“I now know what writer’s block is. It’s the fear you cannot do what you’ve announced to someone else you can do, or else the fear that it isn’t worth doing. That’s the rarer form.” (Tom Wolfe in an interview with George Plimpton in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews: Ninth Series(Viking 1992).
Tom Wolfe has openly discussed his struggles with writer’s block, especially concerning the eleven years after the publication of The Bonfire of the Vanities when he was struggling to write his second novel, A Man in Full. He battled with countless plot dead ends and rewrites, expense overruns, work avoidance, confidence crises, open heart surgery, and depression before emerging with his finished volume.
I know it’s not right to take pleasure in another person’s suffering, and I don’t, but I have to admit that I do experience a certain amount of something I would describe as ‘relief and reassurance’ when I learn of another well-known, successful writer who has struggled to make himself do the very thing he is famous for being an expert at.
It’s just nice to know that writing blocks and procrastination are not fatal character flaws or indicators of a gross unfitness for writing, but rather common issues that occur for writers of all stripes, successful or not. These problems are part of the territory. And if you set ambitious goals for yourself, as Wolfe did in aspiring to write a second big novel after the phenomenal success of Bonfire of the Vanities, you put yourself at greater risk to have crises of confidence that you will succeed, and hence an increased risk for blocking.
Tom Wolfe is famous for dressing very well in white suits. I read somewhere (I can’t recall where) that during his agonies of trying to write A Man in Full he eventually took to putting on funky, unattractive clothes in the morning. In this poorly dressed state he would not avoid writing by leaving his apartment, because he was unable to allow himself to go out and be seen wearing bad clothes.
Wolfe announced to the world what he was going to do and encountered massive resistance, blocks and fear. He harnessed his vanities to serve his cause, and then wrote his book in full.