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#79 How to Avoid Writer's Block
Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert Denny Hatch -- Direct Mail Expert
For Immediate Release:
Dateline: Philadelphia , PA
Tuesday, January 07, 2020

Issue #79 – Tuesday, January 6, 2020
Posted by Denny Hatch

How to Avoid Writer’s Block
Getting Started Is Often the Hardest Part

The New Yorker's 
Dorothy Parker.

Above is a wire to her editor, Pat Covici, at Viking Press. 
June 28, 1945

It’s a bitch when you’re staring at a computer screen and the words won’t come to you.

     I’ll say this at the outset. If I find myself struggling for thoughts and words, it takes me a few minutes to remember I am tired—probably from a lousy night’s sleep or not leaving a cork too long in the bottle lest the contents spoil.
     I don’t fight it. I quit and start again when rested.  —Denny Hatch 

Robert Benchley (1889-1945), 
Grandfather of 
Peter (JAWS) Benchley.

Benchley was a polymath—humorist, drama critic, film actor and newspaper columnist. 
     One day—under tight deadline and with a severe hangover—Benchley was sitting at the little desk in his room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City. He stared and stared at a blank piece of paper in his typewriter. To get started he typed the word "The."
     Benchley arose from his chair, walked to the window overlooking West 44th Street and then glanced at his watch.
     His gang of regulars was assembling for the splendid daily lunch of booze and bon mots at the legendary Round Table downstairs. Among them: Dorothy Parker, Groucho and Harpo Marx, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Woollcott, New Yorker editor Harold Ross, Algonquin owner Frank Case and others.
     Benchley returned to the typewriter and stared at "The" for a long time. In a burst of inspiration he completed the sentence.
     It read, "The hell with it."
     Whereupon he took the elevator down to join the party.

From John McPhee’s

Letter To a Distraught Former Student 
Dear Joel [Achenbach of The Washington Post]:
     You are writing, say, about a grizzly bear. No words are forthcoming. For six, seven, ten hours no words have been forthcoming. You are blocked, frustrated, in despair. You are nowhere, and that's where you've been getting. What do you do?
     You write, 'Dear Mother.' And then you tell your mother about the block, the frustration, the ineptitude, the despair. You insist that you are not cut out to do this kind of work. You whine. You whimper. You outline your problem, and you mention that the bear has a fifty-five-inch waist and a neck more than thirty inches around but could run nose-to-nose with Secretariat.
     You say the bear prefers to lie down and rest. The bear rests fourteen hours a day. And you go on like that as long as you can.
     And then you go back and delete the 'Dear Mother' and all the whimpering and whining, and just keep the bear.
John McPhee (b. 1934), Draft No. 4, The Writing Life (The New Yorker)

Ted Nicholas on Getting Started

Ted Nicholas is one of the great entrepreneurs, publishers, teachers and writers in the world of direct marketing. Here's his advice to copywriters and, by extension, to all writers:
     Clear your mind. 
     For some persons, this might mean lying down for a few minutes before going to work.
     For others, it could mean jumping in the pool or jogging around a track.
     Frolic, spend time with someone you love or go dancing. Do whatever comes naturally to you in order to have a clear mind for creative purposes.
     Never write when you're tired. You're not going to try to drive or operate machinery when you're tired. Don't try to write if you're fatigued.
     Never write when you're busy. If there are other demands pressing on you, tend to them first. I don't think anyone can write well when watching the clock. Don't try to write if you have appointments later in the day or errands to run.
    Don't write in bits and pieces. Once you've turned on your creative energy, you need to keep it flowing. I don't stop until I complete a draft. I try not to stop even for meals.
Ted Nicholas, (né Nick Peterson, b. 1934),  The Golden Mailbox

 Gene Schwartz and His Kitchen Timer Secret


Gene Schwartz's powerful direct mail copy sold millions of dollars-worth of books (many published by himself). His Breakthrough Advertising is must-read for direct response copywriters.
     Gene once told me to get a kitchen timer and set it on the desk next to me.
     Then hit 4-4-4-4. That's forty-four minutes, forty-four seconds. During that period, all you do is work—write, do research, deal with correspondence, design, whatever.
     When the timer goes off, get up and shut the alarm sound off. Take a break. Walk around, stretch, get a cup of coffee, clear your head.
     When you're ready to go back to work, hit the 4-4-4-4 button again and dive in.
—Eugene Schwartz (1927-1995)

Ernest Hemingway on the Mechanics of Writing

When Ernest Hemingway finished writing a novel, he would stick the manuscript in a drawer and go deep-sea fishing, hunting in Africa or attend bullfights in Spain with Ava Gardner. On his return several weeks (or months) later, he would read the book with fresh eyes and immediately see where he went off the rails and what needed work.
     Most of us under deadline do not have this kind of time. However, if you can lay aside a piece of writing for 12 or 24 hours or longer and then go back to it for edits and rewrites, it can be beneficial. Hemingway wrote:
     I always worked until I had something done and I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day...
     I learned not to think about anything that I was writing from the time I stopped writing until I started again the next day.
     That way my subconscious would be working on it and at the same time I would be listening to other people and noticing everything, I hoped; learning, I hoped; and I would read so that I would not think about my work and make myself impotent to do it.
—Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961), A Movable Feast


Tom Wolfe on an Early Effort

The piece about car customizers in Los Angeles was the first magazine piece I ever wrote. I was totally blocked. I now know what writer’s block is. It’s the fear you cannot do what you’ve announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn’t worth doing. That’s a rarer form. In this case I suddenly realized I’d never written a magazine article before and I just felt I couldn’t do it. Well, [Byron] Dobell somehow shamed me into writing down the notes that I had taken in my reporting on the car customizers so that some competent writer could convert them into a magazine piece. I sat down one night and started writing a memorandum to him as fast as I could, just to get the ordeal over with. It became very much like a letter that you would write to a friend in which you’re not thinking about style, you’re just pouring it all out, and I churned it out all night long, forty typewritten, triple-spaced pages. I turned it in in the morning to Byron at Esquire, and then I went home to sleep. About four that afternoon I got a call from him telling me, Well, we’re knocking the “Dear Byron” off the top of your memo, and we’re running the piece.

—Tom Wolfe (1930-2018) From an interview with The Paris Review

 Ray Bradbury, Master of Science Fiction, Horror, Fantasy et al.

Now, what I’m thinking of is, people always saying “Well, what do we do about a sudden blockage in your writing? What if you have a blockage and you don’t know what to do about it?” Well, it’s obvious you’re doing the wrong thing, don’t you? In the middle of writing something you go blank and your mind says: “No, that’s it.” Ok. You’re being warned, aren’t you? Your subconscious is saying “I don’t like you anymore. You’re writing about things I don’t give a damn for. ”You’re being political, or you’re being socially aware. You’re writing things that will benefit the world. To hell with that! I don’t write things to benefit the world. If it happens that they do, swell. I didn’t set out to do that. I set out to have a hell of a lot of fun.
     I’ve never worked a day in my life. I’ve never worked a day in my life. The joy of writing has propelled me from day to day and year to year. I want you to envy me, my joy. Get out of here tonight and say: ‘Am I being joyful?’ And if you’ve got a writer’s block, you can cure it this evening by stopping whatever you’re writing and doing something else. You picked the wrong subject.  
—Ray Bradbury (1920-2012), from the keynote address at the Writer’s Symposium by the Sea.
 Short Takeaways
A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word to paper.
E.B. White (1899-1985)

What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, “the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.” And it might be just the most boring awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced that I’m serious and says, “Okay. Okay. I’ll come.”
—Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

• Over the years, I’ve found one rule. It is the only one I give on those occasions when I talk about writing. A simple rule. If you tell yourself you are going to be at your desk tomorrow, you are by that declaration asking your unconscious to prepare the material. You are, in effect, contracting to pick up such valuables at a given time. Count on me, you are saying to a few forces below; I will be there to write.
Norman Mailer (1923-2007), the Spooky Art: Some Thoughts on writing.

Don’t get it right, just get it written.
    James Thurber (1894-1961)

The one ironclad rule is that I have to try. I have to walk into my writing room and pick up my pen every weekday morning.
     —Anne Tyler (b. 1941)

Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.
     —William Faulkner (1897-1962)

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.
     —Samuel Beckett (2906-1989)

Word count:1738

At age 15, Denny Hatch—as a lowly apprentice—wrote his first news release for a Connecticut summer theater. To his astonishment it ran verbatim in The Middletown Press. He was instantly hooked on writing. After a two-year stint in the U.S. Army (1958-60), Denny had nine jobs in his first 12 years in business. He was fired from five of them and went on to save two businesses and start three others. One of his businesses—WHO’S MAILING WHAT! newsletter and archive service founded in 1984—revolutionized the science of how to measure the success of competitors’ direct mail. In the past 55 years he has been a book club director, magazine publisher, advertising copywriter/designer, editor, journalist and marketing consultant. He is the author of four published novels and seven books on business and marketing.


Denny Hatch
The St. James
200 West Washington Square, #3007
Philadelphia, PA 19106
215-644-9526 (Rings on my desk)

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