Writer’s block. Page fright. Creator’s cramp. Pen freeze. There are many fitting names given to the crushing inertia sometimes suffered by those with a need to arrange words, but it’s all the work of the same despicable beast. For approximately *slowly counts fingers* my entire adult life I have been regularly visited by the Creativity Vampire—more often than not, perilously near deadline—and yet, despite us being so damn close, I am yet to find a solution to its leaden villainy beyond just sighing a lot, sitting it out, and reminding myself that I am by no means alone.
I’ve got a natural writer’s block as big as the Ritz and as stubborn as a grease spot on a gabardine suit.
Ralph Ellison | Letter to Saul Bellow, 26 Feb 1958 | Selected Letters of Ralph Ellison
THIS IS INSTEAD OF TELEPHONING BECAUSE I CANT LOOK YOU IN THE VOICE. I SIMPLY CANNOT GET THAT THING DONE YET NEVER HAVE DONE SUCH HARD NIGHT AND DAY WORK NEVER HAVE SO WANTED ANYTHING TO BE GOOD AND ALL I HAVE IS A PILE OF PAPER COVERED WITH WRONG WORDS. CAN ONLY KEEP AT IT AND HOPE TO HEAVEN TO GET IT DONE. DONT KNOW WHY IT IS SO TERRIBLY DIFFICULT OR I SO TERRIBLY INCOMPETANT.
Dorothy Parker | Telegram to her editor, 28 Jun 1945 | Letters of Note: Vol. 2
I am finding it hard to get my novel started. I suffer from stylistic abscesses; and sentences keep itching without coming to a head. I am fretting, scratching. What a heavy oar the pen is, and what a strong current ideas are to row in!
Gustave Flaubert | Letter to Louise Colet, 23 Oct 1851 | The Letters of Gustave Flaubert
I’m in the midst of writing my BOOK PROPOSAL [The American Way of Birth]. Severe LABOR PAINS, now coming about once every five minutes. Am trying to induce labor with massive input of telephone calls & letters to Loved Ones (like you). It may have to be a C-section birth, editors with their bloodied knives (red pencils, in the context); or at the very least, a painful forceps delivery in which the wretched book is dragged from the screaming author with huge hooks.
Jessica Mitford | Letter to Constancia Romilly, 21 Mar 1989 | Decca: The Letters of Jessica Mitford
I think that any writer who ever lived, who was any good at all, has had long long periods of precisely the same sort of strain and struggle that both you and I are going through; I only comfort myself (and God knows it seems like forlorn comfort at times) that it seems to be true that often such periods of doubt and thrashing around eventually produce the best work. They often eventually produce the best work because it is during such periods of struggle (when one is long unpublished or goes through long periods of tortured sterility) that a writer really suffers. A lot of crap has been written about suffering, and the value of it, and in about two seconds I’ll shut up, but every now and then, even in the midst of my most dried-up, sterile depressions, I have a crazy confused moment of joy in the knowledge that anything good I ever did seemed at one time or another impossible of attaining, that it was a hard struggle in getting it out, that it seemed at times to be crushed under the weight of my doubts about it, but if it happened to be good at all it was because of the doubts, and perhaps a little suffering.
William Styron | Letter to Mac Hyman, 15 Aug 1953 | Selected Letters of William Styron
For Christ sake write and don’t worry about what the boys will say nor whether it will be a masterpiece nor what. I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket.
Ernest Hemingway | Letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald, 28 May 1934 | Letters of Note: Vol. 1
As I recall, Milton wrote a sonnet upon becoming twenty-three years old. Not only did he write a sonnet, but the damned thing has become immortal. Besides this, he’d written plenty of immortal stuff before he ever became twenty-three. Take the “Hymn on the Morning of Christ’s Nativity,” written, I believe, at the age of nineteen. Yet I, a dull and muddy-mettled rascal... can write nothing.
Anthony Hecht | Letter to his parents, 17 Jan 1946 | Selected Letters of Anthony Hecht
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