Is writing bad for you?

Frank Kermode

  • Writer’s Block by Zachary Leader
    Johns Hopkins, 325 pp, £19.50, January 1991, ISBN 0 8018 4032 5

Writer’s block must be thought of as a disease even more specific to a particular occupation than housemaid’s knee or weaver’s bottom. You can have those without being a housemaid or a weaver, but you can’t have writer’s block without being a writer, and a real writer, meaning one who is known at some stage to have written something of substance. (Perhaps ‘author’s block’ would be more accurate.) It would be absurd to diagnose the condition in a person who lacked any aspiration to write, or in one who might have written had it occurred to him or her to try, or even in those, a large company perhaps, who might have done it but were denied the chance, the mute inglorious Miltons. And that raises a historical question about women such as Virginia Woolf’s imaginary Judith Shakespeare, which Zachary Leader, determined to leave no aspect of the topic unexamined, tries to answer in his final pages.

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