Writer’s Desk: Don’t Be Afraid of the Block

hitchhikersguideEvery writer gets blocked. The words don’t flow. Or they do, and you simply can’t stand them. Nothing works out.

But you have to work through it. There is no other option. Except, well, giving up writing. And since no writer ever wants to become a civilian, when the block sits in your head like a slug of granite, there’s nothing for it but to chisel your way around it.

Douglas Adams had one of the more infamous (and consistent) cases of writer’s block ever witnessed. It became one of his running jokes: “I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.” After spending seven years not writing a contracted manuscript called Starship Titanic, he called up his old Monty Python writing buddy Terry Jones and asked him whether he could help out. Sure, Jones replied, how much time do you have left? Five weeks, Adams replied.

In a more famous case, Adams spent years not writing the fourth Hitchhiker’s book, So Long and Thanks for All the Fish. His publisher, Sonny Mehta, finally came up with a solution: Lock Adams in a hotel room and not let him out until he produced pages. Mehta kept him on a schedule—a swim in the morning, write, room service lunch, write, dinner around the corner, sleep, repeat—that went on for days, Mehta said:

Douglas would sit down at this small desk with a typewriter, and I would sit in an armchair at 45 degrees from that, my back facing him, and I’d read a manuscript. I’d wait for the sound of those fingers on his typewriter keys–which sometimes would kind of happen, sporadically, and then there’d be long periods of silence, and I’d turn around to check him out and see that he hadn’t croaked on me or something. He’d be sitting up, staring out the window at this roof terrace. And every now and then I’d say, ‘How’s it going?’ And he’d say, ‘Fine–fine.’ And you’d hear paper being crumpled and thrown into a dustbin.

Each of us have to figure out our anti-blocking tools. Because we don’t all have a big contract to fulfill and Mehta there to help us do it.

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