TITLE: Tom Wolfe on Writer's Block AUTHOR: Eugene Wallingford DATE: October 02, 2016 10:03 AM DESC: ----- BODY: In the Paris Review's The Art of Fiction No. 123, Tom Wolfe tells how he learned about writer's block. Wolfe was working at Esquire magazine, and his first editor, Byron Dobell, had assigned him to write an article about car customizers. After doing all his research, he was totally blocked.
I now know what writer's block is. It's the fear you cannot do what you've announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn't worth doing. That's a rarer form. In this case I suddenly realized I'd never written a magazine article before and I just felt I couldn't do it. Well, Dobell somehow shamed me into writing down the notes that I had taken in my reporting on the car customizers so that some competent writer could convert them into a magazine piece. I sat down one night and started writing a memorandum to him as fast as I could, just to get the ordeal over with. It became very much like a letter that you would write to a friend in which you're not thinking about style, you're just pouring it all out, and I churned it out all night long, forty typewritten, triple-spaced pages. I turned it in in the morning to Byron at Esquire, and then I went home to sleep.
Later that day, Dobell called him to say that they were deleting the "Dear Byron" at the top of the memo and running the piece. Most of us need more editing than that after we write anything, but... No matter; first you have to write something. Even if it's the product of a rushed all-nighter, just to get an obligation off our table. When I write, and especially when I program, my reluctance to start usually grows out of a different sort of fear: the fear that I won't be able to stop, or want to. Even simple programming tasks can become deep holes into which we fall. I like that feeling, but I don't have enough control of my work schedule most days to be able to risk disappearing like that. What I could use is an extra dose of audacity or impetuosity. Or maybe a boss like Byron Dobell. -----