01/27/2012 10:29 am ET Updated Mar 28, 2012

The Need to Write

Since the age of ten, when my mother gave me my first journal to help me cope with the loss of my grandmother, you can say I have been addicted to writing. You might think of having an addiction as something to be treated, and in some cases it might well be. However, the only possible negative connotation about being addicted to writing is that sometimes in order to get your work done, you need to isolate yourself. This might result in severed or strained personal relationships or maybe none at all. It can also mean that if you write stories for cathartic reasons, you are writing about things that become so painful to process that you have to stop writing to hold on to your sanity. For the most part, unlike other addictions, the practice of writing is typically not a harmful one.

When writing memoir, it is easy get engulfed in writing about oneself, so involved that it can become detrimental if the author begins too much navel-gazing. This can be counter-productive and sometimes it is just better to stop writing and let the discomfort or pain dissipate.

In her book, The Midnight Disease, Alice Flaherty discusses hypergraphia, which she defines as the incurable disease of writing. She discusses the writer's altered state of consciousness, mood swings, feelings of doom and ecstasy, altered sexuality and overpowering desire to write. She talks about this possibly being a cause of temporal lobe epilepsy, a type of epilepsy resulting in recurrent seizures, which can cause hypergraphia. These temporal lobe seizures can affect creativity. She used the example of Russian author, Dostoevsky whose personality showed all five traits of Geschwind's Syndrome, a condition presenting symptoms such as hypergraphia and a deepened emotional and cognitive response. The Russian author often engaged in highly detailed writing, obsessions, violent rages and unusual sexuality. Similar to others who have temporal lobe epilepsy he found extra meaning in everyday events.
Those who are susceptible to hypergraphia have also shown signs of getting into a trance when writing or what in literary circles is known as "automatic writing." If you are a published writer or have written a lot, you certainly understand the phenomenon. This has happened to me on many occasions, as it has to many of my colleagues. Sometimes I will jot an idea in my journal and then bring it to my computer to develop it and start writing. The phone will ring, the dog will bark, the rain will fall, the sun will set, and I will not realize where all the time has gone. I might have been at the computer for six hours without realizing it. I disappear into the words and truly enter this unexplainable trance-like state. This is a divine place to be. It feels good. This is the place I find my highest level of creativity.

Speaking of creativity, is it possible that some addictions foster creativity? Writers on The Edge: 22 writers speak about addiction and dependency which I compiled and edited with my colleague, James Brown, to be released by Modern History Press on February 1st, includes essays of writers who have battled various addictions, such as drugs, alcohol, food, sex, love, and gambling. Some claim that their addictions can foster their creativity, but more often then not there is the premise that their writing has helped them understand and survive whatever addictions they are facing. Most, if not all, are very accomplished writers who are at a stage in their lives when they want their stories to help others. I feel fortunate to have been a part of this project and to know that so many people find solace in writing as a way to cope with life's challenges. I certainly know that I do!