Aug. 28, 2009

Philip Roth: “the desire to get the work right”

“I have to have something to do that engages me totally. Without that, life is hell for me. I can’t be idle and I don’t know what to do other than write. If I were afflicted with some illness that left me otherwise okay but stopped me writing, I’d go out of my mind. I don’t really have other interests. My interest is in solving the problems presented by writing a book. That’s what stops my brain spinning like a car wheel in the snow, obsessing about nothing. Some people do crossword puzzles to satisfy their need to keep the mind engaged. For me, the absolutely demanding mental test is the desire to get the work right. The crude cliché is that the writer is solving the problem of his life in his books. Not at all. What he’s doing is taking something that interests him in life and then solving the problem of the book, which is, How do you write about this? The engagement is with the problem that the book raises, not with the problems you borrow from living. Those aren’t solved — they are forgotten in the gigantic problem of finding a way of writing about them.”

Philip Roth

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