How to Avoid Writer’s Block
If you are pondering a blank computer screen (or a blank piece of paper), you'll never get started.
I am reminded of the great wit, writer and actor of the 1930s and '40s, Robert Benchley (1889-1945), grandfather of Peter (Jaws) Benchley.
One day under deadline and with a severe hangover, Benchley was sitting in his room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York. He stared and stared at a blank piece of paper in his typewriter. To get started he typed the word "The."
Benchley arose from his chair, walked to the window and glanced at his watch. The gang of regulars was assembling for a splendid lunch of booze and bon mots at the legendary Round Table downstairs. Among them: Dorothy Parker, Harpo Marx, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, New Yorker editor Harold Ross and others.
Benchley returned to the typewriter and stared at "The" for a long time. In a burst of inspiration he completed the sentence. It read, "The hell with it."
Whereupon he took the elevator down to join the party.
A New Yorker Writer's Letter to a Distraught Former Student
Here's a splendid bit of advice:
Dear Joel: You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that's where you've been getting. What do you do? You write, 'Dear Mother.' And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whimper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five-inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat. You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can. And then you go back and delete the 'Dear Mother' and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear. —John McPhee, Draft No. 4, Replacing the words in boxes.
Ted Nicholas on Getting Started
Ted Nicholas (born Nick Peterson) is one of the great entrepreneurs, publishers, teachers and writers in the world of direct marketing. Here's his advice to copywriters and, by extension, to all writers: