If you are sitting and looking at a blank computer screen (or a blank piece of paper), you’ll never get started.
I am reminded of the great wit, writer and actor of the 1930s and 40s, Robert Benchley (1889-1945), grandfather of Peter (“Jaws”) Benchley. One day, under deadline and suffering from a severe hangover, Benchley was sitting in his room at the Algonquin Hotel in New York staring at a blank piece of paper in his typewriter. To get started he typed the word “The.”
Benchley rose from his chair, walked to the window and, glancing at his watch, realized the gang of regulars was assembling for a splendid lunch of booze and bon mots at the legendary Round Table downstairs—Dorothy Parker, Groucho Marx, George S. Kaufman, Alexander Wolcott, New Yorker editor Harold Ross and others.
Benchley returned to the typewriter and stared at the “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.
When Ernest Hemingway finished a book, he would stick the manuscript in a drawer and come back to it a few weeks later. Most of us under deadline do not have this kind of time. However, not looking at a piece of writing for 12 or 24 hours or longer and then going back to it for edits and rewrites can be beneficial.
In “A Moveable Feast,” 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.
Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at dennyhatch.com.