While taking a leisurely stroll through the sunlit streets of Plumsville, lined on both sides with trees offering low-hanging ripe mangoes of unalloyed mirth, we come across quite a few authors, editors and publishers.
We get to meet Florence Craye, the famous author of ‘Spindrift’. We run into Oliver Randolph ‘Sippy’ Sipperley, the aspiring author. Gwendolen Moon, the poetess, crosses the street in front of us. George Webster ‘Boko’ Fittleworth bumps into us at the next corner. Smooth Lizzie, a poetess in whom critics might be disappointed, flashes past us in her two-seater. Even Bertie Wooster, our favourite hero, can be seen rushing to the offices of Milady’s Boudoir, possibly to submit his piece on ‘What the Well-Dressed Man is Wearing’.
Daphne Dolores Morehead can be seen headed somewhere in a hurry. Rosie M. Banks can be seen rushing to her humble abode, just to check if Bingo Junior’s bank passbook has finally got updated with the tenner handed over to her loving husband some time back. Bingo Little, himself an editor of Wee Tots, can be seen trying to touch Oofy Prosser for a tenner, so the loss may be made up before her loving wife discovers it. Lord Tilbury, the famous publisher, may get noticed rushing off in a disguise, ostensibly to avoid any manuscripts being hurled at him by aspiring authors from the windows of a passing bus.
Though we happen to know most of the authors, writers, poets and poetesses mentioned above, we have no clue as to how they keep whipping up juicy as well as not-so-juicy stuff for their public. We empathize with their feelings of despondency and gloom if they pass a single day without writing at least five hundred odd words. But we continue to be clueless if they ever encounter the dreadful condition described by those in the writing trade as a Writer’s Block. Given the challenges they face in their mundane lives, they would surely be facing a transient state of mental menopause, as it were, at some point in time or the other. But they hide such perils of their profession well.
With one exception – that of Ashe Marson, the hero of Something Fresh. In his case, we get a sneak peek into the kind of conditions which can leave a writer’s sensitive soul all of a twitter, facing a condition which stupefies the brain. The flow of ideas gets blocked. The words no longer pour out, much like a public water tap which goes dry without a warning in a city in one of the emerging economies of the world.
Ashe Marson and the Wand of Death
Residents of Plumsville are aware that Ashe keeps the wolves at bay by dishing out the adventures of Gridley Quayle, Investigator, which are so popular with a certain section of the reading public. He is also known to be a regular when it comes to performing Larsen Exercises in public spaces, having become immune to the no-longer-curious glances of the proprietors of Hotels Mathis and Previtali, few cabmen, some chambermaids and even a cat. Physical fitness is his gospel.
But one morning, he gets laughed at by a girl on a first floor balcony. Ashe gets beaten. On this particular day, this one scoffer, alone and unaided, is sufficient for his undoing. The depression, which his exercise regimen had begun to dispel, surges back on him. He has no heart to continue. Sadly gathering up his belongings, he returns to his room, and finds even a cold bath tame and uninspiring.
The breakfast, comprising a disheveled fried egg, some charred bacon and a cup of chicory which is euphemistically called coffee, aggravates the grip of misery. And when he forces himself to his writing-table, and begins to try to concoct the latest of the adventures of Gridley Quayle, Investigator, his spirit groans within him. He rumples his hair and gnaws his pen. He looks blankly for half an hour in front of a sheet of paper bearing the words: “The Adventure of the Wand of Death,” and tries to decide what a wand of death might be.
This is how Wodehouse describes the inner thoughts of his hero:
It was with the sullen repulsion of a vegetarian who finds a caterpillar in his salad that he now sat glaring at them.
The title had seemed so promising overnight–so full of strenuous possibilities. It was still speciously attractive; but now that the moment had arrived for writing the story its flaws became manifest.
What was a wand of death? It sounded good; but, coming down to hard facts, what was it? You cannot write a story about a wand of death without knowing what a wand of death is; and, conversely, if you have thought of such a splendid title you cannot jettison it offhand.
An interruption makes him feel all the more disoriented. However, the intruder happens to be the heroine, Joan Valentine. She de-mystifies the Wand of Death for him thus:
“Why, of course; it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple, which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages.
What else could it be?”
Ashe gets back on track!
This is how poor Betty suffers one
So widespread is the silent epidemic of Writer’s Block that even such popular series as Archie Comics has been forced to accord recognition to it once in a while.
Take the case of poor Betty. She has unique qualities of head and heart. However, given her unselfish and helpful nature, she ends up hitting a Writer’s Block. The milk of human kindness sloshing about within her proves to be her undoing. In one episode of these popular comics, she runs quite a few errands. By the time she can please everyone else and hit her typewriter to start pouring out her ideas onto some sheets of paper, the brain refuses to fire even on a single cylinder.
Even the high and mighty suffer
Present day authors and bloggers can derive some solace from the fact that some of the greatest writers in literature — Leo Tolstoy, Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Joseph Conrad, Ernest Hemingway — were tormented by momentary lapses in their ability to dish out some juicy text or the other.
The sensitive souls that authors are, they are apt to be influenced and distracted by external occurrences. But come to think of it, it is their jaundiced view of such occurrences alone that provides them the fodder for their literary produce.
Imagine an author like P G Wodehouse sitting lonely in a dense forest, trying to come up with some escapades of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. With only a couple of birds and monkeys for company, he is likely to return home in the evening with some blank sheets.
He undoubtedly needs his quiet space. But he also gets in the bargain several distractions. Ethel pottering about in the kitchen. Pets who relish the joys of walking the ramp over some typewritten sheets lying on the floor. A maid who will come in just as he is brooding on his next Hollywood script. A surprise visit by a government official. A postman who brings in some fan mail.
Distractions all, yes. Leading to a Writer’s Block once in a while, yes. But each one is perhaps also an opportunity for him to view a mundane occurrence afresh, with a new perspective. Traits of each real-life person providing him the finer details of some fictional characters he is writing about.
Keeping the milk of human kindness from spilling over
Authors need an eco-system which enables them to strike a judicious balance between their off-society times of solitude and their open-for-interaction times. Successful ones perhaps perfect the art of walking this tight-rope. They make sure they do not exercise in public spaces. They get fed well. They do not get interrupted when they are in their quiet corner, dishing out the adventures of an investigator liked by their publishers and readers. Unlike Betty, they keep their milk of human kindness from spilling over to their grey cells. Their passion for writing keeps them more focused on their journey of creative expression.
Suffering from a Writer’s Block these days? Fret not. Some unique insight is bound to pop up in your mind soon enough. Perhaps, a Joan Valentine is about to walk in and talk about the Indian connection of the mysterious Wand of Death, thereby spurring you on to dizzying heights of creativity!
- Images of Writer’s Block and Something Fresh courtesy www.
- Archie source: Issue No. 221, Episode titled ‘Betty in the Write Mood‘)