Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Writing Process

David Mamet

Lesson time 9:26 min

David discusses how he begins writing, the environment in which he likes to write, how he deals with writer's block, and how he looks to Hemingway for inspiration on how to begin writing.

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Topics include: Starting Writing • Writing Environment • Writer's Block


I just went up to this house in Vermont that I've been living for more than 40 years. Many kids, and dogs, and marriages, and outdoor excursions, and collecting this, and that, I had to clean it all out. And I looked at it and I thought, my god, there's no way to do this. It was the old . I don't even know where to start. So the answer is, there's no good place to start. Just jump in and muck in like the rest of us. Talking about poetry, there was a couple of books written about something called The Jailhouse Toast. I don't know if anybody knows The Jailhouse toast anymore. The Jailhouse Toasts were and are, oral tradition epic poems. The equivalent of the Iliad and the Odyssey. And they came out of the jailhouse basically, black jailhouses in the South, and became current throughout the jail system. And I encountered them with some ex-convicts I used to hang out with in Chicago in the 60s. And one of them was called The Stagger Lee Toast, and it went on forever and people would-- just like cadence in the military-- they would add to it, they would embellish it, they would throw in verses. One was called The Stagger Lee one, talk about your gambles, you ought to see my Richard Lee, shot $10,000 and he come out on a three, when you lose your money learn to lose. And The Stagger Lee was this bad man, a black man, a bad man. And it went on forever and people would embellish it. And another one was called The Signifying Monkey. Way down in the jungle where the eye can't see, signifying monkey climbed up a tree. And that would go on forever and people would add to it. And one was called The Titanic Toast, which was a toast about the Titanic, went down in 1912. And about this guy who was a black stoker, and he got on the Titanic as a stoker. And he's talking all about Jack Johnson, who was the champion of the world but they wouldn't let him in the Titanic because he was African American. And it saved his life because the Titanic went down. And so Stagger Lee has to save the captain's life and the captain is saying, check the stoker, I forgot his name, he's got to save the captain's life. And he says, oh my god, my daughter, what will the answer be? And the guy says, get your ass in the water and swim like me. So a guy came out of Harvard University in the 70s, and he wrote a history of Jailhouse Toasts with a great title, Get Your Ass in the Water and Swim Like Me. So that's my advice to you guys. I don't have a secret that I'd like to share with you about my process, because I don't know what my process is. And if I did, I wouldn't tell you for fear of, God forbid, offending it. But if you like, I'll make up something. You know how Hemingway always wrote standing up? You've heard that? Everyone's heard that right? Well, I write sitting down. You got to sit down at the damn desk, and as Hemingway sai...

About the Instructor

David Mamet sat in on a poker game full of thieves and left with the inspiration for American Buffalo. Now, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer of Glengarry Glen Ross takes you through his process for turning life’s strangest moments into dramatic art. In his writing class, he’ll teach you the rules of drama, the nuances of dialogue, and the skills to develop your own voice and create your masterpiece.

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David Mamet

The Pulitzer Prize winner teaches you everything he's learned across 26 video lessons on dramatic writing.

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