Writers are diseased-and there is proof

“Many suffer from the incurable disease of writing, and it becomes chronic in their sick minds.”

The above quote comes from Decimus Lunius Luvenalis, but we know him as Juvenal, a first-second century poet know for his satires that are considered a scathing indictment of Roman life and culture, not to mention politics. He may have been trying to be funny in the above quote, but it turns out he may be right.

There is a disease called hypergraphia. Fyodor Dostoyevsky suffered from it. He was a compulsive writer who suffered from epilepsy, a type of epilepsy in the brain that compelled him to write, write, and write, not just novels and novellas, but short stories,  journals, and of course, what writers frequently did in the days before email, write letters. He believed his best writing came when he was sick.

Writers of fiction write because they want to communicate. Consider the  narrator in the Rime of the Ancient Mariner. He stops a young man on his way to a wedding. It was rude of him to waylay that young man, but he was compelled to tell his story and that man was going to be his audience, come hell or high water. As Joan Didion once wrote, ” In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, to see it my way, change your mind.”

Storytellers must tell their story and if said storyteller is an extroverted gregarious sort, he will not be a writer, but a big blowhard who never shuts up. But if the storyteller is an introvert with a sensate personality he tells his story in fiction. And how nice of him not to bother young men on the way to weddings. Though if he is clever, the writer will slip his book into the young man’s jacket pocket; the equivalent of an Amazon promotion where you give your book away for free for a limited time.

Most fiction writers are methodical,  keeping to a schedule, or trying to, but few of us have the mad disease that compels us to write, forsaking family, friends, and cats. Few of us are as sick as Dostoyevsky, but we writers must communicate, and because we write better than we speak, we put our words to paper-or digital algorithms.  We are introverts after all. We like to speak from a safe distance, the better to control our type of madness.

To learn more about hypergraphia there is a book by Alice Flaherty, who is both neurologist and writer. She writes from her experience with a postpartum mood disorder. The book is “Midnight Disease.”

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