Get Up, Drink Coffee, Waste Time, Finish Novel
Jonathan Ames is a writer, boxer, storyteller and, most recently, the creator of the HBO series, "Bored to Death." His books include "The Extra Man" and "Wake Up Sir" and the collection of essays, "The Double Life is Twice as Good." Ames is a frequent performer at the storytelling group, The Moth and has appeared in boxing tournaments as "The Herring Wonder." A graduate of Princeton and Columbia Universities, he lives in Brooklyn.
Question: What is your creative schedule?
Jonathan Ames: I don’t have much of a routine. I’m a slightly disorganized person. I tend to resist routine. It’s been a while since I worked on a novel. When I did and let’s say I wasn’t having – I often had to teach no matter what, but luckily most of my teaching would take place at night. So, it was mess around in the morning, drink coffee, read the newspaper, come back – most of my writing career has been during the era of the e-mail. Do email, waste time, and then start looking over what you’d done the day before, feel a little bit less afraid, and then work for a few hours with breaks and lying down.
Now most of the writing I do, whether it be for magazines or for the TV show, “Deadline” and so maybe I have two days to write a script, or I have a day, or three days. So, then a similar routine, get up, drink coffee, read the paper, sit down, and having a deadline can work. And then you just write until you can’t write anymore and you take breaks and you know.
Question: How does the writing process differ from storytelling?
Jonathan Ames: Well yes, there are two dual things. When I sketch out a story, it’s To unlike writing because sometimes I would write it out a bit more than the headlines and that would be my way to start formulating those things that on stage I would then verbally kind of improve my description of what someone looked like, or what a moment felt like. So, in some ways, the initial crafting of the story is the same. So, I do much less performing of new material now. I tend to just do all my old material and most of my creative impulse goes into writing.
But actually performing and writing are two very different things and I’m glad that I’ve had both in my life, because performing at night was very athletic and ephemeral. I also could meet people afterwards, it was social, it was the opposite of the writer’s life. And, yes, you are responding, you see someone; something comes to you in the moment. But then it’s gone. Even it’s recorded, it’s every quite the same when you can’t see the audience, you can’t feel everything.
So, I liked it for it just being, like I said, almost athletic, almost like nature. Oh, the light was beautiful that day, but it’s gone. Oh, the performance was great that night, but it’s gone. Whereas, writing is, you’re alone and it’s very much about the sentence and you’re responding to other writers and books and you’re trying to do something in a sentence. You’re trying to make beautiful sentences as well as move people along and keep them interested.
So, it’s a much more craft – for me the writing is about the craft. How can I write a beautiful and concise sentence that gives pleasure and entertains.
Recorded on: November 4, 2009
Jonathan Ames takes the casual approach to writing, punctuating his time in front of the screen with periods of "messing around," lying down, coffee drinking, and efforts to feel a bit less afraid.
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