Isaac Asimov? Robert Silverberg? Andrew J. Offutt? Harlan Ellison? David Gerrold? David Langford? Frederik Pohl? Anonymous Fan?
Dear Quote Investigator: The popular science fiction authors Isaac Asimov and Robert Silverberg were both famously prolific. Apparently, one of them delivered the following quip:
I had a writing block once. It was the worst 20 minutes of my life.
Alternatively, the remark may have been crafted by a fan in this form:
He had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of his life.
She had writer’s block once. It was the worst ten minutes of her life.
Would you please explore the provenance of this joke?
Quote Investigator: The earliest published evidence of this humorous schema known to QI appeared in the influential 1972 collection of short stories titled “Again, Dangerous Visions” compiled and edited by Harlan Ellison. The author Andrew J. Offutt in the introduction to his tale stated that he had suffered a period during which his writing abilities had faltered. In the following excerpt Offutt employed his distinctive style using a lowercase “i”. Emphasis added by QI: 1
“Last summer, June 1970, i experienced my first Block, that ancient writer’s devil i’d heard about. Stupid; it was MY fault.
After an elaborate multi-paragraph description of his difficulties Offutt finally presented the punch line. The term “liefer” is in the original text:
“i fought, i kept sitting down and trying to type, i snarled, cursed, cussed, obscenitized. Kept on fingering keys, (i use three fingers, one of which is on my left hand. It gets sorest.) i kept on. Come on, damn you!
“i PREVAILED! It had been awful. It had lasted 45 minutes, and now i know what a block is. i’d liefer forget, and i will never ever stop at a stopping point again!
“i can’t see that a block ever need be longer, assuming one has any control over himself at all.
Harlan Ellison’s response to Offutt asserted that prominent science fiction authors such as Theodore Sturgeon and Robert Sheckley had endured blocks that had lasted for years. Ellison also wrote that the witticism about an evanescent impediment was already being told within SF fandom: 2
There are fans who jest about me and Silverberg “blocking”—for half an hour. But one day will come, smartass; one frightening, mouth-drying day when nothing comes. And then you’ll know what it is to suffer the torments of a hell you can’t even name.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order. Continue reading I Had a Writing Block Once. It Was the Worst 20 Minutes of My Life
- 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩
- 1972, Again, Dangerous Visions: 46 Original Stories, Edited and introduced by Harlan Ellison, Section: Introduction to story “For Value Received” by Andrew J. Offutt, Start Page 119, Quote Page 124 and 125, Doubleday & Company, Garden City, New York. (Verified on paper) ↩