How did you become a writer?
You don’t “become” a writer. You either are one and get better at it, or you aren’t one and learn to hire one and “just fix it a little.” The first thing I remember writing was “I’m running away from home” notes. My mother, who was a school teacher, used to grade them and hand them back to me. Writing was a chore throughout high school. The first time I enjoyed it was when I was a college freshman and the instructor not only gave me an “A” for my character sketch, she said we ought to have it published. We never did, but it was the first time anybody had ever said anything good about my writing. There’s a lesson there.
Name your writing influences (writers, books, teachers, etc.).
My writing influences are as eclectic as the work I have done. I love Twain, Faulkner, Steinbeck, Angelou, and Saroyan. I learned conciseness from Ellison (Harlan) and Mcdonald (Gregory); humor from Price (Roger), Douglas (Jack), and Gelbart (Larry). It was a newspaperman named Donald Cragin who told me that the trick of writing is putting a blank piece of paper in the typewriter and not stopping until it’s full, and it was screenwriter Stirling Silliphant who taught me that a script should take as long to write as it will to shoot -- in other words, efficiency and professionalism. But my most important influence is the business affairs person who also writes. Checks.
When and where do you write?
I write on a desktop computer. Hate laptops and touch pads. My handwriting is so bad even pharmacists can’t read it. I used to write on a 1940s Royal upright manual typewriter and y’know what? I think my writing was better because I really had to think first about what I was typing because retyping was a bitch.
What are you working on now?
My forthcoming book is Final Cuts: The Last Films of 50 Great Directors from BearManor Media in February of 2013. It’s about the last films of 50 great directors. Next up is a biography of a close friend who also happens to be one of the world’s foremost writers.
Have you ever suffered from writer’s block?
I’ve never been unable to write, but I have occasionally been unable to write well, which is just as bad.
What’s your advice to new writers?
Larry Gelbart used to say that the first advice to writers is to take solitaire off your computer. My advice is threefold: first, write about yourself and then stick it in a drawer because nobody gives a shit about you yet. Second, use that same drawer to store the first draft of anything you write that comes too easily, then go back two days later and ask yourself why. Third, learn spelling and grammar because no matter how well you write, if your mechanics are lousy, so is your writing.
Nat Segaloff started off as a movie publicist, then quit and become a journalist/critic, TV producer, teacher, and film historian. He has published something like ten or eleven books.