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
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.
“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
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