This story was told from one author’s perspective. He was the underdog going up against an old pro. The competition was held in a stadium and as each author typed his story it was projected on a screen for the audience. Just as the protagonist feels he’s about to lose, the old pro author types “I can’t write this shit anymore” and quits.

  • Hi, welcome to SF&F! When did you read this? Was it in an anthology, a magazine or online?
    – DavidW
    Jul 11 at 23:17
  • Welcome Cadejos. Please read our story ID checklist and see if you can add some details, when it was written, artwork, was it in a comic/anthology or on TV etc.. Jul 11 at 23:18
  • 3
    An interesting sidenote, this initially made me think of "The 13 and a half Lives Of Captain Bluebear" where, in one chapter, the titular character has to engage in a competition of telling the most unbelievable, unlikely story - so in the end, in a case of writer's block, he simply tells his life story thus far. However, I'm pretty sure it didn't feature the protagonist giving up and writing "I can't write this shit anymore".
    – user25730
    Jul 12 at 0:22

1 Answer 1


I think this is probably "Prose Bowl" (1979) by Barry N. Malzberg and Bill Pronzini.

A summary of the story on the NESFA recursive fiction database reads:

In the future writers compete as professional athletes. In the prose bowl, two writers vie to see who will complete 10,000 words first (in four quarters of 2,500) while 100,000 paying fans look on. Rex Sackett, the young challenger picks the topic "Mid-Twentieth Century Detective" while the defending champion Leon Culp (the Cranker) gets "Futuristic Love-Adventure." In the fourth quarter, Culp finally realizes that what they are doing is garbage and he stops writing. Sackett wins but decides that Culp is right and he, too, will retire from the field.

Culp has a breakdown near the end of the tournament:

I finished page thirty-six, pulled it out blindly, and reached for another sheet of paper. Just as I brought it into the platen, Culp's machine unlocked and he hit the keys again.

But not for long.


Lock into silence. Penalty flag.

You can read the story in the July 1979 issue of The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction at the Internet Archive.

  • 2
    I was going to suggest "Half-Baked Publisher's Delight" by Asimov and Jeffrey Hudson (isfdb.org/cgi-bin/title.cgi?54436), but this is clearly a better fit.
    – Andrew
    Jul 11 at 23:29
  • If I recall correctly, this story was expanded into a novel. Jul 12 at 0:47
  • 1
    @DavidSiegel Probably didn't take very long ;)
    – richardb
    Jul 12 at 10:00

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