Zadie Smith and the semi-colon

Writing tipsI was lucky enough to hear the novelist Zadie Smith speak at last year’s Cambridge Literary Festival. After discussing her novel, Swing Time, someone asked Smith if her decision to live in the United States had affected her writing. Interestingly, she reflected upon style not content, saying that she was now almost cured of her addiction to the semi-colon. A new kind of American directness had pervaded her writing, enabling her to get to the point far more efficiently. So, students and aspiring writers: do you find that your writing is littered with complex sentences, semi-colons and dashes? See if you can divide your over-long sentences so they are shorter and clearer. The over-use of the semi-colon may be the first thing to address in the quest to improve your style.

Deborah Chancellor
3 May 2017