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The prose and cons: A brief look at ‘poetry addiction’

Back in May 2014, I gave a whole afternoon of talks on behavioural addictions (including gambling and gaming addiction) at Castle Craig, an inpatient addiction treatment centre in Scotland. One of the most interesting people I met there was the psychotherapist Christopher Burn who on the back of his latest book Poetry Changes Lives describes himself as “a history addict, grandfather, recovering alcoholic, and poetry fanatic”. Maybe I’ll write a blog on what it is to be a “history addict” in a future blog, but this article will briefly look at an article just published by Burn on ‘poetry addiction’.

Anyone that knows me will tell you that writing is an important activity in my life. Many of my friends and colleagues describe me as a ‘writaholic’ and that I am addicted to writing because of the number of articles that I have published. Regular readers of my blog will also know that I have written articles on obsessional writing (graphomania), obsessional erotic writing (erotographomania), diary writing, excessive blog writing, and excessive (productive) writing.

Although I wouldn’t describe myself as a ‘poetry fanatic’ I do love writing poetry myself and have had a number of my poems published. In fact, in 1997, I won a national Poetry Today competition for the best (20 lines and under) poem for An Alliteration of Life. Burn’s article on ‘addiction to the act of writing poetry (like his latest book) is an interesting read. Burn has even coined a new term for addiction to poetry – ‘poesegraphilia’. Burn notes that the Irish dramatist George Farquar said that poetry was a “mere drug” and that:

“Many poets, great and not so great, have suffered from addiction to mood altering substances – Coleridge, Rimbaud and Dylan Thomas (‘the Rimbaud of Cwmdonkin Drive’) spring to mind. Many great poems have been written about addiction too. It seems however that very little attention has been given to the addictive power generated by the act of writing poetry itself. One thing is for sure – poetry has a power to alter our mood – not normally in the pernicious or directly physical manner of say, a line of cocaine, but in a pervasive and generally enjoyable way that can usually only be helpful. This mood changing effect can come from either reading or writing poetry but of the two, it is poetry writing that is the most dramatic”.

As an amateur poet myself, I know only too well the emotional power of words and that words can have a mood altering effect (both positive and negative). There is even ‘poetry therapy’ and (in the USA) a National Association for Poetry Therapy and an Institute for Poetic Medicine that advocates the intentional use of poetry and other forms of literature for healing and personal growth”. (For a concise overview of ‘poetry therapy’ check out this article on the GoodTherapy website). Burn says that “writing poetry may not affect a person’s life with the degree of powerlessness and unmanageability that say, alcohol does, but it can still have a very marked influence”. He then includes part of an interview transcript from BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs programme with Les Murray, an Australian poet:

“It’s wonderful, there’s nothing else like it, you write in a trance. And the trance is completely addictive, you love it, you want more of it. Once you’ve written the poem and had the trance, polished it and so on, you can go back to the poem and have a trace of that trance, have the shadow of it, but you can’t have it fully again. It seemed to be a knack I discovered as I went along. It’s an integration of the body-mind and the dreaming-mind and the daylight-conscious-mind. All three are firing at once, they’re all in concert. You can be sitting there but inwardly dancing, and the breath and the weight and everything else are involved, you’re fully alive. It takes a while to get into it. You have to have some key, like say a phrase or a few phrases or a subject matter or maybe even a tune to get you started going towards it, and it starts to accumulate. Sometimes it starts without your knowing that you’re getting there, and it builds in your mind like a pressure. I once described it as being like a painless headache, and you know there’s a poem in there, but you have to wait until the words form”.

I’ve always argued that anything can be addictive if it is something that can constantly reinforce and reward behaviour. Theoretically, there is no reason why writing poetry could not be mood modifying and potentially addictive. As Burn observes:

“Many poets talk about the dream-like trance that envelops them during the act of creating poetry and how this can last sometimes for days. This is not a simple cathartic event, which can happen too, but a state that affects mind, body and spirit. Here is poet and author Robert Graves on the subject: ‘No poem is worth anything unless it starts from a poetic trance, out of which you can be wakened by interruption as from a dream. In fact, it is the same thing’. All this trance-like sensation sounds to me a bit like the effect that certain mood altering substances can have, and we know how addictive they can be”.

Burn then goes on to question whether the act of writing poetry can be clinically classed as an addiction. To do this, he uses criteria from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders [DSM] and argues that the act of writing poetry could potentially meet some of the criteria for addiction including: (i) persisting with the habit to the detriment of other activities and relationships, (ii) increased tolerance, (iii) unsuccessful attempts to stop, (iv) increase in time spent on the activity, and (v) persisting with the habit despite knowledge of negative consequences. Based on this he then goes on to argue:

“It seems to me that there is enough anecdotal evidence to indicate that for some people, poetry, in particular the act of writing poetry, is a powerful and addictive behaviour that meets at least a few of these [DSM] criteria…Problem gamblers often talk of the trance-like state they get into when for example, playing slot machines; reality and awareness of the world around them disappears and everything is focused on them to and the moment. As in poetry writing. British poet JLS Carter describes poetic creation as ‘An addiction – you can go for days thinking of nothing else, in a kind of trance where all other thoughts and considerations are sidelined. That way madness lies’. By its very nature, poetry puts a special power into words that affects us in a way that most conversation or written narrative does not. Poetry gets under our skin, alters our moods and stays in our head in a special way”.

Much of Burn’s admittedly anecdotal argument that poetry can be addictive all comes down to how addiction is defined in the first place and also takes the implicit view that some activities can be what Dr. Bill Glasser would call ‘positive addictions’ in that there are some behaviours that can have positive as well as negative consequences. However, for me, there is also the question of whether positive addictions are “addictions” at all. Have a quick look at Glasser’s criteria for positive addictions below. For an activity to be classed as a positive addiction, Glasser says the behaviour must be:

  • Non-competitive and needing about an hour a day
  • Easy, so no mental effort is required
  • Easy to be done alone, not dependent on people
  • Believed to be having some value (physical, mental, spiritual)
  • Believed that if persisted in, some improvement will result
  • Involve no self-criticism.

Most of these could apply to ‘poetry addiction’ but to me, these criteria have little resemblance to the core criteria or components of addictions (such as salience, withdrawal, tolerance, mood modification, conflict, relapse, etc.). My own view is that ‘positive addiction’ is an oxymoron and although I am the first to admit that some potential addictions might have benefits that are more than just short-term (as in the case of addictions to work or exercise), addictions will always be negative for the individual in the long run. Although no-one is ever likely to seek treatment for an addiction to writing poetry, it doesn’t mean that we can’t use activities like writing poetry to help us define and refine how we conceptualize behavioural addictions.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Burn, C. (2015). Poetry Changes Lives. Biggar: DHH Publishing.

Burn, C. (2016). Poesegraphilia – Addiction to the act of writing poetry. Poetry Changes Lives, May 27. Located at: http://www.poetrychangeslives.com/addiction-to-the-act-of-writing-poetry/

Glasser, W. (1976), Positive Addictions, Harper & Row, New York, NY.

GoodTherapy.Org (2016). Poetry therapy. Located at: http://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/types/poetry-therapy

Griffiths, M.D. (1996). Behavioural addictions: An issue for everybody? Journal of Workplace Learning, 8(3), 19-25.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). A ‘components’ model of addiction within a biopsychosocial framework. Journal of Substance Use, 10, 191-197.

Griffiths, M.D. (2011). Behavioural addiction: The case for a biopsychosocial approach. Trangressive Culture, 1, 7-28.

Klein. P. (2006). The therapeutic benefit of poetry. The Therapist. Located at: http://phyllisklein.com/writing-for-healing/the-therapeutic-benefit-of-poetry/

Larkin, M., Wood, R.T.A. & Griffiths, M.D. (2006). Towards addiction as relationship. Addiction Research and Theory, 14, 207-215.

Passive joking: A brief look at the latest behavioural addictions

Now that people are beginning to accept the idea that addictions do not necessarily involve the ingestion of a drug, today’s blog briefly overviews some of the newer addictions that are being talked about in clinical circles up and down the country.

Walking: Yes, believe it or not, there are people out there who like nothing better than to walk for hours and hours every day to get their kicks. This has been termed ‘pathological rambling’ and I hear there are a few Ramblers Anonymous groups in existence. This should not be confused with those other ramblers who are addicted to the sound of their own voice and engage in constant monologues (e.g., politicians). This is a diction problem rather than an addiction problem.

Rug making: This has been reported amongst the recently engaged and newly wed couples. Every evening after coming back from work, these couples spend hours making rugs by sowing squares of material together. A reported behavioural sign of ‘rug addiction’ is a preoccupation with needles. One of the couple is usually much less into the activity than their partner and builds up an incredible tolerance level before undergoing withdrawal. (Withdrawal effects from rug making have been reported and include feelings of happiness, normality and rational thought).

Gardening: For most people this is just an innocent pastime, but for a minority it can become an addiction. Why do some people become hooked on their garden? Theories are at present lacking but discourse analysts tell me that gardening has an established “recreational drug-related rhetoric”. Next time a gardener asks you about your “pot plants” or “grass”, or the quickest way to dispose of “weeds”, don’t make a hash of your answer.

Telling jokes: Can humour be dangerous? In a previous blog (and based on an article I had published I a 1989 issue of The Psychologist), I brought to your attention an account of ‘Witzelsucht’ (‘punning mania”) based on the work of Dr. A. A. Brill (dating back to a 1929 paper in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis). But now the discussion seems to be about the effects of ‘passive joking’. Should people have to put up with people’s joking when they go to a public place? Do they really need the pun and excitement? Passive joking certainly changes my own behaviour. I find that straight after reading a column by Stephen Fry or Charlie Brooker, I have an incredible urge to be witty myself. It’s even worse of there is a word-processor nearby…which brings me to my final addiction.

Writing addiction: It may come as a surprise but some people (including a small percentage of academics) are actually addicted to writing. Those of us that have an “ink problem” undertake ritualistic behaviour before engaging in the activity and experience immense “highs” on acceptance of an article or seeing the article in print. Tolerance occurs quickly and with writers having to write longer and longer articles or books to get intense “highs” (a stage at which the writing addict is well and truly “booked”). Irritability and withdrawal effects are experienced when they (i) get an article rejected, (ii) go more than a few days without getting anything accepted or published, (iii) run out of ideas to write about (many writers fear developing a “think problem” and some may resort to “clue sniffing” for inspiration), and (iv) are on holiday without access to a word-processor. This last consequence can sometimes be partly overcome by carrying a writing implement. Anecdotal evidence suggests writing addicts show cross-tolerance to pens and pencils but not to crayons.

So there you have it – or not – as the (clinical) case may be.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Behavioural Addiction, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Brill, A.A. (1929). Unconscious insight: Some of its manifestations. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 10, 145-161.

Garfield, E. (1987). The crime of pun-ishment. Essays of an Information Scientist, 10, 174-178.

Griffiths, M.D. (1989). It’s not funny: A case study of ‘punning mania’. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 2, 272.

Griffiths, M.D. (1993). Addictions: Looking to the future. Clinical Psychology Forum, 62, 16.

Penned in: How to become an excessive (and productive) writer

Many people that I know would probably describe me as a ‘writaholic’ based on the number of articles and papers that I have had published. When it comes to addictions in academia, ‘writing addiction’ is just about the best one you can have. I don’t believe I have an addiction to writing but it is a very salient activity in my life and I am a habitual writer and I write every day. In previous blogs I examined diary writing and psychological wellbeing as well as an article on graphomania (obsessive writing). Today’s blog briefly examines some of the things that make people more productive writers (and by definition a more excessive writer). During my career I’ve published many articles on the writing process (see ‘Further reading’ below) and today’s blog looks at some of my beliefs and practices.

Before outlining some general advice, it’s also worth exploring many of the false beliefs that many of us have about writing – beliefs which may explain why many of us don’t like writing. For instance:

  • Writing is inherently difficult: Like speaking, writing doesn’t need to be perfect to be effective and satisfying.
  • Good writing must be original: Little, if any, of what we write is truly original. What makes our ideas worthwhile communicating is the way we present them.
  • Good writing must be perfect preferably in a single draft: In general, the more successful writers are more likely to revise manuscripts.
  • Good writing must be spontaneous: There appears to be a belief that writing should await inspiration. However, the most productive and satisfying way to write is habitually, regardless of mood or inspiration. Writers who overvalue spontaneity tend to postpone writing, and if they write at all, they write in binges that they associate with fatigue.
  • Good writing must proceed quickly: Procrastination goes hand in hand with impatience. Those writers who often delay writing suppose that writing must proceed quickly and effortlessly. However, good writing can often proceed at a slow pace over a lengthy period of time.
  • Good writing is delayed until the right mood with big blocks of undisrupted time available: Good writing can take place in any mood at any time. It is better to write habitually in short periods every day rather than in binges.
  • Good writers are born not made: Good writing is a process that can be learned like any other behaviour.
  • Good writers do not share their writing until it is finished and perfect: Although some writers are independent, many writers share their ideas and plans at an early stage and then get colleagues to read over their early drafts for comments and ideas.

Even when these false beliefs about writing are dispelled, many of us can still have problems putting pen to paper or finger to keypad. Insights about writing only slowly translate into actions. For most professionals, writing is only done out of necessity (i.e., a report that they have to hand in). This produces a feeling of ‘having to write’ rather than ‘wanting to write’ and can lead to boredom and/or anxiety. Furthermore, most people appear to view writing as a private act in which their problems are unique and embarrassing. Strategies for overcoming this include getting colleagues to criticize their own work before going ‘public’, sharing initial plans and ideas with others, and practising reviewing other people’s work.

It is generally acknowledged that there is no one proven effective method above all others for teaching people to become better writers. It is also a process that can be learned and can aid learning (i.e., a skill learned through opportunities to write and from instructional feedback). Although there are no ‘quick fixes’ to becoming a better writer, here are some general tips on how to make your writing more productive. I would advise you to:

  • Establish a regular place where all serious writing is done
  • Remove distracting temptations from the writing site (e.g., magazines, television)
  • Leave other activities (e.g., washing up, making the dinner) until after writing
  • Limit potential interruptions (e.g., put a “Do not disturb” sign on the door, unplug the telephone)
  • Make the writing site as comfortable as possible
  • Make recurrent activities (e.g., telephone calls, coffee making) dependent upon minimum periods of writing first
  • Write while ‘feeling fresh’ and leave mentally untaxing activities until later in the day
  • Plan beyond daily goals and be realistic about what can be written in the time available
  • Plan and schedule writing tasks into manageable units
  • Complete one section of writing at a time if the writing is in sections
  • Use a word processor to make drafting easier
  • Revise and redraft at least twice
  • Write daily rather than ‘bingeing’ all in one go
  • Share writing with peers as people are more helpful, judgmental and critical on ‘unfinished’ drafts

Obviously, the problem with such a prescriptive list such as this is that not every suggestion will work for everyone. Many of us know our own limitations and create the right conditions to help get the creative juices going. Some people can’t write in silence or with others in the room. By reading this short blog I cannot make you become a more productive and excessive writer overnight. However, it has hopefully equipped my blog readers with some tips and discussion points that may help in facilitating better writing amongst yourselves and colleagues.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Griffiths, M.D. (1994). Productive writing in the education system. The Psychologist: Bulletin of the British Psychological Society, 7, 460-462.

Griffiths, M.D. (2001). How to…get students to write with confidence. Times Higher Education Supplement, June 8, p.24.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Tips on…Report writing. British Medical Journal (Careers), 328, 28.

Griffiths, M.D. (1998). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 1 – Professional journals and newsletters). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 29, 41-42.

Griffiths, M.D. (1999). Writing for non-refereed outlets (Part 2 – Newspapers and magazines). Psy-PAG Quarterly, 30, 5-6.

Griffiths, M.D. (2000). Writing and getting published – My top 10 tips. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 34, 2-4.

Griffiths, M.D. (2005). Addiction, fiction and media depiction: A light-hearted look at scientific writing and the media. Null Hypothesis: The Journal of Unlikely Science, 2(2), 16-17.

Griffiths, M.D. (2010). Top tips on…Writing with confidence. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 76, 33-34.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.

Blogging the limelight: A personal account of the benefits of excessive blogging

A few weeks ago, I got an email from one of my regular readers asking how I managed to write so many blogs and whether I might be “addicted” to writing them. I wrote back to her and noted that I had already written a blog on whether blogging could be addictive (although the blog itself was a more humorous take on the activity) and that I definitely wasn’t addicted to writing them (either by my own addiction criteria or anyone else’s – and no I’m not in denial). She wrote back and asked me if I got any benefit to writing them. Well, as a matter a fact there are lots of benefits, and I thought I would share you the benefits of blogging (at least from my own perspective).

I take my blog writing very seriously. (Some say too seriously). Not only do I have my own personal blog, but I also have a blog (called In Excess) on Psychology Today, and am a guest blogger on many other sites including the British newspaper The Independent, the gaming site GamaSutra, and debate sites such as The Conversation. Earlier this year I was delighted to see my personal blog pass one million visitors and at the moment is getting around 3000 visitors a day (which I’m really pleased with).

On average I publish three new personal blogs a week (having published five a week for the first six months). I’m thinking about cutting down to two a week (and I realize I sound like a cigarette smoker in saying that) and I have to admit I do sometimes get the urge to write and publish a blog. However, there are many benefits. Here are some of the main ones:

  • Raised national and international profile: My blog helps in the dissemination and promotion of my research, the Psychology Division, Nottingham Trent University, and the discipline of psychology more widely. My opportunities to write on other blog sites almost all came from the success of my personal blog.
  • Increased media opportunities: My blog has attracted the attention of various national and international radio and television programmes and has led to over 20 media appearances based purely on my blog entries (such as an American syndicated radio interview about my blog on ‘punning mania’ or appearing in a Voice of Russia radio debate talking about ‘DVD box set bingeing’ after I had written about it in my blog). I would also argue that the 12-episode series that I filmed for the Discovery Channel (called Forbidden and on which I was the resident psychologist each week) was directly helped by my blog (in fact the whole series is a televisual version of my blog).
  • Additional resources for university teaching: I’ve been using lots of my blogs to supplement my teaching resources. Students on my ‘Addictive Behaviours’ module have been particularly appreciative of my blogs on gambling and sexual paraphilias (based on my module feedback for the past couple of years).
  • Additional resources for ‘A’ Level Psychology teaching: I have also discovered that various ‘A’ Level psychology tutors are recommending my blog to their classes in relation to the psychology syllabi on both gambling and addiction. The feedback I have received is that students like the populist way I write by blogs that aid student understanding.
  • Blogs as forerunners for papers and articles: About 15 of my blogs have been lengthened and adapted for articles and papers. For instance, a paper I wrote for the Journal of Behavioral Addictions on sexual paraphilias was based almost totally on material in my blogs.
  • Blogs reprinted in other magazines and publications: A number of editors have contacted me and asked if they could reprint my blogs in their publications. For instance, my blogs have been re-published in the gambling trade press (e.g., World Online Gambling Law Report, i-Gaming Business Affiliate), addiction magazines (Addiction Today), and newspapers (e.g., the Nottingham Post have published three of my blogs in their ‘First Person’ column). One of my blogs on the Government’s Stoptober campaign was reprinted in the Nottingham Post, led to 11 radio interviews (including BBC Radio 5 Live), and was also published in outlets such as the Evening Standard newspaper and the ITV news website.
  • Dissemination of preliminary results and new ideas: Blogs can be a very quick way of disseminating preliminary results and ideas. I only ever do this if I think it will have a wider reaching effect than waiting for formal publication (e.g. some kind of political effect). Writing blogs is also a great way of raising issues and ideas without having to write a full-blown article. The also provide an excellent forum for the establishing initial thoughts, novel observations or naming new phenomena. It also provides a chronology of ideas that I can then cite in more formal academic papers.
  • Participant recruitment for research: Although there are ethical questions to consider, blogs can help in the (solicited and unsolicited) recruitment of research participants. I’ve been amazed at the number of different paraphiliacs that have contacted me following the publication of my blogs. The most high profile example is the case study that I published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior on eproctophilia (sexual arousal from flatulence). The case study I wrote up and published contacted me after reading my first blog article on the topic. When the case study was published, the story appeared in hundreds of stories around the world.

I hope that this small insight will persuade you that blog writing on issues related to addiction, obsession, and behavioural excess has been good for my academic career and that there are numerous benefits. The activity certainly gives me a rush sometimes, and is one of the most important things in my academic life. Some may argue that my blog writing is excessive. True – but it is not an addiction. It’s just something I genuinely love doing.

Dr. Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Dunn, A. (2012). Blogging, the tipping point, and free will. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 85, 31-32.

Greenhill, R. & Griffiths, M.D. (2014). The use of online asynchronous interviews in the study of paraphilias. SAGE Research Methods Cases. Located at: http://dx.doi.org/10.4135/978144627305013508526

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). The use of online methodologies in studying paraphilia: A review. Journal of Behavioral Addictions, 1, 143-150.

Griffiths, M.D. (2013). How writing blogs can help your academic career. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 87, 39-40.

Griffiths, M.D. (2014). Top tips on…Writing blogs. Psy-PAG Quarterly, 90, 13-14.

Griffiths, M.D., Lewis, A., Ortiz de Gortari, A.B. & Kuss, D.J. (2014). Online forums and blogs: A new and innovative methodology for data collection. Studia Psychologica, in press.

Is sexed text a case of writing wrongs? A brief look at erotographomania

In a previous blog I briefly looked at graphomania, which in a psychiatric context, relates to a morbid mental condition that manifests itself in written ramblings and confused statements. Graphomania in a non-psychiatric context typically concerns the urge or need to write to excess (and not necessarily in a professional context). Today’s blog looks at what I see as a sub-variant of this that has been termed ‘erotographomania’ although compared to ‘graphomania’ more generally, there seems to be a lot of different operational definitions of what erotographomania actually refers to. For instance:

  • Dr. Anil Aggrawal’s book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices defines erotographomania as when individuals derive sexual pleasure and arousal from writing love poems or letters.
  • Like Dr. Aggrawal’s book, Dr. Brenda Love’s Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices defines erotographomania as sexual arousal from writing love poems or letters but adds that the condition was “more common before the invention of the telephone”.
  • In the 2005 edition of the Comprehensive Textbook of Sexual Medicine (edited by Dr. Nilamadhab Kar and Gopal Chandra Kar), erotographomania is defined as sexual gratification through obscene writing. Citing from Dr. J.B. Mukherjee’s 1985 book Forensic Medicine and Toxicology, it is reported that erotographomania comprises “drawing obscene pictures and diagrams in lavatories, public urinals or writing obscene anonymous letters to young girls”.
  • In an article on ‘manifestly manifolded manias’ in a 1986 issue of the Journal of Recreational Linguistics, Paul Hellweg defined erotographomania as the abnormal interest in erotic literature”.
  • The Right Diagnosis website claims that erotographomania can comprise either and/or the (i) compulsive desire to write love letters, (ii) compulsive desire to write love poems, and (iii) abnormal interest in erotic literature. It also claims that treatment for the condition “may not be sought unless the condition becomes problematic for the person in some way, and they feel compelled to address their condition. Many people simply learn to accept their fetish and manage to achieve sexual gratification in a satisfactory manner”.
  • The Encyclo (online encyclopedia) defines erotographomania as (i) an obsession to write love letters or to write erotic or pornographic literature, (ii) an abnormal interest in erotic literature, and (iii) in psychiatry, a morbid impulse to write love letters (generally written anonymously).

Obviously the numerous definitions outlined have clear overlaps, but there is no consensus on the exact erotic or (potentially paraphilic) focus. In my research for this article I couldn’t find a single academic or clinical article on the topic, just brief definitional mentions (of which the above list was comprised). Brenda Love’s comment (above) that the condition was more common before the telephone may be why there appear more mentions of the condition historically than in contemporary texts (for instance, erotographomania was mentioned in Edward Podolsky’s 1953 Encyclopedia of Aberrations, although again, there was no substance to what was written).

I did come across two books both entitled ‘Erotographomania’. The first was published in 2005 by Mike Martin (the full title of which was Erotographomania: Cruel Nostalgia), while the second one was published in 2008 by Rebecca Smith (and simply called Erotographomania). However, neither book was academic and neither provided any insight into the condition. I also came across an online academic article written in 2010 on love letters written by Kristine Trever. Writing about her own urges to write love letters:

“What happens to that urge to write out our love and desires and emotions in some concrete, tangible way to someone else..? And more importantly where does that urge come from?…I recall an overwhelming need to express something because of the influence of something else, because of an experience that touched me, reminded me, inspired me to share. I read a story that included a poem and through the existence of these two external items, the urge hooked me, the impulse too great to deny. I was overcome. The power of the pencil took over…If this all sounds crazy, impulsive, erratic, wild, unabashed and/or idiotic, itʼs critical to note that there is an actual disease called erotographomania, which is the compulsive act of writing and writing and writing and writing and writing and writing love letters. The OCD recipe for lovers”.

The Australian musician and songwriter Nick Cave gave a lecture in 1999 on love songs and claimed that he and a friend both had erotographomania. In his lecture he said:

“The reasons why I feel compelled to sit down and write love songs are legion. Some of these came clearer to me when I sat down with a friend of mine, who for the sake of his anonymity I will refer to as J.J. and I admitted to each other that we both suffered from psychological disorder that the medical profession call erotographomania. Erotographomania is the obsessive desire to write love letters. My friend shared that he had written and sent, over the last five years, more than seven thousand love letters to his wife. My friend looked exhausted and his shame was almost palpable. I suffer from the same disease but happily have yet to reach such an advanced stage as my poor friend J. We discussed the power of the love letter and found that it was, not surprisingly, very similar to the love song. Both served as extended meditations on ones beloved. Both served to shorten the distance between the writer and the recipient. Both held within them a permanence and power that the spoken word did not. Both were erotic exercises, in themselves. Both had the potential to reinvent, through words, like Pygmalion with his self-created lover of stone, one’s beloved. Alas, the most endearing form of correspondence, the love letter, like the love song has suffered at the hands of the cold speed of technology, at the carelessness and soullessness of our age”.

Maybe there is something in the Australian psyche when it comes to erotographomania as (during my research) I came across an Australian art exhibition on the topic that featured the work of Dejan Kaludjerovic, Claire Lambe, Nancy Mauro-Flude, Sally Rees, Noel Skrzypczak, Ben Terakes, and Paul Emmanuel. The exhibition was curated by Sarah Jones, who wrote that:

“Erotographomania (originally a term for perverse and obsessive love letter writing) aims to make parallels between the unconscious investment that artists make to address an audience and the intense erotic delusions played out in the exchange of love letters. Both produce a circuit of libidinal exchange that demands recognition. Both involve a fraught transferential displacement centred on an object of communication. Erotographomania explores pathos; the element of sadness and regret that flows between the ‘sender’ and the ‘addressee’ that becomes injected into the dubious presence of the world of objects; reflected there; contaminated by a past relentlessly regurgitated into the present. The exchange between the artist, the work and the audience remains confused and in flux, like that of the lover, the loved, the author and the intended beneficiary”.

Given an almost complete absence of academic and clinical reference to erotographomania, it begs the question of why it’s not been a topic of empirical investigation. Maybe the topic is being actively researched but no-one is calling it erotographomania. Many cyberpsychologists (including myself) have studied cybersexual behaviour that includes the sending of sexually arousing erotic emails to each other. Some of my academic papers on online sex (a few of which I’ve listed in the ‘further reading’ section below) make reference to online behaviours that fit some of the operational definitions of erotographomania outlined at the start of this article. Maybe it’s about time I wrote an article letting the cyberpsychology community know that they are simply researching an old phenomenon in a new environment.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Cave, N. (1999). Love Song Lecture September 25. Transcription of lecture at: http://everything2.com/title/Nick+Cave%2527s+Love+Song+Lecture

Encyclo Online Encyclopedia (2012). Erotographomania. Located at: http://www.encyclo.co.uk/define/erotographomania

Griffiths, M.D. (2000).  Excessive internet use: Implications for sexual behavior. CyberPsychology and Behavior, 3, 537-552.

Griffiths, M.D.  (2001).  Sex on the internet: Observations and implications for sex addiction. Journal of Sex Research, 38, 333-342.

Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Sex addiction on the Internet. Janus Head: Journal of Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature, Continental Philosophy, Phenomenological Psychology and the Arts, 7(2), 188-217.

Griffiths, M.D. (2012). Internet sex addiction: A review of empirical research. Addiction Research and Theory, 20, 111-124.

Hellweg, P. (1986). Manifestly manifolded manias. Journal of Recreational Linguistics, 19(2), 100-108.

Kar, N. & Kar, G.C. (2005). Comprehensive Textbook of Sexual Medicine. New Delhi: Jaypee Brothers Medical Publishers.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Martin, M. (2005). Erotographomania: Cruel Nostalgia. BookSurge Publishing.

Mukherjee, J.B. (1985). Forensic Medicine and Toxicology. London: Academic Publishers.

Podolsky, E. (1953). Encyclopedia of Aberrations: A Psychiatric Handbook. London: Arco.

Right Diagnosis  (2012). Erotographomania, February 1. http://www.rightdiagnosis.com/e/erotographomania/intro.htm

Smith, R. (2008). Erotographomania. Blurb Publishing (http://www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/1468330)

Trever, K. (2010). How to write a love letter, or how do you write a love letter? Located at: http://www.kristinetrever.com/pdf/LoveLetter-Trever.pdf

The write stuff: A brief overview of typomania and graphomania

“Life is a series of addictions and without them we die”

This opening quote is one of my favourite quotes from the addiction literature and was made by Professor Isaac Marks in a 1990 issue of the British Journal of Addiction. Whether the statement is true or not depends upon what the definition of addiction is. It’s also a quote that makes me think about my own life and to what extent I have any addictions. Most people that know me well would say that my passion for listening to music borders on the obsessive. Others have called me a ‘workaholic’ (which again depends on the definition of workaholism). Personally, I don’t think I’m addicted to either work or music (and no, I’m not in denial), but I did come across a condition called ‘typomania’ that I can’t so easily deny.

Most definitions of typomania are similar but have slight subtle differences in emphasis. For instance, I have come across six definitions indicating that it is either (i) a craze for seeing one’s writings or name in print, (ii) a mania for writing for publication, (iii) an obsession with the expectation of publication, (iv) an obsession with the business of printing or publishing, (v) an unhealthy passion to write, (vi) an obsessive impulse to write, and (vii) an addiction to writing (where people write for the sake of writing without caring about the quality of the written word).

These latter definitional variations (i.e., obsessive impulse or unhealthy passion to write) has been observed in the psychiatric community as in addition to typomania, has also been termed ‘graphomania’ and ‘scribomania’ (although some of these other definitions claim that the condition concerns the obsession to write books). The term ‘graphomania’ has been used since the early 19th century by both French psychiatrist Dr. Jean-Étienne Esquirol and Swiss psychiatrist Dr. Eugen Bleuler (the man who first coined the term ‘schizophrenia’). A number of independent sources (such as Svetlana Boym in her 1995 book Common Places. Mythologies in Everyday Life in Russia) also claim that the term ‘graphomania’ is a well established concept in Russian culture.

In a 2004 issue of the journal Neurocase, two French academics (I. Barrière and M. Lorch) wrote a paper called “Premature thoughts on writing disorders”. They noted (based on some earlier work by Artières) that writing disorders were one of the “hallmarks” of the 19th century medical world. The paper reported:

 “The identification of a disease contracted by children whose sight and general health were thought to be affected by too much writing labelled “graphomania”. More importantly for the topic under investigation, writing was perceived by clinicians as the privileged means to gain access to the mental states of atypical individuals, including geniuses (see for instance the study on the handwriting of Leonardo de Vinci), criminals, and those affected by a medical condition. This led to numerous studies on the writing of patients affected by various pathologies including dementia, epilepsy and Parkinson”

One of the first uses of the word ‘graphomania’ in a wider public context, was in the New York Times (September 27, 1896) in an article about US Democratic presidential candidate William Jennings Bryan (under the title ‘Bryan’s Mental Condition’). The article noted that:

“The habit of excessive writing, of explaining, amplifying, and reiterating, of letter making and pamphleteering, forms a morbid symptom of known as ‘graphomania’. Some men may overload their natural tendency to write, but a certain class of lunatics use nearly all their mental activities in this occupation, to the endless annoyance of their friends, relatives and physicians”.

In a psychiatric context, graphomania refers to a morbid mental condition that manifests itself in written ramblings and confused statements. Much of the written content is meaningless nonsense and is also referred to as graphorrhea. Graphomania in a non-psychiatric context concerns the urge or need to write to excess (and not necessarily in a professional context). This is certainly something I can relate to.

In his 1979 Book of Laughter and Forgetting, the Czech novelist Milan Kundera noted that:

“Graphomania (an obsession with writing books) takes on the proportions of a mass epidemic whenever society develops to the point where it can provide three basic conditions: (1) a high enough degree of general wellbeing to enable people to devote their energies to useless activities; (2) an advanced state of social atomisation and the resultant general feeling of the isolation of the individual; (3) a radical absence of significant social change in the internal development of the nation. (In this connection, I find it symptomatic that in France, a country where nothing really happens, the percentage of writers is twenty one times higher than in Israel)…The irresisitable proliferation of graphomania among politicians, taxi drivers, childbearers, lovers, murderers, thieves, prostitutes, officials, doctors, and patients shows me that everyone without exception bears a potential writer within him, so that the entire human species has good reason to go down the streets and shout: ‘We are all writers!'”

There doesn’t appear to be much academic or clinical research on graphomania although papers dating back to the early twentieth century exist. For instance, in 1921, Dr. F.T. Hunter wrote about graphomania when reviewing the 1920 French book La Graphomanie (Essai de Psychologie Morbide) by Ossip-Lourie. Graphomania was described as a “psychopathic tendency to write”. To differentiate between whether writing was normal or abnormal, it was observed that:

“All writings which do not convey a positive fact, the result of observation or of experience, which do not bring forth an idea, which do not materialize an image – a personal artistic product – which do not reflect the interior life and the personality of the author, are in the domain of graphomania”.

Graphomania was believed to be “psychosocially acquired” and was acquired as a consequence of the educational methods of the time that taught children to copy rather than to write creatively. Dr. Hunter said that psychiatrists wouldn’t take Ossip-Lourie’s book seriously. More recently, a 1988 paper in a French neurology journal, Dr, J. Cambler and his colleagues described the case of compulsive graphic activity” as a consequence of fronto-callosal glioma (a kind of brain tumour). They reported that spontaneous and graphomanic writing “were abundant and incoercible”. They noted that the behaviour was comparable with that of the compulsive activity that may result from other types of brain lesion (e.g., pallidal lesions or bilateral frontal lesions).

So, do I suffer from typomania and/or graphomania? Based on what I have read, absolutely not. Life may well be a series of addictions, but – as yet – I don’t think I have any.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Artières, P. (1998). Clinique de l’écriture: une histoire du regard médical sur l’écriture. Institut Synthélabo pour le progrès de la connaissance. Le Plessis-Robinson.

Barrière, I. & Lorch, M. (2004). Premature thoughts on writing disorders. Neurocase, 10, 91-108.

Boym, S. (1995), Common Places. Mythologies in Everyday Life in Russia. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.

Cambler, J., Masson, C., Benammou, S. & Robine, B. (1988). [Graphomania. Compulsive graphic activity as a manifestation of fronto-callosal glioma]. Revue Neurol, 144, 158-164.

Hellweg, P. (1986). Manifestly manifolded manias. Journal of Recreational Linguistics, 19(2), 100-108.

History Matters (undated). “Bryan’s Mental Condition:” One Psychiatrist’s View.Located at: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5353/

Hunter, F.T. (1921). Review of La graphomanie (Essai de psychologie morbide). Journal of Abnormal Psychology and Social Psychology, 16, 279-280.

Marks, I. (1990). Behaviour (non-chemical) addictions. British Journal of Addiction, 85, 1389-1394.

Wayne R. LaFave (2003). Rotunda: Il professore prolifico ma piccolo. University of Illinois Law Review, 5, 1161-1168.

Wikipedia (2012). Graphomania. Located at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphomania