Wednesday, February 16, 2011

The Madness of Writers

I think it might have been Freud who said all writers are mad. Sometimes I wonder if he had a point with that one.

A recent advertising campaign trying raise awareness of, and dispel the stigma attached to, mental illness stated that one in four people have a mental illness of some kind or other. Amongst writers, I think that figure must be much higher.

All the people I've met who've been formally diagnosed with a degree of some mental disorder or other have - without exception - been writers. And there are many more of us who, although outwardly sane, have those weird little habits that might seem odd to other people.

I have to include myself here. I know I have a touch of OCD - otherwise why would I indulge in those little rituals that are so much a part of my daily routine I barely give them a second thought? I have to check three times that the hair straighteners are unplugged before I leave the house, otherwise I worry all day that I've left them on and they'll set the house on fire. Before I go to bed I check my bag to make sure my mobile phone, season travel ticket and wallet are there, and I put it by the coat rack ready for work in the morning. Before I leave the house the next morning I check again, in case one of these essential items has miraculously disappeared overnight, even though logically I know no one's been near my bag and everything is still in there.

I can't leave my keys lying around on a counter. When I get home I hang them up in the key cabinet. On the correct peg. I can't leave books all higgedly piggedly on a shelf. They have to be categorised. By genre, then author. And if it's a series, the books have to be stacked in chronological order - book 1 of the series first.

And then there are the occasions when I fall into a deep dark hole of depression, for no apparent reason, and wallow there in misery for a while, before eventually crawling out of my own accord. I don't think this could officially be classed as clinical depression. I don't entertain suicidal thoughts, or stay in bed for days at a time. I get up and I go about my usual routine. I just do it feeling rather miserable for a while. Then one day I'll wake up and everything is hunky dory again.

Many writers I speak to confess to having similar feelings. Which in a weird way is reassuring, and fuels my theory that you have to be just a little bit mad to be a writer.

It could, of course, be that you have to be a little bit mad to be human - and that we are all full of these little foibles and peculiarities, and they are not unique to writers.

What do you think?

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