Writer’s block has some upsides, believe it or not. When you have it, you’re compelled to finish all those nagging household chores, return all your phone calls, and maybe even tackle some exotic project that has been on your to-do list for the past five years. You will also find yourself on the receiving end of a great deal of empathy from other writers and from the entire industry of workshops, websites, books, and writing gurus devoted to making you productive once again. You can even watch movies about not writing, such as Stranger than Fiction, in which Queen Latifah’s character shows up to assist Emma Thompson’s character in overcoming her writer’s block so she can kill off Will Ferrell’s character. You don’t need to look quite so happy about finding a way to kill Will, Emma.
But what happens when you have the opposite of writer’s block? When you can’t tear yourself away from your computer or legal pads and your household falls apart around you? You know you need to ration your writing time, but you’re at least secretly pleased to have this dilemma to deal with. Of course, you can’t tell anyone about it. It’s like finally being able to fit into that pair of skinny jeans. No matter how much you’ve sweated to get to that point; no one wants to hear it. It just annoys everyone.
There isn’t really any support out there to speak of. If you search the internet, you’ll find the compulsion to write characterized as an impulse-control disorder called hypergraphia, which is on a par with other disorders like pyromania. Exactly how is being on fire, metaphorically, the equivalent of setting fires?
I found this list of “famous hypergraphics” in a Psychology Today article:
- Danielle Steel
- Edgar Allan Poe
- Fyodor Dostoevsky
- Sylvia Plath
- Joyce Carol Oates
- Stephen King
- Isaac Asimov
I want what they’re having (well…what most of them are having).
The drive to write is also referred to, quite dramatically, as the midnight disease, which makes it sound sort of disgusting and perverted. But why view the situation in so sinister a light? If the goal of a writer is to write, shouldn’t this surge of words be cause for celebration? As long as your pets, plants, kids, and other family members are still alive, you don’t really have a problem. Right?
This is Louise Erdrich‘s Advice to Myself:
Leave the dishes.
Let the celery rot in the bottom drawer of the refrigerator
and an earthen scum harden on the kitchen floor.
Leave the black crumbs in the bottom of the toaster.
Throw the cracked bowl out and don’t patch the cup.
Don’t patch anything. Don’t mend. Buy safety pins.
Don’t even sew on a button.
Let the wind have its way, then the earth
that invades as dust and then the dead
foaming up in gray rolls underneath the couch.
Talk to them. Tell them they are welcome.
~ ~ ~
This seems like especially good advice for everyone who’s participating in NaNoWriMo 2012–which is, by the way, a great antidote for writer’s block. Best of luck to all those who are participating this year. I hope to be back in the fold next go around.