"Give me a subject," I said, "and I'll write about it."
Unimpressed by my hubris, she said: "Chairs."
Clever girl. That punctured my ego. Still, I turned out 400 words about how I had always struggled with chairs because of my short legs and the dangers of sitting on a bench seat in a bar and finding that my feet don't reach the floor.
I don't think she was impressed.
Usually, I have two or three ideas at the back of my mind around which which I can write a piece and don't need a suggestion. Until this column.
My clippings folder is empty, my brain sagging in the hot weather and my home office is beginning to crowd in on me. A novelist might describe this as writer's block. Except I don't believe in writer's block.
An online search found bizarre advice from bloggers on how to overcome mental inertia. You need to have some fun, said one. Right, who's coming to the pub? Another suggested taking a trip, by bus, train or plane.
These are obviously people who have never written to a deadline. As a journalist, I have written to a deadline all my life. A system I also used when writing novels: sit down at a set time and write so many words a day. Forget about tempting the muse and waiting for inspiration; the muse is probably already down the pub. Writing is hard work so get on with it.
But wait, here's another nugget of a suggestion on how to get your creative juices flowing when your mind is as empty as the Sahara: invent an imaginary friend. I kid you not.
Give him a name, talk to him, listen to his problems and hopes, be a good friend, write him a letter ... hang on. I'm supposed to have writer's block.
Other suggestions include getting angry, swearing, ranting, taking a shower, washing the dishes or dancing.
Laurence Stern, the 18th century writer, had a very specific way of overcoming a blockage: he would shave off his beard, change his shirt and put on his best coat: "In a word, dress myself from one end to the other of me, after my best fashion.”
Such a ritual would suggest he didn't suffer from a lack of inspiration very often, if he had to grow back the beard before he could do it again.
That great author Graham Greene tapped into his creativity by writing about his dreams and, when you think about it, building images in words is basically day dreaming. I use a similar technique by taking a plot to bed with me and working through it before I drop off. At the moment, I'm halfway through a 19th century romp that follows the rise to fame and fortune of Irish rogue John Devlin. The book will probably never be written but me and John are having a fine old time along the way.
Now. What was I saying about writer's block? Would another 400 words about chairs be acceptable?