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
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!