Robert DeNiro reading from a teleprompter said on Oscar night about writers, “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing; isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled, crippled by procrastination, and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing and soul-crushing inadequacy. And that’s on a good day.”
It’s funny, but true. We are always in those states, often in the same moment.
Compare the Oscar quote with Robert Benchley, famed humorist and member of the Algonquin Round table, who once said, ” It took me fifteen years to discover that I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.” Benchley in his humor essay on grammar and creativity said, “Very often I must wait weeks and weeks for what you call “inspiration.” In the meantime I must sit with my quill pen poised in the air over a sheet of foolscap, in case the divine spark should come like a lightning bolt and knock me off my chair on to my head. (This has happened more than once.) . . .
Sometimes, while in the throes of creative work, I get out of bed in the morning, look at my writing desk piled high with old bills, old gloves, and empty ginger-ale bottles, and go right back to bed again. The next thing I know it is night once more, and time for the Sand Man to come around. (We have a Sand Man who comes twice a day, which makes it very convenient. We give him five dollars at Christmas.)
Even if I do get up and put on part of my clothes–I do all my work in a Hawaiian straw skirt and bow tie of some neutral shade–I can often think of nothing to do but pile the books which are on one end of my desk very neatly on the other end and then kick them one by one off to the floor with my free foot.”
Benchley was writing with humor, but humor reveals truth, so from Benchley to today a writers psyche has not changed. I only wish we knew what Shakespeare had to say about writing and procrastination.
If you want to see some of Benchley’s humorous short films, here is a list from YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=robert+benchley&page=1