A few weeks ago in this column I offered 25 tips to help overcome writer’s block. Ideas ranged from having a glass of wine to talking to a therapist and many more (not-as-extreme) methods designed to help restart the flow of creative juices.
While writing that piece, I researched famous writers who endured a creative drought during their careers. I was surprised to find that there are staggeringly few sources with reliable information on the combination, but the pool of candidates that I was able to dig up was rather eclectic and interesting. Interesting enough, in fact, to share with you here.
The next time you’re at a loss for words, rest assured that you’re not alone. You’re in pretty good company, actually. Take a look at these seven famous writers who lost their footing for a while but ultimately found their way back to creating works that have influenced popular culture.
The Coen Brothers
Filmmaking siblings Joel and Ethan Coen reject writer’s block as the reason they put their 1990 American gangster movie Miller’s Crossing on hold – but they say tomato, I say tomato. The truth is, the many storylines of Miller’s Crossing became so complicated that the duo got lost in the process and needed to distance themselves from the project. Shortly after shelving the script, the Coen brothers started work on another script – for Barton Fink – which was completed in three weeks, ultimately owing its speedy development to the pushed-aside Miller’s Crossing. According to the Coens, “Barton Fink sort of washed out our brain and we were able to go back and finish Miller’s Crossing.” All’s well that ends well, it seems – unless you’re a character in that movie.
There are innumerable reasons for writer’s block, and in the case of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling it was litigation she launched in 2008 to halt the publication of an unauthorized book on the Harry Potter lexicon. The lawsuit caused her so much stress that it “decimated the demands of my creative work for the last month,” she said. Lucky for us, Rowling was eventually able to conjure up the last act of her bewitching fantasy series to appease her millions of anxiously awaiting Muggle readers.
Polarizing rapper Eminem – AKA Marshall Mathers – had a unique approach to his lyrical dry spell a few years ago: He laid down verses about the subject itself and turned them into a song. On ‘Talkin’ 2 Myself” from his 2010 album Recovery – which was written at the tail-end of a five-year hiatus caused by writer’s block and an addiction to prescription drugs – Em waxes psychotic about the creative void that had him “falling asleep in the parking lot of McDonald’s.” He spits rhymes about going crazy and being desperate to get back in the game but too deep into his own self-loathing to pull himself out of the funk. Toward the end of the track, however, Mr. Mathers reclaims his rightful place among hip-hop royalty, confidently declaring, “I’m back.” And better than ever, I might add.
You wouldn’t expect one of the greatest novelists of the 20th century to suffer from writer’s block (especially when you consider the length and complexity of his crowning achievement War and Peace), but Tolstoy is one of the most notorious sufferer’s of the beguiling state of mind. The Russian author, whose other notable works include Anna Karenina and A Confession, is said to have experienced blank periods for months, sometimes years at a time. In the context of his personal life, that estimate seems feasible: Tolstoy and his wife had 13 children. With so many tots running around, it’s a miracle he had time to write anything at all. Alas, I suppose that where submissive old-world wives come in handy.
Who’s afraid of Virginia Woolf? You might be if you lived next door to her. The feminist scribe known for her stream-of-consciousness storytelling, like in Mrs. Dalloway, battled with bouts of writer’s block throughout her life due to deep depressions brought on by suspected bipolar disorder. Her home life didn’t help, either. Her mother died when Virginia was 13, followed by her father nine years later, with each death resulting in a nervous breakdown. Further complicating her mental state, Virginia was sexually abused by her half-brothers and briefly institutionalized. Fed up with the constant anguish that plagued her, at age 59 Virginia put on her overcoat, filled the pockets with rocks, and sank to the bottom of the River Ouse in what would become her poetic finale. Wherever she is now, let’s hope it comes with a room of one’s own.
There’s no telling what the throngs of screaming Twihards would do if Stephanie Meyer was unable to complete her wildly successful vampire trilogy, Twilight. To avoid that conundrum, Meyer says she worked out of order, writing whichever chapters she was feeling at the moment, to avoid boredom and burnout. “I wrote most of the books in scenes, and then went back later and tied the scenes together. It cut out a lot of writer’s block to write whatever part I was most interested in at the time,” Meyer says on her official website. If only Hollywood had done that with its adaptation of the movies, they might be bearable to watch. Alas, at least there’s still hope The Host.
With all the monsters, maniacs, and mysteries in his head, you’d think master of macabre Stephen King would be immune to writer’s block – and so did he. Until one day in 2006 when his mind went dark (or is that darker?) during an intense morning of working on a novel in progress. As the story goes, King took a break for lunch, enjoyed a ham-and-cheese sandwich, but became worried when he experienced a deficiency of disturbing images. “I get three dark, disturbing images just going out on my front step to pick up the morning paper. Now, nothing. It was horrible,” King told DeadBrain. The word-strike continued throughout the afternoon as he spent several hours staring at his computer screen. Still nothing. Thankfully, by nightfall King’s creativity was restored and he was once again churning out pages; evil was officially back in business.
Mikey Rox is an award-winning writer/journalist/blogger and the founder of Paper Rox Scissors, a marketing, advertising, and PR venture. His work has appeared in more than 100 regional, national, and international print and online publications, including CNN.com, Wise Bread, Money Crashers, The Baltimore Sun, The Examiner newspapers, and QuickQuid (the U.K.’s premier short-term loan lender), among many others. He currently lives in New York City with his husband and their two dogs.