In it she says that writers sure of their craft and their strategies can fail, though even reviewers might not notice. "I've often thought it would be fascinating to ask living writers: "Never mind critics, what do you yourself think is wrong with your writing? How did you dream of your book before it was created? What were your best hopes? How have you let yourself down?" A map of disappointments - that would be a revelation."
She goes on to say:
"Map of disappointments - Nabokov would call that a good title for a bad novel. It strikes me as a suitable guide to the land where writers live, a country I imagine as mostly beach, with hopeful writers standing on the shoreline while their perfect novels pile up, over on the opposite coast, out of reach. Thrusting out of the shoreline are hundreds of piers, or "disappointed bridges", as Joyce called them. Most writers, most of the time, get wet. Why they get wet is of little interest to critics or readers, who can only judge the soggy novel in front of them. But for the people who write novels, what it takes to walk the pier and get to the other side is, to say the least, a matter of some importance. To writers, writing well is not simply a matter of skill, but a question of character. What does it take, after all, to write well? What personal qualities does it require? What personal resources does a bad writer lack? In most areas of human endeavour we are not shy of making these connections between personality and capacity. Why do we never talk about these things when we talk about books?"
She continues at length, not quite so profitably I thought (Smith's idea is that a great novel is at bottom a revelation of character -- the writer's -- and the perfect novel would be a total revelation of an absolutely unique world, the world of the writer) but her questions are interesting ones. One of those dangerous games we might be tempted to play. "I pretend my book was damn good, but in fact I know it failed, and here's why." Anybody else like to go first?