Writer’s Block and the Cat’s Hat

When Dr. Seuss faced writer’s block,  he went into a closet full of hats.Cat-in-the-Hat

Dr. Seuss, née Theodor Geisel often worked with his editor, Michael Frith, and according to Lisa Hix, over at Collector’s Weekly:

“…when they’d get stuck… Geisel would open a secret door to a closet filled with hundreds of hats. Then, he and Frith would each pick a different hat, perhaps a fez, or a sombrero, or maybe an authentic Baroque Czech helmet or a plastic toy viking helmet with horns. They’d sit on the floor and stare at each other in these until the right words came to them.”

Why aren’t we all doing this? Right, Bushwick musicians? Is it not the best idea ever?!

It turns out, the author of our best-loved books collected hundreds of hats and stashed them in a closet along with personal paintings and drawings that never saw the light of day. That is, until a curator approached Audrey Geisel about opening up that secret closet, which was hidden behind a bookcase with a false door.

Twenty six of the hats and a selection of the artwork from Dr. Seuss’ closet will be touring the country through the end of this year. The exhibit includes the famous chapeau that inspired Geisel’s most well-known mischievous cat.

My own system for writer’s block involves time-wasting and lying. This morning I opened a blank document and stared at it for precisely 20 seconds before checking my email, at which I replied to Bushwick blog editor Mike Votava, “putting the finishing touches on it now!” Then I checked in with tumblr, read about the 15 Best Road Movies (Badlands was number 10!), watched an episode of Prison Break, made toast, threw away old mail, killed a small spider, and finally typed a title across the top of the formerly blank document.

Other writers and musicians have offered their own cures for writer’s block:

  • Neil Gaiman says to put whatever you’re working on aside for a few days and do something else. When you come back to it, dive in and make notes. By the time you get to the end you’ll be enthusiastic again.
  • John Steinbeck said to imagine you were writing, just like a letter, to someone you love or admire.
  • Susan Sontag made rules for herself, writing in her diary, “Starting tomorrow — if not today: I will get up every morning no later than eight. (Can break this rule once a week.)…I will tell people not to call in the morning, or not answer the phone. I will try to confine my reading to the evening. (I read too much — as an escape from writing.)”
  • Ray Bradbury says to switch subjects: “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.’”
  • Maya Angelou recommends showering: “I write in the morning and then go home about midday and take a shower, because writing, as you know, is very hard work, so you have to do a double ablution.”
  • Sergei Rachmaninoff used hypnotherapy to get over his writer’s block to compose the Second Piano Concerto.
  • Jack Kerouac had a specific exercise: “I try to do nine touchdowns a day, that is, I stand on my head in the bathroom, on a slipper, and touch the floor nine times with my toe tips, while balanced. This is incidentally more than yoga, it’s an athletic feat, I mean imagine calling me ‘unbalanced’ after that.”
  • Tyler the Creator relates his story of writer’s block: “I’m so bored with rapping…so when I got writer’s block, I got that shit so fucking bad, like I didn’t know what the fuck to rap about…I had writer’s block until I was like, ‘oh shit, I can just write about how much money I made last year and my fucking bike.’ And it worked.”

See, it’s easy, right?!

Every artist gets “the shanks” from time to time, and the trick is figuring out how to work through it. Whether it’s a routine schedule that you keep (9am every morning for William Faulkner, midnight to dawn for Kerouac) or a small dark cave in your basement that you’ve hollowed out yourself, the point is to do what it takes for you to find the words again.

Now bring on the hats!