One of my happiest memories of our boys' childhood was reading aloud to them before bedtime. The heart-thumping adventures in Treasure Island were cause for a late night and "just one more chapter." They could recite pirate Pew's last words as several horses thundered toward him:
"Johnny, Black Dog, Dirk ... you won't leave old Pew, mates--not old Pew!" Then we'd re-read his gruesome end: "Down went Pew with a cry that rang high into the night; and the four hoofs trampled and spurned him and passed by. He fell on his side, then gently collapsed upon his face, and moved no more."
I'm enjoying this classic once again, especially remembering it through the eyes of our young sons who are now grown-ups. And after all these years, my admiration for the author, Robert Louis Stevenson, remains high. "How'd he do that?" I wonder, savoring a scene or a stretch of pirate dialogue. He makes it seem easy.
So it was a surprise to learn that he had writer's block with this novel, which he began in 1881 on a rainy Scottish morning. He drafted the first fifteen chapters, but then set his pen down. He couldn't concentrate. Ill with tuberculosis, he traveled to Switzerland. Like Clara in the novel Heidi by Johanna Spyri, he breathed in the fresh alpine air and was soon revived. He sped through another nineteen chapters to great success. Treasure Island was serialized in the magazine, Young Folks, then published as a book in 1883. It has never been out of print.
This morning I am squirming with writer's block. A trip to the Swiss Alps would cure this! I'd be so enchanted by the beauty and cow bells, I'd get to work -- wait -- first I'd go hiking then find a café for pastry. A day would pass, then a week. Finally it would settle in that I wouldn't be able to concentrate until returning home to this plump green chair where I now sit, untroubled by tuberculosis or travel fatigue.
I'm inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson and all the other authors tormented by doubts, but who keep on picking up the pen, so to speak. So onward I trudge, trying to follow in footsteps of the great.