There are those writers who appear to have been crippled by early success, she says:
Truman Capote's novel In Cold Blood was enormously successful in America but he never published another book after it.
Harper Lee "made the greatest literary debut of all time" with To Kill a Mockingbird: she won the Pulitzer and sold more than 10 million copies but since then has produced only three magazine articles.
F.Scott Fitzgerald "became an alcoholic wash-up" after The Great Gatsby.
J.D. Salinger never followed up The Catcher in the Rye.
And says Keenan, there are those writers who are paralysed by a lack of success:
Herman Melville wrote very little after Moby Dick bombed, commercially and critically.
Barbara Pym gave up writing entirely after her novels were rejected and moved to the country with her cat. (In 1980 she received more nominations for the most underated novelist of the century than any other writer).
Then there are the writers who enjoy a period of success and then just give up.
It's almost taboo to say it, but perhaps writers just run out of things to say? Some keep going past that point, relying on reputation. Others accept the fact gracefully and move on to concentrate on ther areas of their lives.
Back in January, the great Gabriel Garcia Marquez announced that he was giving up writing because his heart just wasn't in it anymore.
E.M. Forster wrote five successful novels, and then at 35 what is arguably his greatest book A Passage to India. And then he stopped writing fiction altogether, though he lived on for another 46 years!Arundhati Roy won the Booker Prize with her first novel, The God of Small Things, "but since then she simply seems to have found better things to do than write fiction, and has become a vociferous activist in India".
I was intrigued to learn from Keenan that the term "writer's block" dates back only to the 1950's and has no direct translation in French or German!
Yet the concept has been around for some time. Writers, like other artists, have probably always struggled with their work, but the notion that an inability to write might be a specific affliction dates back to the romantic period when the whole notion of writing changed. Before then, it was understood to be the product of effort and discipline, much like tanning hides or embroidery. The romantics, however, recast it as a gift bestowed in moments of inspiration, which had the corollary effect of making the writer less an agent and more a receptacle of a kind of divine grace. The failure to write thus became strangely externalised and largely beyond a writer's control. Before then, he or she simply wasn't working hard enough.Picture credit: literaryagent.co.uk
see Index: On the Craft of Writing