English was my first passion. Ever since elementary school, I have loved to read and write. Even now I still love the sounds and flow of words, the complexity of their interactions, and the power they hold to persuade readers, stimulate imaginations, and weave beauty from thin air. For me writing has always been more than a tool. It is often a functional, pragmatic means of communication, but can also be profoundly enjoyable – maybe even something more. Sacred? Obsession? Despite much reflection, the only answer I can come up with is “deliciously unavoidable.”
Recently I learned about a phenomenon called hypergraphia in Alice Flaherty’s book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block, and the Creative Brain. Flaherty describes non-clinical hypergraphia as a “neurological oddity” (24). She explains hypergraphia in the following way: “Most obviously, hypergraphics write a great deal . . . Second, hypergraphia comes from a strong, conscious, internal drive – say, pleasure – rather than from an external influence . . . Third, the writing usually has themes that are highly meaningful for the author, often philosophical, religious, or autobiographical . . . Fourth, apart from the loose constraint that the writing be meaningful at least to the author, the writing need not be any good” (25).
When I discovered this passage, my relationship to writing made so much sense. You see, I have to write. It doesn’t matter what it is. I love a semester crammed full of papers because it gives me an excuse to write all the time. How great is that?! During light weeks when I don’t have papers to work on, or during finals weeks when exams are the focus, the energy to write amasses inside me, slowly gathering momentum and whipping into a firestorm. I try to repress it for the sake of studying, but it smolders and flickers until I think I can’t take it anymore. The physical need to write blazes beneath the surface of my skin, tingling in my fingers and coursing like sparks through my veins. To mitigate the compulsion, I write lists – endless and endless lists. Lists of homework for each day, sometimes each hour; lists of classes I should take; lists of graduate schools to apply to and what sort of application materials each requires; lists of little chores to do – make bed, brush teeth, pick up room – all so I can feel the gliding ease of the pen, the silky-smooth paper beneath my palm and fingertips, and the distinct wholesomeness of my mind engaged in writing. With the conclusion of my last exam, I celebrate, staying up all night writing, reading, revising, writing again, with sleep, hunger, and thirst forgotten in the flames finally released to burn with abandon.
Not everyone has such a relationship with writing. For many it’s a difficult and painstaking task; for others, it’s simply uninteresting. Whatever our connection to writing, we all seem to engage in one activity which, as Dostoevsky writes, “gives a feeling . . . of completeness, of proportion, of reconciliation, and of startled prayerful merging with the highest synthesis of life” (qtd. in Flaherty 48). For me, that activity is writing. What’s yours? And, more interesting, why?