What is your writing process like? Do you write every day? Do you have a kind of totemic place or object? Or do you need to read before you write?
I try to write every morning, from about nine until twelve. It’s really rare that I would ever write more than that. I know it’s a good idea to listen to music on the way to writing, but I often just can’t quite get it together, for some reason, to do that. I try not to speak to my extended family before I write, because that just clouds everything up.
So you don’t answer the phone, you don’t do e-mail.
No, I do. I’m not, like… I don’t curate the museum of my writing. I am not at all prissy about it. Things don’t have to be a certain way, and life gets in the way all the time. When I was in college and starting to think about writing, I was driving once from Princeton to D.C., where my parents lived, and there was a sex therapist on the radio. And someone called with whatever problem, and this therapist said, “What do you do in the bedroom?” And the guy was like, “Well, watch TV, sleep, have sex, do my taxes; that’s where we change our clothes…” And the therapist said, “Don’t do anything in your bedroom except have sex and sleep. Don’t watch TV, don’t do—because all these things are going to be on your mind, and it’s going to be much harder to separate this thing that needs to be separated out.” And writing is like that. If you don’t find a way to create a wall between it and the world, the world will always win.
What helps about listening to music?
I think music is probably the most directly impactful art form. I mean, it’s the one that, within three minutes, you can find yourself screaming at the top of your lungs and banging your fists. And a novel never does that.
A poem can do that sometimes.
A poem can do that, it’s true. But not quite like that. I mean, certainly you can’t, like, turn up the volume on a poem. A poem is still always going to be a more active experience than listening to music. And there’s something about the passiveness of it that allows for whatever mood you’re in to really enter.
It works on the limbic system, in a way.
Yeah, that’s what it is. It’s a very quick way. It’s like a shot to the heart, you know.
Slate V, “Open Book: Jonathan Safran Foer”