Would you risk your life to write a book?
Here‘s an oldish Radiolab podcast where Oliver Sacks describes the threat he made against himself in 1968 to get past his writer’s block and write his first book: Either I write this book in the next ten days, or I commit suicide.
I guess this gives a new depth of meaning to the word “deadline.” Turns out Sacks met the deadline and produce a book called Migraine that is still in print. So, good for him.
This story raises two questions for me:
First, does this sort of bargain with yourself really work? The podcast gives another example of someone who used a self-threat to quit smoking (If I ever smoke another cigarette, I’m going to contribute $5000 to the Ku Klux Klan). But I’m inclined to think most people’s wills aren’t that malleable, or we’d have plenty more successful diets and quit-smoking campaigns. The self-threats that worked make for good stories, though. (I could imagine a bad novel where the would-be author hires a hit man to kill him unless he produces an acceptable manuscript in the allotted time. Hmm.)
Second — let’s assume this sort of thing does work, at least for some people. Is writing a book worth the risk that Sacks evidently thought he was taking? Nowadays I’d say it isn’t. The very idea is absurd. On the other hand . . . before I managed to get a book published (er, Forbidden Sanctuary), a whole lot of my self-image was tied up in whether I could legitimately think of myself as an “author” rather than as just another wannabe with a stupid hobby that dribbled away his nights and weekends. I don’t think I could have threatened myself the way Sacks did, but I’m not unsympathetic. Sacks was 35 in 1968 and already a successful neurologist. But something similar must have been driving him to get a book out and become an author. He thought it was worth the risk, and the world is a better place because he was successful.
Have you heard of this (http://writeordie.com) website?
Ha! No I hadn’t. The “unwrite what you’ve already written” option seems a little extreme to me. But then, so does suicide.
Yes! It is extreme, but when you have writer’s block or need to rid yourself of the inner editor, it is quite helpful.
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