Cartoonist Matt Diffee offers insight into the creative process by explaining how he developed his “Skywriter’s Block” cartoon. (Read the entire article at the New Yorker.)

I started by jotting down the words “writer’s block.”…I started by playing with those words. First I thought of alternative meanings of the words themselves. So “writer’s block” could be a city block where writers live. It could be writers playing with children’s building blocks, or a football block performed by a writer. You can see there’s probably a joke to be had among those options, but I don’t think it would be a very good one. Might be more “punny” than funny.

You could mess around with the “writer” part of the phrase, too, and make it “rider’s block.” You could take that as far as you wanted and get “horse-rider’s block” or “subway-rider’s block.” I don’t think I pursued that angle very much.

I mostly thought in terms of replacing the “writer” with another occupation. I jotted down things like “dentist’s block,” “taxidermist’s block,” “proctologist’s block,” “ventriloquist’s block,” and then a bunch of occupations that end in “-er” like “plumber’s block” and “butcher’s block” (which has its own punny potential).

In the end, I found the gag by adding words to the phrase. Where can you add words to it? In the middle? Not really. At the end? “Writer’s block and tackle.” “Writer’s blockade.” At the beginning? Sure, “copywriter’s block,” “grant-writer’s block,” then eventually I came to “skywriter’s block” and BAM, there’s the idea…

CREDIT: New Yorker cartoon by Matt Diffee, all rights reserved