Tuesday, January 01, 2013

Philip Roth on Writing

The eminent novelist Philip Roth announced that, after spending a lifetime writing, he has decided to retire. In an interview with the New York Times, he gave some interesting reasons for why he's decided to give up writing every day. Among his statements were the following excerpts:

"It's enough. I no longer feel this dedication to write what I have experienced my whole life. The idea of struggling once more with writing is unbearable to me."

"Writing is frustration — it's daily frustration, not to mention humiliation. It's just like baseball: you fail two-thirds of the time ... I can't face any more days when I write five pages and throw them away. I can't do that anymore."

I've never worked with Brad Bird, but I've heard from people who have that he's been known to say that "Story is pain".

Writing anything - or constructing any kind of story - is, inevitably, more re-writing than actual writing (and the same thing goes for storyboarding, of course). For every step forward there's always two, three, four or fifty steps backwards. Every element of a story is always in flux as you're writing: the characters constantly change to fit the story better, or as you get to understand them better, and the same goes for the settings, the events, the dialogue, and every other aspect as well.

I hope this doesn't seem like a discouraging way to start 2013...it's not meant to be.  Hopefully it's the opposite - I find it encouraging to hear that everyone goes through the same thing - even a celebrated novelist! There's no easy way through writing a story, and no shortcuts or tricks. Just a lot of doing....and re-doing and re-doing and re-doing. It's not easy. But hearing that everyone - no matter how accomplished - suffers with the same problems and struggles the same way makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I'm not doing it wrong...that's just the only way to write and create a story out of nothingness. And the same is true of storyboarding anything. To be a good storyboard artist, I think you need to be born with that innate burning desire to make things as good as they can possibly be, and a sense that things could always be improved. More than any other talent or skill - the ability to draw, or a knowledge of film making - to be a good story artist, I think one needs lots of stamina and resolve.


Tara Johnson said...

That writing inherently involves a lot of rewriting is a pretty neat revelation (for me anyway). Paradoxically, all the revisiting and revision may seem like taking a step backward but in reality, you're making progress since the end product will be all the better for it.

This was a really encouraging and reaffirming article and it really got me thinking. Thanks!

Mitch P said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mitch P said...

Currently going through this on an illustration piece, started November, was sure I was finished mid-December, then realized I could make it even better, and it's still going. So damn frustrating, but I can't just put it down and move on.

"I hate writing, I love having written." -Dorothy Parker

I read you blog quote recently and it makes perfect sense.

Wouter Bongaerts said...

'It makes me feel like I'm not doing it wrong...that's just the only way to write and create a story out of nothingness.'
Exactly. Thanks for these words man... We all need them once in a while.


steviem said...

Hi Mark, it was sobering to read that Philip Roth is weary of writing, as I've always imagined it's the most fulfilling job one can do. But your comments really put the struggle into perspective, and I admire how passionate you still are.

When you read between the lines, it sounds like Roth has a love-hate relationship with his craft, which is at least better than being tired of it outright:)

Luca Carey said...

They talked about this on cnn's reliable sources. Though I've never heard of this guy it is sad and deeply relatable. We all got into art, writing, etc to create, not to obsess over tiny details. It's that obsession, in my opinion, that kills creativity and makes it feel like it isn't worth it. Of course, editing is vital to any successful product, and I actually think it stands to reason that the most successful are those who are actively tormented by this. It's all pain, and if you aren't given the proper incentive to keep at it, sometimes quitting is the only thing you can do to ensure your life isn't, well, pain.

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What to write, actually involves a lot of re-writing is a revelation clean enough (for me anyway). Paradoxically, everything. The review may seem a little down, but in reality they are making progress, the final product will be much better for him

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