Can writing be taught?
I think I'm the wrong kind of person to ask, because my gut instinct is to get out of people's way when they're doing work. As a writer, I'm very solitary; I can't really ask other people to do what I couldn't do myself. I don't want to share the process with anyone: I don't even show anybody something while I'm doing it. When I started, that seemed the only way. I just lock myself up in solitary--once I'm into something, I'm working all the time to get out of jail.
If you could give one piece of advice to someone writing their first play, what would it be?
This is probably subjective, but I always feel that it's not just going to happen without you sitting there with a pen in your hand. The idea that somehow the thing will come together if you go and discuss it with somebody, or you go for a nice long walk to think about it, or perhaps if you lay down for 10 minutes you'll be able to solve it ... I just feel that I have to sit in my chair, at my desk, paper in front of me, and that's the only way I'm going to make any progress. Of course it might not be true for other people--it might not even be entirely true for me--but it's what I've got used to.
Would you advise someone to read reviews?
Personally I read reviews because I'm interested by them, but they don't have utility for me. The very act of writing is so enclosed that nothing else, including critics, impinges on the experience. Everything else is shut out except for the line you're writing. If I have a central belief, it's that writing has to be a purely subjective experience; you can't keep a weather eye open for what people are saying, trying to please some ghostly presence looking over your shoulder.
-- from “Theatre? It's an indissoluble equation,” interview in The Guardian by Andrew Dickson
PLUS: Tom Stoppard, on TV, discussing his writing process (“I start by starting. It's a very odd thing because, actually, you can't start a play without knowing a lot about it. But you don't actually know anything about it until you've started it. So it's like trying to watch the light go out in the fridge...”):
PLUS PLUS: Stoppard on the sanctity of words -- “Words don't deserve that kind of malarkey. They're innocent, neutral, precise, standing for this, describing that, meaning the other, so if you look after them you can build bridges across incomprehension and chaos. But when they get their corners knocked off, they're no good any more... I don't think writers are sacred, but words are. They deserve respect. If you get the right ones in the right order, you can nudge the world a little or make a poem which children will speak for you when you're dead.” -- from The Real Thing
[Photo: Fred R. Conrad/NYTimes]