Tom Perrotta on His Creative Process
Thomas R. Perrotta is an American novelist and screenwriter best known for his novels Election (1998) and Little Children (2004), both of which were made into critically acclaimed, Golden Globe-nominated films. Perrotta co-wrote the screenplay for the 2006 film version of Little Children with Todd Field, for which he received an Academy Award nomination for Best Adapted Screenplay.
Perrotta: I’m a pathetically regular and moderate person. No, I don’t get up at 5 and work really hard, you know. I get up at 6 or 7 and don’t really get started on my work ‘til 9:30 or 10. You know, I have a couple of kids and, you know, there’s just a kind of morning ritual of getting them off to school, and so my work day is basically the school day, that’s when the house is quiet. I think what I love about really being engaged in the work is that it does tend to expand, to fill my time. So, I might stop working at you know, 2 in the afternoon and maybe I’ll go for a run or for a bike ride or something, but my mind will be, you know, processing what I’m thinking, and very often, you know, I wake up in the middle of the night and I keep a pad by the bed and, you know, make these notes that either make a lot of sense in the morning or make no sense whatsoever. But I’d loved that feeling, and I’m trying now to get into something new and I’m not quite there. I’m having… had like a sort of critical mass of, you know, I haven’t reached the point of critical mass where I understand what I’m doing and [what’s] filling my space and so I’m feeling a little bit underemployed at the moment. But when things are really going it just really fills up, you know, you live with that novel for a long time and I do… I'm hoping I’ll be back into that place soon because it really does make your life feel kind of full, and it’s a very interesting thing when you’re pretty far along in the novel. There are these two competing feelings. There’s a sense of, like, you know, being really… a real feeling of urgency, like I want to be done, you know. This is hard work. I’ve been doing it and I’m tired. And also kind of, you know, a feeling of sadness because when it’s done it’s done. At least for me it just gets put away. I mean, I would read from my book and talk about my book afterwards, that’s an entirely different process. I’m sort of analyzing it then or experiencing it from outside but when it’s sort of happening it’s engrossing in a way that, you know, not too many other things are over a long period of time, too.
Question: Do you want to write in other forms?
Perrotta: I think whatever dramatic inclinations I might have, the screenplay definitely, you know, fills those impulses. I write stories and, in fact, this past year I’ve written a couple of stories and I really loved the form, it… I struggle with it, though. I feel like, you know, it’s just a different thing for me. The great thing about a novel, you live with it and your characters can deepen. I think the story, you know, you really need to see it whole in a short time and I just have a hard time doing that. So the novel’s a much more congenial form for me. I never wrote any poetry. I do write some nonfiction. I like writing about film and music if I can, and occasionally about politics, and I would like to do more reporting. I think it’s really good for a novelist to do that, but it doesn’t come naturally to me. I have trouble taking to strangers.
Tom Perrotta shares his writing schedule.