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Classic Ways to Conquer Writer’s Block

by Danielle Magnuson

 


Tags: Victor Hugo, Freidrich von Schiller, Demosthenes, writer’s block, literature, Mental Floss, Danielle Magnuson,

Rotten ApplesThe September/October 2011 issue of Mental Floss magazine is worth picking up for its “6 Freakishly Effective Ways to Court the Muse” alone. The article offers some excellent tips for conquering writer’s block, provided, of course, that you have a few rudimentary resources at hand:

A Faithful Servant 

In the tradition of The Hunchback of Notre Dame novelist Victor Hugo, you could order your servants not to give you clothes until you’ve finished a chapter. Hugo found complete nudity—in the privacy of a room furnished simply with a desk, pen, and paper—to be his most inspiring method of getting work done. That is, until later years, when he found it even more inspiring to pour a bucket of water over his head and then work in an outdoor glass cage, standing up and writing at a podium. A bit eccentric, you say? How long did it take you to finish that last story? Get thee a servant and a glass cage!

A Fresh Fruit Budget 

Friedrich von Schiller, otherwise known as Fritz, is a German playwright considered by some to be second only to Shakespeare. He also wrote the poem “Ode to Joy,” which later became the basis for Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Fritz’s tried-and-true method of conquering writer’s block was stuffing his desk drawer with stinky, rotten apples. According to Ethan Trex and Linda Rodriguez McRobbie at Mental Floss, “The poet insisted that he needed the smell of the putrifying fruit in the air to write.” If you’re not entirely convinced, consider this: A 1985 Yale study found a correlation between the smell of spiced apples and decreased panic attacks.

Hair Clippers 

Demosthenes, a Greek speechwriter in the 4th century BC, had a simple trick to keeping himself home, focused, and at the writing desk. He’d shave half his head. That kept him sequestered and writing for at least a couple of months. Because, you know, it would be unthinkable to go about in ancient Greece among the other statesmen with a goofy hairdo.

For the other three tips (hint: they involve dogs, nemeses, and coffins), pick up the latest issue of Mental Floss.

Source: Mental Floss (article not available online)  

Image by alison e dunn, licensed under Creative Commons. 

brett james
10/8/2011 5:32:36 PM

While the glass box is a bit extreme in these modern times, I think the category of this particular cure could be called 'outside pressure.' Many writers (myself included) hate to tell people about our work because it inevitably involves being asked for 'progress reports' every time we run into that person. But that dreading also encourages you to be prepared. I myself work in public places, like coffee shops and restaurants, and I make sure that everyone there knows that I'm working on my next novel. This adds a threat: if they catch me goofing off, I won't look like much of a writer. Much like, if you tell everyone that you're on a diet, you're less likely to order a heavy meal (at least where you might get caught.) Brett James, author of The Deadfall Project ( thedeadfallproject.com )