The only thing I know about the medieval mystic Meister Eckhart is that he divided knowledge into two categories: morning knowledge and evening knowledge. The former, he believed, was more intuitive while the latter was characterized by reason and the order we impose on it. Of the two, he said, morning knowledge was the more valuable because it was unmediated by the intellect. I thought of Meister Eckhart because I’ve met several people who prefer to write in the mornings, often before they’ve had breakfast. Jump out of bed and write – that’s their mantra. It’s almost like writing in a dream state, trying to swim with the currents of the unconscious without being swallowed up by them. That was what a playwright I know did. He wouldn’t even go to the bathroom first if he could help it. He was grappling with a block. The words wouldn’t come, the ideas were frozen – no flow. He was desperate. He was willing to try anything. For a few months he even sat naked at his computer. It took months, he said, but it worked. Maybe by baring his body it made it easier to bare his soul. When writers aren’t fighting through blocks, or despairing of them, they’re trying to figure out how to avoid them, trying just about anything to avoid staring bleakly at a blank piece of paper or an unforgiving computer screen. Hemingway, for example, found that it was helpful to stop for the day in media res, leaving something unsaid before he wrote himself out. That way he had something saved up for the next day.  Graham Greene was said to have written exactly 1500 words a day and once he’d reached his quota even in mid-sentence he’d stop.  Raymond Chandler, Philip Marlowe’s creator, would set aside four hours of the afternoon for writing. Here was the deal he made with himself: If he didn’t write he couldn’t do anything else. So basically he had two choices: either writing something or going mad from boredom.  Class D substances have been known to help although Norman Mailer complained that when he smoked weed it would flood his brain with so many ideas that it would exhaust his creative juices for several days afterwards.  But plunging headlong into a book like Kerouac did and not coming up for air until it’s done can be dangerous, too.  Jack Kerouac wrote ‘On the Road’ in 20 days straight on pea soup and coffee. (He later found in Buddhism the inspiration – and maybe the stamina – he’d previously found in coffee and pea soup; when Buddhism no longer sufficed, he opted for cheap red wine.) Blocks aren’t a writer’s only enemy. Beware the burst of creativity, too. Like any other form of intoxication, it will inevitably be followed by a hangover – self-doubt, discouragement, frustration. You know the symptoms – the inclination to go back and read over what you’ve done and wonder why you ever thought it was any good in the first place. You start cutting (not a bad thing in itself), you start second-guessing yourself, you start rewriting. You keep rewriting. You reached page 12 on the first day through heroic effort. On the second you’re back on page 7. In this way you achieve the literary equivalent of a touchback.  

AuthorLeslie Horvitz