I first heard the term hypergraphia when former New Times managing editor Patrick Howe accused me of having it. He may have been kidding–though I doubt it–but when I looked up the definition I was surprised that no one had ever diagnosed me, jokingly or otherwise, with it before. I mention the term because I use it several times in Scourge of the Righteous Haddock and I’d hate for readers to suspect that I had invented a malady that actually sounds rather charming (though I recognize any compulsive behavior is inherently problematic).

Because my go-to resource (Merriam-Webster) doesn’t have an entry on the subject, the following definition comes from medterms.net:

The driving compulsion to write; the overwhelming urge to write. Hypergraphia may compel someone to keep a voluminous journal, to jot off frequent letters to the editor, to write on toilet paper if nothing else is available, and perhaps even to compile a dictionary. Hypergraphia is the opposite of writer’s block.

Among the notably afflicted: Vincent van Gogh, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Lewis Carroll, and Warren Jeffs. I find myself wondering about the process of diagnosing and treating hypergraphia. Is there a checklist, perhaps? Did you journal as a kid? Yes. Do you blog as an adult? Yes. Do you have more serious writing projects in addition to blogging regularly? Yes. Did you create your own newspapers, books, and Farmer’s Almanacks as a child? Yes. Do you ever go a day without writing? No. Do you keep pens and paper on your person at all times? Yes. Is your purse littered with receipts and napkin scraps you used to write yourself notes you never read? Yes.

But such behavior is normal, right? I mean, every kid grows up believing that their habits and interests are the norm. I remember how confused I was the first time I visited my friend’s home for a sleepover only to discover that she didn’t keep books in her room. That never stopped baffling me, actually. When I visit someone’s home I instinctively look for two things: pets and books. A home without either makes me distinctly nervous. Which is not a judgment on homes without pets or books. In fact, I think it’s more a judgment of me, of the fact that I unknowingly projected my own interests and passions on the rest of the world. I do know there are people who don’t read, but I know this the way that I know there are people who ice skate to work or hunt whales for a living. It’s real, but it’s also not.

I’ll probably never know whether I actually have hypergraphia, and I’m a little on the fence about how I’d feel if I was actually diagnosed with it. No one wants to be diagnosed with anything, unless, of course, that diagnosis helps explain why they are who they are. Maybe there are tools for controlling the compulsion, or at least harnessing it so it can be channeled usefully. Then again, I’m balancing running a newspaper, keeping a blog, writing a book, and preparing another book for publication. So maybe I’ve already got it figured out.



  1. You are not normal, and I love you for it. And why in the world would you want to harness such a thing??

    • Awwww…thanks Kristi! I probably should have been clear about my meaning, which wasn’t harnessing in the sense of muzzling, but harnessing in the sense of controlling and directing it to some greater purpose (like writing a book). It’s like learning to use my superpower for good (assuming my book is good, we’ll see).

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