Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What Killed Nathaniel Hawthorne?

So it turns out no less an American luminary of letters than Nathaniel Hawthorne not only had writer's block, he died of it. Seriously. In last week's New Yorker, John Updike reports that in 1864, Hawthorne wrote in a letter (re: a book he had started):
I shall never finish it… I cannot finish it unless a great change comes over me; and if I make too great an effort to do so, it will be to my death.
And then? Twelve weeks later? HE DIED. Maria Callas died of heartbreak, Nathaniel Hawthorn died of writer's block. So don't push me, people: I'm in a delicate condition.

Actually, I wrote a personal essay two days ago. I took a big long hike and while I was wondering if I was going to die of the hike (I'm sure I could), I thought of a solid hook, and ran home and wrote the thing. It's about my long-lost Cartier Tank wristwatch but, as with most personal essays, it's really about life. Yep. I'm that deep.

Then I felt horribly guilty because I didn't have an assignment to write it, I just wrote it, which means I was not working on the things which have been assigned to me and which are horribly overdue. Then I thought, "What the hell am I doing, writing personal essays? Nobody publishes these. I'll send it in to the Times 'Modern Love' column and I'll hear bupkiss and that'll be that." After that came a lot of whirling thoughts that had to do mostly with what to have for lunch and howcome moldy cheese is okay but moldy bread is not.

Anyway, though, I wrote it and I love it, so the "Modern Love" column can bite me. OW. Hey, "Modern Love" column! I didn't mean that literally! Jerk.

9 comments:

Veronica said...

Ya know, Stephen King spit out the rest of the Dark Tower series because he was afraid he'd die before finishing it. I suppose that the whole "unfinished work" thing probably bothers a lot of artists.

Madfoot said...

But I'll tell you something: that near-death experience he had with that car really kicked him in the ass, writing-wise. The last couple books he did before that accident seemed sorta phoned in, and then he had a bit of a hiatus, and then -- voila, crisp and well-plotted. Hrm. Spectre of death.

ThursdayNext said...

Hmmmm. I think that if you are not working on non-assignment writing, than perhaps that adds to the writers block of the assigned writing? Don't stifle it, whether its going to give you income or not, because you never know! I shall keep touting my JK Rowling example...what if she said, "gee I should really be working since I am flat broke and have kids to feed instead of sitting in this cafe writing a story about some kid with a lightening bolt in the middle of his forehead..."
lol
xoxoxoxoxoxo

Madfoot said...

ACTUALLY! I seem to be getting my assignments done too. They started piling up and I started being terrified of them so I just sucked it up and got one done yesterday and should be able to knock a revision out today.

It helps that my assignments are really varied right now: some dating, some food, some comedy, ALL DUE.

I interviewed someone who owns a small business and I asked him the secret of his success, and he said, "Terror. Fear of not making a living and humilating my family. Abject horror." I know what he means! So when people say I'm brave, I can say, "no, just chickenshit!" As long as I keep plodding along, I suppose, right?

the beige one said...

if ya want, I have a couple of cousins in Jersey who could put the scare into you...

Madfoot said...

Bitch, nobody in Jersey can scare me!

the beige one said...

You clearly haven't met my cousins...

ThursdayNext said...

Beigie, You clearly have not met Madfoot. ;)

the beige one said...

all too true, Thursday...I figure anyone who hangs with Elmo, though.