Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/19/2009

Hypergraphia: a Name without a Disease (unless it’s TLE or Bipolar)

Medieval_writing_deskSame song, umpteenth verse. Could get better, but it just gets worse. And no decent human being would let anyone know what goes on in his uncontrollable mind, much less put it on the internet. Too bad.

Way back in University days, we music students had nonsense words to help us remember the great works of our art. The Mozart Symphony number 40 in G minor, for example, was “It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s a Mozart.” Yes, you can sing the words to the melody. 

It’s a disorder of the brain, it’s a joke about writing too much, it’s a brain disorder associated with Temporal Lobe Epilepsy, it’s a symptom of the manic phase of bipolar disorder.  

That’s hypergraphia for you. Is it fun, is it crazy-making, is it an obsession that I’d rather do without?  

Figuring out who is hypergraphic and who is not is more difficult than you’d think. Any number of people have named their personal Blogs, “Hypergraphia” (one might wonder how so many blogs can have the same name, but I suppose that’s a different story). Among the blog postings I’ve found is, “Sunstein to OMB: Will this interfere with his hypergraphia?” (More on that below.)  

My students (or the students in any college first-year writing program) soon learn that “block quotes” are mostly unacceptable in academic (at least student academic) writing (my colleagues have a clever description they throw around about using quotes as part of a sentence rather than writing, “As So-and-So said…” They’ve made an honest-to-God buzzword out of it. I hate buzzwords. Especially in writing. Never mind. I have found a passage that I cannot summarize without destroying it.  

You know you are sick, but no one can put a name to your illness. You go from doctor to doctor, seeking a diagnosis. You have lost track of the tests that have been done on you and failed to give an answer. People tell you, “It’s all in your head.” Your medical insurance refuses to pay the bills. You feel all the worse because no one believes that something is really wrong.   
From a review of: Ziporyn, Terra. Nameless Diseases. Rutgers University Press. 1992. For the review see:

IT’S ALL IN YOUR HEAD! Hypergraphia seems to be a buzzword for “an overwhelming urge to write.” Lots of people use it in their Blog names or postings, the most prominent of which is: “Hypergraphia: an overwhelming urge to write,” posted by some guy named Alex Diblasi (or some such permutation of a last name). The latest posting on his blog is from October 5. I wonder how his hypergraphic compulsion to write has been manifesting itself since then.  My favorite statement on the internet about bipolar disorder symptoms is: “Goal-oriented behaviors will increase to the point of obsession.” 

Then there’s Cass Sunstein. Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs in the Obama administration. He’s a law professor given to writing and writing and writing (see the partial list of his output on Wikipedia—I know, it’s not a “source,” but it will do in a pinch). When he was named to the Office of Information, his colleages joked in public about whether or not those responsibilities would “interfere with his hypergraphia.”

So here’s another episode in my bizarre little story. Last night I stopped grading papers at 9 PM in order to watch one of my favorite TV shows, “Stormchasers,” on the Discovery Channel (that I love to watch crazy people put themselves in the way of approaching tornadoes to make films should tell you something about the state of my mind). Then I watched “As Time Goes By” on our local PBS station (they’ve just started the series over for the umpteenth time, thank God; I don’t have it all quite memorized).

The second episode of “As Time Goes By” was about three minutes from the end, and I started to cry. Was it sadness? A normal reaction to a bitter-sweet romance just getting underway? Was it seeing Judi Dench from 17 years ago and knowing how we’ve all aged? I know. I know, you’re tired of hearing about my crying. So am I. But it happens. And I cried for a few minutes, pulled myself together, remembered to take my pills and brush my teeth (sometimes I don’t), and went to bed.

And now I’m awake at 5:30 AM. I promised myself I’d spend my five hours this morning to finish grading those papers (from yesterday) . Obviously, I can’t. I have to write. Again. Except today this is bringing me scant pleasure. The crying is back
(it’s hard to see the monitor through tears).
And Alex Diblasi thinks that, simply because he wants
to spread his blather all over the world, he is “hypergraphic.”
And the Law Professor Blog Network thinks the writing output
of one of its profession’s most famous members is a joke. obsessionWell. So be it. This ain’t funny. Self-centered, probably.
Made-up, perhaps. Funny? Nope.


  1. I don’t think there’s anything I might say that is ever likely to help right now. But I will say that I do say a prayer for you when I read your blog. Having had my one episode of hypergraphia that thankfully left me after about 20 days ( i wrote solidly for 17 of those days, producing well over a hundred thousand words) I cannot see why anyone would WANT to have the condition. Everything else more or less ceased to exist during that time; family and friends became cardboard cutouts, chores got ingnored. The only beneficiary of the immediate hypergraphia was my dog who got several very brisk and long walks because I simply couldn’t physically stop during the times when the stream of words slowed enough to stop writing. The fact that I produced a novel that I’ve never surpassed afterwards still astounds me.
    If a word is misused or over used(as it appears to be the case with hypergraphia) it will cease to have true meaning. A better term for the medical condition needs to be invented.


  2. Hi Harold,
    I am truly sorry to hear of your condition. It was not my intention to offend someone truly suffering from clinical hypergraphia. I do get urges to write, where I can’t sleep until I get whatever it is out of my system and onto a page. If you’d looked on one of my more recent posts you would have seen that I expressed a desire to stop writing for the blog in question. I have another blog set up where I write album reviews, and I truly do write as a way of calming and relaxing myself.
    Your response was callous, making judgments about my “blather” without bothering to find out more. I wake up in the middle of the night and write. Lyrics, stories, thoughts, political rants. Most of it remains unpublished.
    If you’d like, I would be glad to rename my blog, but don’t think for a minute that I gave it such a title as an act of pretension. I can’t speak for other people who have misused the word as the title of their own blogs.
    That said, again, you’ll be in my thoughts. Whatever it takes for you to put yourself at ease, I hope you find it. And I say this without any egoism or condescension. We’ve all got our demons. And I’m terribly sorry for misusing (what I didn’t know was) an overused, controversial word.

    Stay in touch. Please.




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