A reader invited me to post “some words on your working life as a critic.” To this end, he submitted the following questionnaire:
Does having to write about something ever diminish the pleasure you take from it? No, but knowing I have to write about it first thing tomorrow morning sometimes does. Taking notes at a performance takes away part of the fun, so I try to do it as infrequently as possible.
Do you read, listen to music, sitting, lying down? I read lying down and listen sitting up.
Do you write in the morning, evening? Full, empty stomach? Take coffee? I usually start writing shortly before the deadline. Prior to Monday, I generally managed not to write at night (at least not very often), but that went out the window as soon as this blog went live. Stomach contents don’t seem to matter. Except for the odd mocha frappuccino, I rarely drink coffee other than to be sociable.
Do you ever work in an, ahem, merry state? Surely you jest, sir!
Do you worry, prolific as you are, that you won’t get all around your subject? Jeepers, why worry? Nobody ever gets all around his subject, least of all me.
Do you, did you ever consciously imitate any style? Oh, Lord, yes. In fact, I once wrote an essay about this very subject, which will be reprinted in A Terry Teachout Reader, out next spring from Yale University Press.
Who are your critical influences? Originally Edmund Wilson, more recently Edwin Denby, Joseph Epstein, Clement Greenberg, and Fairfield Porter. I would be happy to be a tenth as good as any of them.
What do you try to do in a review? Not to be cute, but I try to write pieces that are (A) cleanly written enough not to give my editors any unnecessary trouble and (B) personal enough that they sound like me talking. Beyond that, I leave it to the muse.
Do you have an idea of what you’re going to write before you do it? Usually, but rarely more than the title and the first few sentences. On occasion, though, I just sit down and wing it. (So far as I know, by the way, there’s no correlation between the length of time I spend writing a piece and its quality.)
How many words a day? It depends on what’s due. If absolutely necessary, I can manage 2,500 polished words between sunrise and bedtime. In the immortal words of James Burnham, “If there’s no alternative, there’s no problem.” But I try not to write that much in a single day. It’s not exactly compatible with having a life.
Do you revise? Endlessly–but I hope it doesn’t show.