He was talking about writing for television, more specifically Treme, his series about New Orleans, but David Simon still expressed exactly how I feel about the writing process:
I’m not one of those people who likes writing. I just have to do it. I can write in a coffee shop, in an office, on an airplane. I’ll use whatever I can find to write on. I can’t write with music on. My mind follows the music and doesn’t concentrate on what I’m doing. Sometimes I can write if the music is classical or jazz, but if it has vocals, I have to turn it off.
I tend to pace around and think about scenes, I tend to take a nap in the middle of the day. I tend to struggle to stay at the computer. Or I’ll stay at the computer and research a point heavily. I’ll be Googling some history of some rhythm-and-blues artist, trying to find out something that I can use in dialogue. I’ll flail around for an hour and a half to get two small phrases that I’ll end up cutting anyway. It’s not really dawdling, because all that time thinking about it, worrying about it, is me coming up with better ideas or throwing out bad ideas. And then when the script is finally due I’ll be spitting it out as fast as I can.
I can’t listen to music either and I have no idea how others can. I need near total silence in fact, or just a dull roar of background noise. If too many people are talking, I get distracted eavesdropping, getting involved in their conversations, etc. So, I wear earplugs.
Googling things for interminable periods of time: yes, yes and YES.
Spitting it out as fast as you can when you’re on deadline: I think all reporters can heartily nod their heads to this one.
And here’s Simon on writer’s block:
That fear is probably latent in every writer. You stare at the page for the first time and if you’re honest at all, you know there’s a little part of you screaming, “But what if I can’t do it anymore?” And then you start writing, and usually the first things are not great, and then you try again and eventually you’re off and running. But every time, there’s that first moment of vague terror.
Amen, brother. I will now go stare at some blank pages before somehow willing myself to start writing.