Author Joshua Cohen answers the questions of the ‘Ask the Paris Review‘ section of the November 12th ‘the Paris Review Daily.’ The question:
I have been unable to write for the past three weeks, bordering on a month, and it hurts. More than the act of writing ever did. It hurts. More than the pain I no doubt cause others with poor literary attempts, but I’ll have to go selfish on this one, even if it is poor writing, I’d rather that than just blinking. So, do you have any tips or a potent elixir to kick writer’s block? Thank you. —Ayat Ghanem
Cohen answers that there is no real solution to writer’s block because science has not catalogued and categorized the multiple variations on the block. Solutions to writer’s block are unique to the infected.
Thing is, there’s no single cure for the Block (this is what serious writers call it; cf. the Clap, the Syph, the Herp). And the reason there’s no single cure is that there’s no single type of Block. The Block can be daylong, or weeklong; it can last for years (Truman Capote) or decades (Ralph Ellison, Henry Roth). I can’t think of any other writers just now.
Cohen’s advice is simplified to ‘don’t fight it and apply your time to other skills.’ The skills, you ask?
You might take comfort from the fact that while writing can’t be forced, time spent not writing can be put to good use. Try acquiring other skills, like rolling cigarettes or reading. Learn to differentiate between scotch and bourbon. Learn the differences among corn whiskey, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Learn what, if anything, separates whisky from whiskey. Ayat, take comfort from the fact that a writer does not always have to write—and not all scotch comes from Scotland.
Don’t expect whiskey and cigarettes to rid the fingers of that stubborn inability to flow a narrative. Cue narcotics and DMT. Last piece of advice:
Finally, Ayat, don’t discount the two greatest cures for the Block: plagiarism and suicide. Good luck!