News and Music Discovery
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

From The Archives: Philip Roth Discusses His Writing Process


The writer Philip Roth died yesterday at 85. His career spanned more than five decades. Our former co-host Robert Siegel talked with Roth over the years about many of his books and often about the work of writing. Here he is in 2008.


PHILIP ROTH: Yeah. I work the same schedule I've worked all my life really, which is to say, I work a full day. And I work six or seven days a week.

ROBERT SIEGEL, BYLINE: And a full day produces about how much on the page?

ROTH: There are days that are very unpleasant where I produce nothing. That is - I write, but what I write I throw away by the end of the day. And those are not pleasant days.

SIEGEL: And those days...

ROTH: You wouldn't want to have dinner with me.

SIEGEL: (Laughter) Would you still have those days?

ROTH: Oh, indeed I do.

SIEGEL: It's not something that practice simply rules out after a while.

ROTH: Practice in this job is strange. Each time you start, you're writing a new book, needless to say. And the fact is, you've never written that book before. So you may have written before, but you've never written that book before. So you run into problems of a kind you never had before. So the problems are always new, and you have to come up with new solutions all the time.

SHAPIRO: When talking to Robert Siegel about his writing process a couple of years earlier, Philip Roth got a bit tangled in a metaphor.


ROTH: Part of being a writer is being able to read what you've written and see what's missing, see what needs development, see what's suggested by what you wrote. It's like a trampoline. You know, you're jumping up and down on this draft, and each jump is an idea. Could I drop that metaphor?


SIEGEL: No, you're stuck with that.


SIEGEL: I mean, how do you know when the trampoline is done and you can finally get off of it and say it's finished, or could you do this forever? I mean, is...

ROTH: I beg you. Let me get out of that metaphor.

SIEGEL: OK. I'll - you won't have to pursue the trampoline anymore.

ROTH: OK. How do you know when it's done?


ROTH: You know when it's done because you have nothing more to say. When you come to the end, it's because you've answered all the questions you've raised and no more questions occur to you. And you conclude that you've come to the end.

SHAPIRO: Philip Roth speaking to Robert Siegel here on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED in 2006. Roth died yesterday at 85.

(SOUNDBITE OF HALBERD'S "SUMMER NIGHTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.