Saturday, December 12, 2009

Writer's Block

I used to suffer from writer's block. In my twenties I wrote with a bottle of Scotch next to my small, antique Remington, to give me courage. I outgrew that crutch, but remember how it was then: change your mind or make a mistake halfway down a page and the page was ruined. Say what you will about the computer, it has made the exercise easier. The imagination is another thing. Imagination is fickle. So, on Flaubert's birthday, I raise a glass to all those who suffer from creative stoppage. He once said:

"Happy are they who don't doubt themselves and whose pens fly across the page. I myself hesitate, I falter, I become angry and fearful, my drive diminishes as my taste improves, and I brood more over an ill-suited word than I rejoice over a well-proportioned paragraph."

It took Flaubert five years to write Madame Bovary. It took me twenty years to write A Book of Ages. (I am not making literary comparisons.) Writing takes time. Successful writers (many of them owners of large oceanside homes and yachts) have compared it to different varieties of torture. Some of them drank to make it easier and the drinking ruined their lives. All of which makes writing sound like a miserable enterprise. Can I help it that I enjoy it? I avoid writer's block by having a few dozen stories running simultaneously. One of them is bound to work on a given day. Poor Flaubert. He appears twice in A Book of Ages, once writing about Emma Bovary and again in an anecdote about Nabokov, who had his Cornell students memorize Emma Bovary's hair-styles.

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