Look at the first of these two rules, and you’ll see that nothing divides authorly opinion like writer’s block. Most of these insights are either self-pitying or briskly unsympathetic – successful writers seem to believe in tough love when dispensing advice – but there is one piece of caring practical advice.
Surprisingly, that comes from Kingsley Amis.
1. JOHN CHEEVER
‘There is nothing more painful for a writer than an inability to work,’
2. TONI MORRISON
‘If you’re blocked, you probably ought to be.’
3. JOSEPH CONRAD
‘I sit down religiously every morning. I sit down for eight hours every day – and the sitting down is all. In the course of that working day of eight hours I write three sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair… it takes all my resolution and power of self-control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren’t do it for fear of waking the baby and alarming my wife.’
4. ALAN BENNETT
‘I find it harder and harder to write but then I always have found it hard to write. I never really believe in writer’s block; all writing is writer’s block.’
5. SIMON GRAY
‘Writer’s block is an obscenity invented by 20th century for writers who want an excuse for not working. Accountants don’t get accountancy block. And you never hear of window-cleaner block. Nineteenth century writers like Dickens or Trollope never got it. Writing’s a job like any other. You’re good at it or you’re not.’
6. KINGSLEY AMIS
‘The best treatment for writer’s jitters is the one mentioned by Graham Greene, seeing to it that you stopped the previous session in the middle of a chapter or scene or paragraph and so are today merely going on with something, not starting afresh.’
7. E.M. FORSTER
‘I think that I’ve stopped creating rather than become uncreative… I have never felt I’m used up. It’s rather that the scraps of imagination and observation in me won’t coalesce as they used to.’
8. PHILIP LARKIN
‘Empty-page staring again tonight. It’s maddening. I suppose people who don’t write (like the Connollies) imagine anything that can be thought can be expressed. Well, I don’t know. I can’t do it. It’s this sort of thing that makes me belittle the whole business: what’s the good of a “talent” if you can’t do it when you want to?’
9. NOEL COWARD
‘I’m bored by writers who can only write when it’s raining.’
(Your own contribution, block permitting)
Other Top Nine Writer’s Rules are to be found here.