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Writing and re-writing a novel


The writer's working day
Philip Roth Writer
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You're on your own. You don't have any assistance. You wouldn't want any. You have to figure these things out for yourself. For me, in silence. I don't have the radio playing. I can't even stand if my neighbor's radio is playing. When I was first living in New York, I had to move from a rather nice apartment to another one because my neighbors wouldn't stop playing their stereo all the time. I can't take any noise, I can't even have a cat in the room with me – that's too much distraction. Of course, it's very inward. You're ruminating, ruminating, ruminating, and then you start typing. And so there's no one there with you, and you work. You must work for a good number of hours because if you just work for one or two hours, you couldn't get anything. Often what happens in the first few hours is... is nothing. You have to have... to tolerate failure and frustration because many, many days there's nothing or there's half a page. I always tell myself if I have a page at the end of the day… this is when I'm beginning the book… if I have a page at the end of the day, that's fine because a page a day is 365 pages in a year. So I never… I try not to rush, and I try to be content with very little. It's hard to be content with two lines. It's hard to be content... it's hardest to be content with nothing. And that happens, repeatedly, when you're writing your first book, your 15th book, or your 30th book.

The fame of the American writer Philip Roth (1933-2018) rested on the frank explorations of Jewish-American life he portrayed in his novels. There is a strong autobiographical element in much of what he wrote, alongside social commentary and political satire. Despite often polarising critics with his frequently explicit accounts of his male protagonists' sexual doings, Roth received a great many prestigious literary awards which include a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1997, and the 4th Man Booker International Prize in 2011.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: silence, rumination, failure, frustration, writing

Duration: 1 minute, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: March 2011

Date story went live: 18 March 2013