‘I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate’ … Zadie Smith. Photograph: Craig Barritt/Getty
Zadie Smith has spoken of how staying away from social media gives her “the right to be wrong” without fearing other people’s reactions, saying that if she knew readers’ reactions to her work, she wouldn’t be able to write.
At a live event with the New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino in New York, the British novelist said: “Because I’m not on Twitter, I’m not on Instagram, I’m not on the internet, I never hear people shouting at me.”
Giving her analysis of how discussions play out on social media, Smith said: “I have seen on Twitter, I’ve seen it at a distance, people have a feeling at 9am quite strongly, and then by 11 have been shouted out of it and can have a completely opposite feeling four hours later. That part, I find really unfortunate.
“I want to have my feeling, even if it’s wrong, even if it’s inappropriate, express it to myself in the privacy of my heart and my mind. I don’t want to be bullied out of it,” she said, according to a report of the event by the Huffington Post.
The award-winning author of novels including White Teeth and Swing Time is not the only writer to stay away from social media. Jonathan Franzen has made clear in the past his feelings on the issue, while Salman Rushdie recently quit Twitter, telling the Guardian: “I began to really dislike the tone of voice of Twitter. This kind of snarky, discourteous, increasingly aggressive tone of voice. I just thought, ‘I don’t like this.’ These people would not speak like this if they were sitting in a room with you. I had planned to stop earlier and then it was the election campaign and I got into it, and the last thing I tweeted was this pathetic tweet, having just voted: “Looking forward to President Hillary” … after which total silence. And I thought, just stop, and I did and I haven’t missed it for one second.”
While authors including JK Rowling, Philip Pullman and Bret Easton Ellis have leapt into social media discourse, Martin Amis told the Guardian last week: “Isn’t it amazing, the wells of hatred? It’s a shameful confession, in a way, but I’ve never looked at social media.”
Smith pointed to the reaction to her recent Harper’s essay reviewing the film Get Out and the painting Open Casket, which drew both acclaim and criticism. “If I knew, I wouldn’t be able to write,” she said. “I need a certain amount of ignorance in order to have my feeling.”
She went on to say: “I understand it’s important to be appropriate in public life, in social life, in political life. But in your soul? No, this is a different thing.”
We “should be able to retain the right to be wrong”, the novelist said, adding: “I’m wrong almost all the time. It’s OK to be wrong. It really is OK, you just have to sit in the feeling and deal with it. I never feel that certain in the first place, so this kind of succession of mistakes is just what I call my novels.”