David Duchovny: I Tackle Writer’s Block From Behind
A Conversation with the Author of Truly Like Lightning
David Duchovny is the author of four books, including Holy Cow: A Modern-Day Dairy Tale and Miss Subways; his new novel is Truly Like Lightning. He is a singer-songwriter, screenwriter, and director, as well as a television, stage, and screen actor, most known for playing FBI agent Fox Mulder on the television series The X-Files, which earned him a Golden Globe award. He lives in New York and Los Angeles.
Literary Hub: Who do you most wish would read your book? (your boss, your childhood bully, Michelle Obama, etc.)
David Duchovny: I wish my father could read my books. He died before I published my first novel, and he himself published his first novel at the age of 73. He loved writing and respected writers most of all so I think we could sit and just be proud of each other, that we had joined the club. I think we’d search for tics of style that we shared, almost like literary DNA, that were somehow passed down from him to me, like eye color or height. I remember he critiqued a book report of mine back in fifth grade. I thought I’d written a masterpiece and he didn’t. I got so angry, but I think I felt ashamed that I had failed in the arena my dad most cared about. I like to think I’d accept his critiques with a little more equanimity now. Truth is—I would love to get any word from him now, any word at all. But I like to think he’d be proud, that he’d rub me on the top of my head and say, “well done.” And most of all, that he’d want to talk about it and that I made him laugh and cry and think.
LH: What time of day do you write?
DD: I write from 4:30am to 8:30am; if it’s going well, I’ll keep going, but rarely past noon. When I’m in the middle of a book, I often wake up earlier and will start writing in the wee wee hours because my mind won’t let me go back to sleep. I like to write in the dark when the world is quiet and still asleep. I like to think I’m getting a jump on everyone else, that maybe I’m the only one in the world writing right now. It appeals to the Protestant work ethic my mother raised me in. I write fast and I write hard. After lunch, I’m pretty worthless. It’s like with the daylight hours, the magic time is gone. I revise at night. Writing and revision are different moods, different parts of the brain, different times of day.
LH: How do you tackle writers block?
DD: I tackle writer’s block from behind.
LH: What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?
DD: Best writing advice was couched in the best movie making advice I ever got. A director friend of mine came to a screening of something I’d directed and wrote and he said, “people go to the movies to care about something. They make plans, they make dates, they pay babysitters and leave their homes and get in their cars—all because they want to care about something. Your job is to give them something to care about in the first five minutes. Doesn’t have to be a big deal, could be anything—will the old lady make it across the street, will the kid get an A on his paper, will the alien get back home. Give them something to care about in the first few minutes or you’ll lose them and no matter what, you won’t be able to get them back. You broke the contract. They came out to care and you broke the contract.” I think it’s exactly the same for writers. Just substitute 20 pages for 5 minutes, give them something to care about right away.
LH: What was the first book you fell in love with?
DD: First book I ever loved was The Open Man: A Championship Diary by David DeBusschere—I loved the Knicks, I loved basketball, I loved DeBusschere. Nuff said.
Truly Like Lightning by David Duchovny is available now via Farrar, Straus and Giroux.