The British writer Zadie Smith, author of White Teeth and On Beauty, has an insightful article in the Guardian on writers and writing. Writing, she says, isn't merely a matter of skill:
"A skilled cabinet-maker will make good cabinets, and a skilled cobbler will mend your shoes, but skilled writers very rarely write good books and almost never write great ones. There is a rogue element somewhere - for convenience's sake we'll call it the self, although, in less metaphysically challenged times, the 'soul' would have done just as well."In Smith's view, there's something incomprehensible involved in making a great work, and that something is linked to the writer's personality. The idea may be simple and elemental, but I haven't read anything elsewhere that expresses it in as nuanced and beautiful a way as she does in the sentences below:
"A writer's personality is his manner of being in the world: his writing style is the unavoidable trace of that manner. When you understand style in these terms, you don't think of it as merely a matter of fanciful syntax, or as the flamboyant icing atop a plain literary cake, nor as the uncontrollable result of some mysterious velocity coiled within language itself. Rather, you see style as a personal necessity, as the only possible expression of a particular human consciousness. Style is a writer's way of telling the truth. Literary success or failure, by this measure, depends not only on the refinement of words on a page, but in the refinement of a consciousness, what Aristotle called the education of the emotions."