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How Toosday: four tips from Philip Roth to improve your writing

Estimated read time: 3 minutes

Following the news of Philip Roth’s death last week at the age of 85, it only seemed right to pay tribute to him with another instalment of our series of tips about writing from famous writers.

Check out the rest of our fledgling series of tips about writing, by famous writers

Roth won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1997 novel American Pastoral and he was well known for provocative explorations of American identity and regularly drawing on personal experience in his writing.

We’ve dug around and found some of his best tips and comments about his craft – hopefully they’ll be of use and inspiration to you, whatever type of writing you’re attempting.

Be prepared to fail

According to Roth, writing is a daily frustration – a daily humiliation even. He described as being ‘just like baseball’; no, not incredibly dull, but something in which you will fail two thirds of the time.

With that, if your first draft doesn’t hit the mark, don’t worry…you’ll get there.

Have some darned patience

Back in 1987, Roth was talking about writing and he labelled it as a ‘nightmare’. He pointed to the amount of repetition involved in the work and said that one skill that every writer needs it the ability to sit still in the deeply uneventful business.

In fact, he went even further…

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

So, y’know, chill out and sit still!

Have some edge

Obviously, there will be certain lines you probably can’t cross when you’re crafting for work, but that doesn’t mean you can’t ruffle a few feathers along the way. Roth wasn’t concerned about censorship – he wrote about masturbating in liver – and he wasn’t worried about who he pissed off on the way, to the point where many saw him as a self-hating Jew, given how often he revealed that community’s curious foibles.

The point is, don’t worry about what people might think – surely you’d prefer to get some sort of reaction, rather than a shrug of the shoulders?

Keep going

Just as every coach of every sports team everywhere only wants to take things ‘one game at a time’, writers should – according to Roth – follow a similar approach.

Roth said that a writer’s obsession is with language, most specifically ‘finding the right next word’.

There you are. Keep plodding on and keep finding the right next word.

Check out the rest of our fledgling series of tips about writing, by famous writers

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