Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Overcoming the Ultimate Writer's Block

When author Howard Engel opened his front door and picked up his morning paper a dozen years ago, nothing on the front page made any sense to him. At age 70, the dean of Canadian mystery writers and creator of the Benny Cooperman series had lost his ability to read.

As it turned out, Engel had suffered an overnight stroke that left him with alexia sine agraphia, a rare condition that made it impossible for him to read, while still being able to write.

Many writers would have given up at that point. Not Engel, though with 10 Cooperman books, a handful of short stories and novellas, and a pair of radio and TV adaptations behind him, he could easily have walked away from the book world with no loss to his reputation.

Instead, he relearned the alphabet and dictated a new Benny Cooperman mystery -- Memory Book-- in which his sleuth wakes up in a Toronto hospital with a condition similar to Engel's.

He then penned a memoir, The Man Who Forgot How to Read. It's a testament, writes renowned neurologist Dr. Oliver Sacks in the afterword, "to the resilience and creative adaptation of one man and his brain."

It's a testament, too, to a love of the written word and a commitment to creation that would not be stifled.

• How does your commitment to your creativity express itself?
• Where have you been blocked and how have you overcome that block?
• If you haven't yet overcome it, what's holding you back?

Photo of Howard Engel: Joshua Sherurcij

(A version of this post originally appeared on this blog in 2008.)
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