Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hypergraphia: Disorder or Sweet Nectar of Life?

I'm not sure that my mojo (if I have one) is with me today or not, but once again I feel the need to do a little rambling. My other work is calling pretty loudly, so I feel a bit like a I am ditching school right now.
And, by the way, you should note the striking resemblance of this picture of Dostoevsky to my Halloween profile picutre.

So, hypergraphia really is interesting, even if the OED and Webster's dropped the ball on definitions. Wikipedia was a good place to start, but I soon found myself on a medical website. Basically, they said that hypergraphia is the overwhelming urge, or compulsion to write. It compels some to keep a voluminous journal, others to write some of the longest novels in history, others to write on any surface they can find (including toilet paper and their own skin), and still others to keep up staggering correspondence (including letters to editors, etc.). It was interesting to me that almost all of the instances I found discussed online referred to writing on paper, as opposed to typing. Was this because there is something inherent in writing with pen/pencil and paper that is tied to the pathology of this "disorder", or was it because most of the famous examples of this were authors who wrote in the days before computers?

It seems to me that, essentially, the urge in both cases comes from the same place--the urge for expression and/or communication. Some scientists suggest a connection to lesions in the temporal lobe, or more specifically--temporal lobe epilepsy. Others have suggested that in some cases the part of the brain affected is also used to control movement in the hands. For me, the urge to write seems to come from that expressive place, though I must admit that I haven't had a good look at my temporal lobe lately. But hey, I should not be working from the assumption that I have hypergraphia. None of the places that I looked gave a fool-proof formula for diagnosis--except extreme volume of material of course.

I wouldn't consider myself extreme. I do keep a journal that I write in everyday (I miss probably two days a month). Some entries are very short--a couple of lines--others go on for 3 or 4 pages. I have been doing this for a little over ten years (since 1998) and I am currently on volume 11--I have never counted pages, but I think that for the last couple of years I have averaged 280 or so pages a year.

And now I have felt the need to add a blog. I remember when I was ten or so, writing in a notebook and writing crap really (and I knew even then it was crap--you may wonder why I haven't changed since I was ten) but really enjoying watching the pages fill up with ink. I contemplated how many pages of material I had written in my 10 years, and wondered what the pile would look like if all of my family stacked everything they had ever written in one place. It was terribly fascinating to me, but I still don't think that I have hypergraphia.

The real hypergraphics that you encounter in articles, etc. fill up a notebook every two or three days, or write 1000-paged novels (maybe people of Russian descent are more prone to it). I just keep a journal and write a blog. Maybe all that I really have is "hypergraphic envy". It sounds terribly romantic to me--writing constantly, head down, in an almost frenzied passion. Fingers flying across the keyboard like you are the Beethoven of word processors. Ahhhhh, fits of passion are marvelous, though perhaps a little narcotic-like. Most hypergraphics, according to a Psychology Today article, certainly don't feel that it is a disorder, but a gift. Some called it the opposite of writer's block. It is quite enjoyable, except when you are writing poor quality stuff, of course. But hey, if being more interested in volume than quality is a symptom, then maybe--just maybe--I am afflicted with this delicious disorder. Part of me really wants it to fester and spread know, something that spreads: flesh-eating viruses, bacteria, dandelions--take your pick.

P.S. Famous Authors who were/are possibly under the influence of hypergraphia--Dostoevsky, Poe, Sylvia Plath, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, and Lewis Carroll.


  1. My thesis thinks I have Antihypergraphia--a far more harmful disorder in so many ways.

  2. I actually have the same problem when it comes to my thesis. Most people would probably call it, "Writer's Block," but I think that "Antihypergraphia" has a better ring to it. Though I might like the look of it better hypenated: "Anti-hypergraphia." Thanks.

  3. So how do the hypergraphics balance quantity and quality? Or is that the difference between genius and insanity?

  4. Maybe that is the difference. In one of the articles I read, it did seem like those who succeed commercially--and could be called geniuses--did do quite a bit of revision.

  5. Interesting obvservation about writing versus typing. Is it possible to have a truncated version of hypergraphia? As technology and media provide more opportunities for writing they are simultaneously shortening our attention span. Obviously this applies more to reader than writer but at some point the two overlap. Do hypergraphics ever re-read what they have written or is all of their time spent writing? Is it didactic or cathartic? Did Kerouac really come up with Spontaneous Prose (stream of consciousness) as a writing style or did he just have hypergraphia?

  6. I don't know. I should really read some Kerouac. It might be hard to distinguish in him hypergraphia from drug abuse. But maybe it's both though; that could explain the unique style.

  7. I'm surprised you don't know. Jack Kerouac had a severe case of hypergrapharrhea, which is a very embarrassing disease, so it's no wonder he didn't often talk about it. KP, you are right on with the stream of consciousness thing, but it was just as often an explosion of consciousness. Humiliating, to say the least.

  8. I wonder what the literary equivalent of Pepto Bismol would be? It might have cured many a' literary digestive problems. Oh,imagine an ex lax for writer's block--or anti-hypergraphia that is.