Gus Cuddy | Essays:

Live -> read -> write

09 November 2018

Some notes on the creative process:

When Junot Diaz was asked for advice for aspiring writers (after giving a grumpy answer), he responded: “Read more than you write, live more than you read.”

I think this is really good advice for creating work, and a good reminder to get out and live.

(A great playwright I just worked with yesterday also had similar advice: don’t go to undergrad for playwriting. Instead, go out and live and experience things and talk to people, real people.)

Then, you should be reading: reading even more than you write.

Annie Baker echoes this advice, that the living – in all its ups and downs, wasted days, shittiness and realness – is so good for your art:

That’s something I tell my students: This period is so useful. Being sad and going out on terrible dates and having horrible breakups and then having a shitty job and then quitting the shitty job and then wondering if you shouldn’t have quit the shitty job and then getting a new shitty job that you get fired off of after six weeks, it’s all so good for your writing. I remember a few years ago was when I was just writing a play and not doing anything else in my life, and I wasn’t cheating on anything with playwriting, and suddenly I was like, “I don’t know if I can do this. I think maybe I have to be cheating on the thing I’m supposed to be doing with playwriting.”

She also is a writer who doesn’t write every day – instead, she reads and reads until she needs to write:

The stage picture comes out of the books I was reading, and then leads to more books which leads to more books. I feel with writing, so much of the time, I don’t know how to tap in and be spontaneous and alive on a daily basis. So I don’t write every day. I’m just not disciplined, and I can’t be in the groove most of the time. I feel like I’m in the groove ten days a year or something. But with reading and research, I feel like I have this incredibly instinctive pleasure-driven process that ends up working out for me and inspiring me. It’s almost like a maze, like I know eventually I’ll hit the heart of my play if I read enough books.

It also is similar to Paul Thomas Anderson’s advice: “When writing ain’t working, research. When research ain’t working, sleep.”

Remember, the best writing and art comes from the unconscious – it’s so important to have processes beyond just trying to force something that isn’t happening.

So you could sum it up like: live, read, sleep. Then write and repeat.