ELLE: You are a mother of two young children, and with not much help with childcare. Writing is a form of mental gymnastics, isn’t it? How do you do it? What are some of your preoccupations at the moment?
Zadie Smith: Both my husband and I write whatever it is we write between 9am and 3pm, school hours. Sometimes till 5pm, if I can find an ex-student to take those extra two hours. But that kind of help comes and goes—I don’t rely on it, otherwise I’m overcome with frustration. It’s my belief that even the freest, most single and childless writers rarely do more than four hours of intense writing a day. I do the same, but I just have much less spare time to waste. If I lose a day to Googling etc., then it’s really a problem because I have no slack, no extra time. The other essential part of my job, reading, is what really suffers. We try and read the moment the kids go to bed, and resist the pull of Netflix, but it doesn’t always work. In order to write, I cut out a lot of things: reading the newspapers, for example. I listen to the radio, because you can do that while cleaning. And I have to avoid all social media and most daytime emailing. But I have also absolutely given up on the idea of peace and quiet as being necessary to writing. I just don’t allow myself to think about that. I don’t go to writers’ retreats, and I really can’t imagine any more what it would be like to write from 9am to 6pm each day, or on weekends or during the summer. I work in the time I have.