — ethics being the awareness of people's points of view and the pressures of their point of view; logos being the rational part, which might say to you, yes, even if you feel this, even if you feel this very strongly, it still might not be true. Once you put those things in with pathos, then I find myself quite often challenged."

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In June To Help Get Your Summer Started

Summer is right around the corner, and so is another batch of streaming options to get excited about. On Wednesday, everything leaving and coming to Netflix in June 2018 was announced by the streaming platform. And don't worry, there's something for …
By Jamie Primeau

The 5 Rom-Coms You Need To Read This Summer, According To Someone Who Writes Them

'Tis the season for rom-coms. The weather is warm, the sun is shining, and everyone is rocking the flirtiest items in their wardrobe. I don't know about you, but summer always takes me back to my teenage years — and that automatically makes me want t…
By Cristina Arreola

11 Tiny Sunglasses That Will Make You Look Even Cooler Than Kylie Jenner

You know what they say — the tinier the sunglasses, the more stylish the outfit. OK, that's not really a saying, but it seems to be the case these days. Basically every celebrity, model, and It person has been spotted sporting tiny sunglasses as part…
By Sara Tan

9 Ways This Royal Wedding Was Way More Modern Than Past Ones

The newly named Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, made history with their storybook courtship and wedding. What's more, there are myriad ways the royal wedding 2018 was more modern than previous royal weddings. From deciding…
By Brandi Neal

10 Little-Known British Traditions Meghan Markle Will Learn When She Marries Prince Harry

As an American woman dating a Brit, I am no stranger to the mishaps that can result from the cultural differences between the U.S. and England. And while I'm sure Meghan Markle has a slew of royal traditions to learn, titles to remember, and fancy ha…
By Kristin Magaldi

I've Paid $18,000 To A $24,000 Student Loan, & I Still Owe $24,000

It all became real the summer before my senior year of college. It was 2010, and my home phone still had a cord, which I wrapped around my fingers as I waited not-so-patiently for the apathetic representative on the other end to tell me the bad news …
By Kaitlyn Cawley

12 Personality Quizzes That Will Help You Determine Your Exact Strengths

Learning more about yourself can be tough. It's so easy to observe others to learn what makes them tick, what areas they really excel in, and the things they could be better at. Doing that to yourself, however, is a whole different story. That's exac…
By Jessica Booth

5 Brand New Short Story Collections You Can Finish In One Sitting This Weekend

Since 2013, May has been known by book-lovers by another name: Short Story Month. If you're ready to kick off this year's celebration the right way, make sure to pick up a short story collection to read over the weekend. Modern life moves more than …
By Sadie Trombetta

I Got Styled By 'Queer Eye's Tan France & Realized I Still Have A Lot Of Fashion "Rules" To Unlearn

When I walked into a New York City Express store on May 2 to get styled by Queer Eye's Tan France, I was ready for anything. And I mean truly anything. I am such a massive fan of the show and Tan that if he had instructed me to wrap myself in tin foi…
By Olivia Muenter

It Isn’t Bad To Have A “Princess Fantasy” — Mine Made Me The Woman I Am Today

What do you want to be when you grow up? If you were anything like me as a kid, at some point, the answer to that question was "a princess." Thanks to good old-fashioned gender stereotypes, most little girls born in the '90s (and even now) grew up in…
By Nicole Pomarico

Here’s How To Get A FREE 30-Minute Facial At Sephora That Sucks Your Pores Clean

Sephora has long been a mecca for both serious and amateur beauty lovers alike, where they not only have makeup artists that help answer questions about products, but free samples to let you play with new collections. But now they have upped the ante…
By Marlen Komar

Kris Jenner Is FINALLY Launching A Makeup Line With Kylie

Maybe you don't have a favorite sister of the Kar-Jenner clan, and that's perfectly fine. The one thing you can't deny, though, is that when it comes power, no one in that family has more than the world famous momager. Now, Kris Jenner x Kylie Cosmet…
By Shea Simmons

This Kendall Jenner “Diva” Moment Is Really Being Taken Out Of Context

The fashion always takes center stage at the Met Gala, but there's usually a little drama, too. And this time, a member of the Kardashian-Jenner family is involved. People are buzzing about how Kendall Jenner shoved someone at the Met Gala, but after…
By Nicole Pomarico

Feel Like You've Seen Everything On Netflix? Add These Movies To Your Watch List

The weekend may feel too far away, but if you're lacking formal plans, a Netflix marathon session is always a good idea. If you're an avid viewer, however, you probably feel like you've seen everything the streaming platform has to offer already. In …
By Ashley Rey

These 4 Zodiac Signs Are Going To Have The Best Luck In Love This May

Spring fever is here, but not all signs in the zodiac are dealt the same dose of lovin'. Some signs are going to have a better love lives than the rest of us in May, because that's just the way the cookie crumbles. According to astrologer Linda Furia…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Hillary Clinton Says She's Ready To Fight Like A Republican — EXCLUSIVE

Hillary Clinton Is Not Going Away Quietly. Can Hillary Clinton Please Go Quietly Into The Night? Unlike Losers Before Her, Clinton Is Not Going Gently Into the Night. These headlines, which appeared in various news outlets over the course of the last…
By Catherine Thompson and Jenny Hollander

Here's The Very Best Time To Book Your Summer Vacation If You're Trying To Save Money

Summer is a great time to travel, for obvious reasons. The weather is better. Many offices are more lax about time off. If you have kids, they’re out of school. But there’s one very important element that makes summer not a great time to travel: Cost…
By Emma McGowan