Via a link lifted from Gwenda, via Austin Kleon's blog, here's Zadie Smith with some extremely interesting things to say about writers, style, voice, and how craft is not enough.
Madama Smith argues that a writer's writing is deeply personal--not a stunning new insight, I'll grant you. But then Madama Smith goes on to say that craft alone does not make a novel great--a great novel is informed by something else--something that comes from deep within the writer him or herself. This is a more startling comment, for it's based in the idea that all writers are not equal--and the difference lies not in skill...
"We are repelled by the idea that writing fiction might be, among other things, a question of character," says Madama Smith daringly. Yet it seems clear that the difference between a good novel and a great novel is often an indefinable quality--a quality that is hard to pin down, and yet clearly resides within the writer. Madama Smith calls this "the soul" but one might use "genius", as well.
This is why writing can be agony; like all art, the true spark comes from within the writer, and every writer worries--what if I don't have the spark? I can work hard at my craft, I can hone and polish, I can listen to my writing group, my editors, my beta readers, my inner critic, and Michiko Kakatani, and even after all that--my book might just be good. Okay. Adequate. Fine.
Writers do not want their books to be good, okay, adequate, fine. They want their books to be great, fabulous, genius, to live forever. Which is another way of saying that they want themselves to be great, fabulous, genius and live forever.
This is why writers die inside when they get bad reviews. For they understand that it is not their book that is found lacking--it is they themselves that have been judged so. They did the best they could--and it wasn't good enough. Maybe some writers can whelp a book and then send it out callously into the World, never sparing it a thought again--but I would say those writers are in the minority (and definitely *not* destined for greatness.) Most writers know that their book is themselves represented in ink, paper, and cardboard and that criticism leveled at their book truly reflects upon themselves.
Bad enough to be judged adequate, how much worse then to be judged completely lacking. If an adequate review bruises, a bad review cuts to the bone.
Cut my book, cut me.