inessential by Brent Simmons

Philip Roth Interview

The Paris Review interviewed Philip Roth in 1984. He was asked how he starts work on a new book.

I often have to write a hundred pages or more before there’s a paragraph that’s alive. Okay, I say to myself, that’s your beginning, start there; that’s the first paragraph of the book. I’ll go over the first six months of work and underline in red a paragraph, a sentence, sometimes no more than a phrase, that has some life in it, and then I’ll type all these out on one page. Usually it doesn’t come to more than one page, but if I’m lucky, that’s the start of page one. I look for the liveliness to set the tone.

The Paris Review has interviews going back to the ’50s on the web.