I had a difficult time coming up with this week’s subject. I wasted much of the afternoon making one start after another, none of which materialized into anything.
Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary defines “writer’s block” as: “A temporary, psychological inhibition that prevents a writer from proceeding with a piece.” It’s an occasional condition familiar to every professional author I’ve ever known. Apparently it isn’t that uncommon even among nonprofessionals because some of my friends and acquaintances have told me they sometimes have a difficult time answering e-mail or snail-mail, especially if a rather lengthy reply is required.
The solutions to this problem are many and varied, depending, of course, on the individual. Some people use exercise; that is, they set the literary project aside and go for a walk, or a jog, or a swim or, as is the prerogative of one fellow I know, pump iron, and discover that upon concluding the workout, be it 15 minutes or a few hours, they can write again.
Sometimes I light a candle, fold my legs under me, and lapse into an Oooommm state. Meditation tends to clear your head of all the clutter and improve your concentration, thereby allowing one to think more clearly and perhaps spark a creative idea or two.
Booze is also a popular solution, particularly among professionals. Hemingway would get drunk. His more celebrated binges would last a day or two and, on rare occasions, an entire week.
On the other hand, Fitzgerald seemed to suffer from a perpetual bout of blockage and, since he also chose alcohol as the solution, this meant he was more or less drunk all the time. The same was true of Bukowski, who was actually a drunk before he became an author. Hunter Thompson would have us believe he was ripped 24/7, if not with booze then with anything else that came down the pike.
In this respect, Jack Kerouac is a striking example. He frequently complained about periods of writer’s block that would last for two or three weeks – and he’d sustain drunken sprees that would last just as long. Then he’d drop a hit of amphetamine and work nonstop for 72 hours, turning out such classic, incomprehensible gibberish as “The Subterraneans.” (As Truman Capote pointed out, Kerouac wasn’t really writing, he was just typing.)
Some local artists – not just writers, but artists in general – have told me they find sex quite helpful in this regard. There’s nothing new about this. Well-known authors like Henry Miller and Norman Mailer have promoted sex as a solution to many mental problems, not just writer’s block. In Miller’s case, sex was not only the answer to his blockage, it eventually became the dominant subject of his writings.
Personally, I tend to rely on tequila. Writer’s block has never been much of a problem for me, but when it happens, cactus juice – often no more than a single shot – usually takes care of the hang-up.
Of course, it’s true that I’ll sometimes jump up from the computer in a fit of hysteria and hurry into town to get half-plastered. But this has nothing to do with writer’s block; rather, it’s just a desperate need to get out of my head and out of this funny house.
And now it appears I’ve discovered yet another way to overcome writer’s block: simply write about writer’s block.