Writer's Block

When I sit down in order to write, sometimes it’s there; sometimes it’s not. But that doesn’t bother me anymore. I tell my students there is such a thing as “writer’s block,” and they should respect it. You shouldn’t write through it. It’s blocked because it ought to be blocked, because you haven’t got it right now.


My prescription for writer’s block is to face the fact that there is no such thing. It’s an invented condition, a literary version of the judicial “abuse excuse.” Writing well is difficult, but one can always write something. And then, with a lot of work, make it better. It’s a question of having enough will and ambition, not of hoping to evade this mysterious hysteria people are always talking about.


If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn’t expecting it.



When I have trouble writing, I step outside my studio into the garden and pull weeds until my mind clears-I find weeding to be the best therapy there is for writer's block.



I’ve never been blocked, but there are times when the words won’t come. When I feel dried-up I deal myself a few games of solitaire at my desk. I’ve been doing it all my life. Sometimes I play 10 or 20 games, sometimes 40. Once, I played for three straight days. The important thing is not to leave the work place.



Sometimes when I'm stuck I go to an office building, ride the elevator and stare at the lawyers, stock brokers, and accountants in their power suits. Just the thought of having to wear pantyhose all day and work in a building where I can't open the windows usually makes me grateful to come home and write. If that doesn't work, I forbid myself to write for a week. The subconscious doesn't like being told what to do and it frequently becomes inventive after an enforced vacation. Other times, I put aside what I'm blocked on and work on something else. Shopping, of course, helps.



Never rely on shopping as a cure for writer’s block and/or depression. It’s not a good escape but a trap that clutters up your life with possessions that require attention and care.



Eat massive amounts of high-calorie food. It won't get you writing, but now you'll have bathos knocked.



If you’re afraid you can’t write, the answer is to write. Every sentence you construct adds weight to the balance pan. If you’re afraid of what other people will think of your efforts, don’t show them until you write your way beyond your fear. If writing a book is impossible, write a chapter. If writing a chapter is impossible, write a page. If writing a page is impossible, write a paragraph. If writing a paragraph is impossible, write a sentence. If writing even a sentence is impossible, write a word and teach yourself everything there is to know about that word and then write another, connected word and see where their connection leads. A page a day is a book a year.



The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your head, until gradually there is a calm and creative day.



Copy out the first thirty pages of an obscure 19th century French novel and then carry on with your own text. Later, go back and rewrite the first thirty pages. Tolstoy tried this with Anna Karenina and it worked.