Tuesday, 5 May 2009

writers and anxiety

Sometimes it seems to me that anxiety is the writer's disease. The key question for anyone suffering from an anxiety disorder is almost always What if? So: What if the lift doors don't open? What if I panic in the middle of Tesco and make a fool of myself? What if I forget to count the lampposts and something bad happens as a result?

Well, isn't that what writers do? We put our characters into situations and ask - what if? What if the embarrasing mother costs Jane Bennett her chance of happiness? What if an evil person persuades Othello his wife is being unfaithful? What if a modern cop travels back in time to the 1970s?

And so many writers have said openly that anxiety has troubled them personally in various ways, it's almost as if we need that anxious edge to drive our writing.

So, my question is, since many writers have experience of and insight into anxiety, why aren't there more characters in literature with anxiety disorders? Where are the agoraphobics in Shakespeare, or the panic attacks in Dickens? There are some in the Kingsley Amis oeuvre but not much else. Or have I just been reading the wrong books?

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