Philip Roth — One Skill That Every Writer Needs

In his book, Daily Rituals: How Artists Work, Mason Currey explores Philip Roth.

Roth is full of insight. His comments on writing, taken from Reporting: Writings from The New Yorker, stuck with me.

“Writing isn’t hard work, it’s a nightmare,” Roth said in 1987. “Coal mining is hard work. This is a nightmare. … There’s a tremendous uncertainty that’s built into the profession, a sustained level of doubt that supports you in some way. A good doctor isn’t in a battle with his work. In most professions there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. With writing, it’s always beginning again. Temperamentally, we need that newness. There is a lot of repetition in the work. In fact, one skill that every writer needs it the ability to sit still in the deeply uneventful business.

“All human evil comes from a single cause, man’s inability to sit still in a room.”

As for his routine, Roth says:

My schedule is absolutely my own. Usually, I write all day, but if I want to go back to the studio in the evening, after dinner, I don’t have to sit in the living room because someone else has been alone all day. I don’t have to sit there and be entertaining or amusing. I go back out and I work for two or three more hours. If I wake up at two in the morning–this happens rarely, but it sometimes happens–and something has dawned on me, I turn the light on and I write in the bedroom. I have these little yellow things all over the place. I read till all hours if I want to. If I get up at five and I can’t sleep and I want to work, I go out and I go to work. So I work, I’m on call. I’m like a doctor and it’s an emergency room. And I’m the emergency.