Writer's block is a myth used to explain the creative lapses in talent of the average and above average writer. Leave it to writers to come up with such an excuse - really, a mysterious "block" that comes out of nowhere taking your talent with it - and who knows for how long. I knew a gentleman in Cambridge who once wrote a well-received novel that even the NYT liked. Unusual for a first novel. He never wrote another book in is his life. Why? Well, he said he was "blocked." But I thought he was intimidated. J.D. Salinger was said to be "blocked" among other things. He sat in that house for decades apparently doing nothing. Maybe he wrote a book and hid it somewhere. maybe he wrote fragments of books, maybe he wrote books in his head but didn't bother to write them down. Or maybe, just maybe, he convinced himself that he was suffering from the dreaded, but make-believe "writer's block."
Beat writer Jack Kerouac never had a writer's block. Jack would say things like "Write what your want bottomless for bottomless mind," or "Work with pithy eye out , swimming in language.." Really, with a mind like that, one could never be blocked. In fact so unblocked was Kerouac that he couldn't type on a single sheet of paper. He needed a five - ten pound roll of paper fitted to his typewriter. With the roll paper, he could knock off seven or eight chapters of a novel before he had to change rolls. This way he never had to think about writing he could just let it rip with that bluesy and hip, almost abstract or poetic prose with the typewriter bouncing on the table and Jack with the cigarette dangling, always writing with a drink somewhere in his vicinity. And Kerouac could write for days. He could write a perfectly good sentence that wasn't a run-on , but was a page long. There is evidence he wrote On the Road with this kind of set up. Kerouac, if he hadn't fallen in love with booze, might have written an entire library during his life. He was a writer who couldn't stop. He would write until he dropped, and if he had a bad patch of words along the way, he'd just keep going, figuring he could always go back later and straighten it out.
Poor Jack though. Always with the alcohol and never quite through for the night. He was loved by a generation of anti-war hippies whom he dreaded. Kerouac was a patriotic, working-class guy, who was proud of his roots in the Massachusetts mill town of Lowell. People from his generation, the so-called "Greatest Generation," didn't buy his books. Baby boomer's bought them. They made Kerouac famous. He didn't care. He just wanted to write. Unfortunately, he gave himself over to booze and died young in 1969 while he was living with his mother in St. Petersburg, Florida. But he never had writer's block.
Ernest Hemingway suffered from writer's block. He once told an interviewer that the most frightening thing he had ever encountered was a "a blank sheet of paper." This from the man whom gave us The Sun Also Rises, A farewell to Arms, For Whom the Bell Tolls, The Old Man and the Sea ,among many other fine novels. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in literature in 1954. But only seven years later he took his own life after repeated bouts of severe depression, and shock treatment. A good part of this had to do with a writer's block. He couldn't write or didn't want to.It didn't help that he was an alcoholic. His advice for those suffering from writer's block was "Always stop when you are going good. And don't think about it or worry about it the next day." His macho sentimentality was not loved by everyone, but his skills were profound. My sister always said there should be an SAT question that went something like this: "Freud is to psychology as Hemingway is to literature.
so busy with his novel
he couldn't find
the time to grovel.
- M. Lindsey
Norman Mailer sometimes got stuck on the writer's block, but like everything in his life he simply attacked back. Writer's block would not stop Norman Mailer. In fact, he'd walk the earth for more than 80 years producing excellent books and saying what was on his mind whether you liked it or not. Maybe he'd get drunk and punch someone out. I would read his books, pages so full of facts they were falling off the edges, a sort of Noam Chomsky, but stoned. Wonderful books. Norman should be judged on his books. Forget about the guy who might have insulted you or stepped on your foot on purpose. Norman Mailer, the writer should be judged on the quality of the books he wrote. You morons.
Did you know that Mailer had a friendship going with Kurt Vonnegut? Well, it probably wouldn't have lasted as long as it did, except that their wives were friends and liked doing things together. Mailer once explained that he figured he and Vonnegut could hang out as long as they did not talk about writing. So they talked about sports and other things less dear to their hearts.
In one instance Mailer related a time Vonnegut did talk about writing. Vonnegut said to Mailer, "Well I finished my novel today and it like to killed me." It wasn't unusual for Vonnegut to talk like he just woke up in Indiana.
"Oh. Kurt, you always say that when you finish a book," his wife replied.
At which point Vonnegut, who probably knew something about writer's block, said, "Whenever I finish a book I do say it, and it is always true, and it gets more true. And this last one like to killed me more than any."
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[cbs-clip-player content_id=c0822f35-2ceb-4d88-9857-a7d600ca59ba size=large station=487] John Mayer