At a recent Sotheby’s auction, a short letter written by Franz Kafka to the poet Albert Ehrenstein was sold for $74,500 dollars. In the letter, Kafka complains about his writer’s block. Luckily his block wasn’t so bad that couldn’t write a letter, because it turned out to be worth a lot more cash than he ever would have guessed.
In 1914, after a failed love affair and a year-long writing drought, Kafka wrote The Trial, which ends with the protagonist, Josef K. being executed after an absurd progression of events. This not-so-merry tale also includes a character by the name of “Block” whose legal case is still unresolved five years after he hired an advocate to handle it.
It would be a stretch to claim that The Trial was primarily about writer’s block, but it does touch on the emotional territory writers feel when the can’t write. Kafka is one in a long list of well known authors who endured profound dry spells during the course of their writing careers. It is part of the territory of the writing life to have periods when it doesn’t flow so well.
Sometimes writing is a trial, and feels like punishment that makes no sense. My recommendation is, if you find yourself struggling with a block, try to at least write a short letter about it to someone. It may get the juices flowing again and who knows, maybe Sotheby’s will be interested in it someday.