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Being a narrcicist, I find it really interesting that the new Bradley Cooper flick, Limitless, centers on a writer hitting an impasse:


The dream of a pharmaceutical solution to literary paralysis provides a wisp of a real-world premise for "Limitless," an energetic, enjoyably preposterous compound -- it's a paranoid thriller blended with pseudo-neuro-science fiction and catalyzed by a jolting dose of satire -- directed by Neil Burger. Since we're on the subject of writers, we should note that the script, adapted from Alan Glynn's novel "The Dark Fields," is by Leslie Dixon, whose résumé ("Mrs. Doubtfire," "Pay It Forward," and the remakes of "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "The Heartbreak Kid") suggests a life of disciplined productivity. 

Such an existence eludes Eddie Morra (Bradley Cooper), whom we join -- once he has flashed back from what looks like the brink of suicide through a breathless title sequence -- in a bohemian mire of failure. Unshaven and unfocused, living in a grungy Chinatown walkup and frequenting the last bar in Manhattan that does not brew its own bitters and charge $20 for an artisanal cocktail, Eddie is stuck on Page 1 of a long-overdue novel.

The panel I was on at SXSW dealt a lot with the distractions that seduce content-makers, particularly on the web. For a long time, I considered myself ADD and dreamed of a pill that could make it alright. But the longer I write, the more I think my problems have less to do with ADD, and more to do with my desire to avoid pain.

It's painful to write. It's painful to take a clear look at your finances, at your health, at your relationships. At least it's painful when you have no confidence that you can actually improve in those areas. I would not speak for anyone else, but most of my distractions (and I said this at SXSW) are traceable to a deep-seated fear that I may not ultimately prevail. 

I guess I could have taken a pill to ease that anxiety, and I would not disparage those who do. But there's something powerful, for me, in knowing that the anxiety is not mystical. Surely, I still often procrastinate. But conceptualizing it as fear has really helped. I don't want to be a chump. I refuse to be punked by the work.

Heather Havrilesky takes a deeper look at Limitless here.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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