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Ask The Paris Review

Drinking Away Writer’s Block; Favors for Friends

November 12, 2010 | by

This week “Ask The Paris Review” received a number of doozies, including a question about writer’s block. It occurred to us we should kick that one over to a real writer—ideally, a voluble one. Joshua Cohen, author of Witz and Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto, was kind enough to share his good counsel. —Lorin Stein

I have been unable to write for the past three weeks, bordering on a month, and it hurts. More than the act of writing ever did. It hurts. More than the pain I no doubt cause others with poor literary attempts, but I’ll have to go selfish on this one, even if it is poor writing, I’d rather that than just blinking. So, do you have any tips or a potent elixir to kick writer's block? Thank you. —Ayat Ghanem

Dear Ayat,

Glengoyne is a superior single-malt whisky distilled from barley that’s dried by air and not by peat smoke. This unique process results in a spirit whose oaken, sherry, banana, apricot, peach, and marzipan nose contrasts pleasingly with—who cares? You don’t want to read bad tasting notes; you want to make better notes of your own—n’est-ce pas? Thing is, there’s no single cure for the Block (this is what serious writers call it; cf. the Clap, the Syph, the Herp). And the reason there’s no single cure is that there’s no single type of Block. The Block can be daylong, or weeklong; it can last for years (Truman Capote) or decades (Ralph Ellison, Henry Roth). I can’t think of any other writers just now.

Hold on—let me top myself off.

You might take comfort from the fact that while writing can’t be forced, time spent not writing can be put to good use. Try acquiring other skills, like rolling cigarettes or reading. Learn to differentiate between scotch and bourbon. Learn the differences among corn whiskey, rye whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Learn what, if anything, separates whisky from whiskey. Ayat, take comfort from the fact that a writer does not always have to write—and not all scotch comes from Scotland.

Of course alcohol is only effective if it’s mixed—not with juices or sodas, you understand, but with narcotics. Speed weekly and hallucinogens monthly. Though the existence of ADD/ADHD has never been scientifically proven, the drugs developed to address these disorders very much exist and are excellent: Ritalin, Adderall. Dextroamphetamines and regular amphetamines go together like love and marriage, like a horse and carriage … what was I saying? Let me just swallow these. OK. One second.

Swall … owed.

Finally, Ayat, don’t discount the two greatest cures for the Block: plagiarism and suicide. Good luck!

Someone whom I consider not exactly a friend but an acquaintance said some unkind words about me to another friend of mine. Of course, it got back to me. The other day, she asked me for a favor. Kind of a big one. She wants help promoting her new book. I would hate to be rude (and not respond), but at this point, I don't want to help this person at all. What’s the best way to handle this? —Annoyed Person

Listen “Annoyed Person”—or should I just call you Sandra? It’s enough. Tiff didn’t say that shit to M., and anyway if she did say that shit we both know she was absolutely totally drunk because of her Writer’s Block. So drunk she didn’t know whether she had Writer’s Block or Writers’ Block. So utterly trashed she was unsure of the application of the plural possessive. Anyway, if Tiff did say what you think she said, that she thought you were wrong to have slept with K. so soon after they’d broken up, that she thought the only reason you slept with K. so soon after they’d broken up was because you’d been evicted from your apartment and didn’t have anywhere to sleep and no obliging girlfriends or gay friends with futons because you’re essentially friendless, so what? Tiff was hurting. And now, Sandra, by refusing to help her you’re just hurting her worse. She spent years on this book. She spent the best part of her tightbodied twenties on this—on nonfiction! On nonfiction about gender inequality among the major religions! Pity her. She lived in Williamsburg for research, Hasidic Williamsburg. She went to Gaza. Even after she didn’t get that fellowship and had to pay her own way, she went! She learned Mandarin and converted to Russian Orthodoxy for fuck’s sake! Sandra, everyone knows you’re the best publicist in town. Because you go around telling everyone you’re the best publicist in town. So just hook her up and be rid of her: NPR, Good Morning America, Comedy motherfucking Central; get her featured in one of those ridiculous New York Times Style section pieces where they’ll take pictures of that new apartment she bought with all her advance money and she gets to Botox smile and self-promote while showing off her cutesy interior-design touches, like how well she’s hung her frying pans or how ingeniously she’s stacked her shoes: “I keep my paperbacks in the refrigerator. I’m trying to make the most of a tight space.” Hook her up and get her off my case (you don’t think she’s asked for a Paris Review mention? Bitch emails excerpts at 3 A.M., cc:ing the entire masthead with subject headings like This Season’s Must-Read, and Pulitzers Schmulitzers, This Girl’s Going to Stockholm!). Sandra, I guess what I’m saying is, be kind. Because one day you’re going to write a book yourself and you’ll need a blurb and by then you’d have made Tiff so famous, made Tiff such a household name, that a blurb from her would do wonders for you: “An aching, heartbreaking memoir […] simultaneously a scathing indictment of the publicity industry and a private tour of one young woman’s heart.” Also, you shouldn’t have slept with K.

Have a question for The Paris Review? E-mail us.



  1. F.H. | November 12, 2010 at 8:33 pm


  2. WSN | November 12, 2010 at 10:32 pm

    Yea, sure, uh-huh, a hefty enough dose of hallucinogens and amphetamine salts will send a lot of people straight to the psych ward. That’s one way to get a new perspective on things… Of course you’ll want to secure a solid healthcare plan first, people don’t take care of helpless crazy people out of the goodness of their hearts. That’s why we have prisons and homeless shelters!

    But seriously though, a total dismantling of your ego is only a few shady drug deals away. Don’t believe me? Just ask Dr. Albert Hoffman. I believe, “For fuck sake don’t mix it with more stimulants” is written on his tombstone. …Evidently the good doctor didn’t live long enough to experience the joy of candy flipping, which is a pity really, being of German descent I imagine he would have thoroughly enjoyed a good tooth grinding rave.

    Anyways, I digress! Back to the miracle cure for your writer’s block.
    No one writes quite like a writer with a slightly skewed sense of reality and a fear that nothing is ever quite what it seems. So if you’ve got the balls and the hookups, then get you some adderall xr, a good bit of lsd, and, provided that lady luck is on your side, prepare to rebuild reason from scratch, and enjoy writing like Kafka for the rest of your life.

    Also, once that cocktail is going to work on you, there’s just a few more things to remember…

    Every single phenomenon that you witness has significance.
    You ARE the Dalai Lama, no matter what anyone says.
    And, if you fall asleep, you WILL die.

    Happy Dismantling!

  3. Ayat Ghanem | November 14, 2010 at 10:12 am

    Mon cher Joshua, while I’ll put suicide on the back burner for now, I’ll investigate plagiarism as advised. Merci.

  4. Dorit | November 15, 2010 at 3:37 am

    Good read with the morning coffee! thank you.

  5. Chloé Cooper Jones | November 15, 2010 at 11:38 pm

    Hilarious. Long live Josh Cohen.

  6. nicole winthrop | November 16, 2010 at 8:55 am

    Love it, love it. just discovered the panacea this morning; over a cup of oolong tea, and a peanut butter and jelly pita sandwich.

  7. Heidi Isern | November 17, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    When I cannot write, I write about not writing…but no one really wants to read that. So then I then I write about not being understood by writing on not writing…the alcohol abuse that comes from not being understood, and then the resulting train wreck of an evening from said alcohol abuse. All of a sudden people want to read me again….

  8. canvas picture | October 13, 2011 at 12:08 pm

    Drinking away writers block is a new one to me!

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