I recently posted a passage from Orhan Pamuk’s Nobel lecture about why he writes. Here’s Zadie Smith, in a searching, mature, and very smart essay called “Fail better”:
When I write I am trying to express my way of being in the world. This is primarily a process of elimination: once you have removed all the dead language, the second-hand dogma, the truths that are not your own but other people’s, the mottos, the slogans, the out-and-out lies of your nation, the myths of your historical moment – once you have removed all that warps experience into a shape you do not recognise and do not believe in – what you are left with is something approximating the truth of your own conception.
The whole piece is a must-read, particularly for its take on the title subject – authorial ambitions and self-criticisms. It also includes her thoughts on the necessity of sharp readers, which she spoke about on Bookworm, and which I quoted here in a widely picked-up post. I’ll quote one more bit from “Fail better” to encourage you to click through:
A great novel is the intimation of a metaphysical event you can never know, no matter how long you live, no matter how many people you love: the experience of the world through a consciousness other than your own….A great piece of fiction can demand that you acknowledge the reality of its wildest proposition, no matter how alien it may be to you. It can also force you to concede the radical otherness lurking within things that appear most familiar.