The Psychopath Test – Do Writers Fail?

writingI’m pretty sure most of you are familiar with the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders). I actually have a copy on my shelf as a reference book.

The DSM comes in quite handy for writing (as well as for figuring out WTF is really wrong with your relatives.) As a writer, you already know that all your family members characters are listed in there somewhere. It is simply one of those must-have reference books you can’t be without.

But as a writer, the DSM is also a bit of a Pandora’s box. Really, I kid you not. Who else but a writer can get away with telling everyone they hear voices, and then spend months cooped up in a small room piled high with crumpled papers, cigarette smoke curling around your head?

Neatness hinders creativity you tell yourself, and this is a writer’s cave. Anything goes here. There are no rules except the sanctity of solitude, the smell of hot ink, and that goddamned two-foot high DO NOT DISTURB sign on the door, which must be obeyed.

If you Google writers mental illness, you will see that 72% of writers suffer some form of mental illness, but it is poets who suffer most. This does not surprise you. You suffer over 70,000+ words; they, over just a dozen or more. Who would not go mad with such a curse?

Per chance, one of the rugrats opens the door while you are in the midst of a spurt of prose and suddenly you are the psycho demon from hell. “Out! Out! Can’t you see I’m being creative in here?!” Not that it matters, but he is only four.

But surely, you think as you snatch the DSM down yet again, there must be something in this book about why he behaves so egregiously while I’m writing. Forget Dr. Spock, let’s get right down into the meat of things. Am I raising a psycho? Can’t he see the genius going on? Can’t he read the sign?

Scowling, you put it down. You have no time for this, the masterpiece awaits. Later, when the final edit is done, you will pour through this book and find out what is wrong with this child you have spawned. But maybe his madness is your madness. You consider this momentarily, your single eyebrow raised, your fingertip still moist from flipping the page and now tapping at your chin. Maybe he will join you in this creative cave of lunacy, spin words alongside your own beautiful prose… You tap your chin harder at this thought, but, at the same time, wonder if he will survive that long. It seems seriously unlikely. Back to the writing…

Self-assessing for Writers

(See where you stack up.)

Grandiosity? (check) (Look at all the Likes on my Facebook page!)

Lack of empathy? (check) (Just open that door again kid.)

Heavy drinking and drug use? (Check) (This is a writer’s prerogative for crying out loud, gimme a break. How else can I touch my creative genius?)

Moody recluse? (check) (Did you not see the damned sign on the door?)

Bi-polar? (check) (How the hell can I write emotional characters without exploring them fully? Tell me that!)

Eccentric behavior? ( check) (It’s called research, you asshole. RE-SEARCH!)

Bouts of psychological anguish? (check) (See these rejection letters, all of them?)

Heteronyms? (check) (Hey, it’s a fucking pen name. I have to brand it. You know?)

Obsessive Compulsive (check) (Yes, it is important that I use this pen. WTF is wrong with you? Football players can wear the same filthy jockstrap all season, but I can’t have a favorite pen?)

Violent tendencies?  (check) (Fuck you and your one-star review!)

How did you rate?

Be honest. We’re all mad here. Of course, you could be one of those who, as Jon Ronson points out below,  fakes madness. But just so you know, faking madness is really evidence that you are a psychopath. So there. You’re still in the club.

I say that it is time for all of us you writers to stand up and say, Yes, I am a psychopath.  And then you can honestly join the club of successfully mad writers. (Then go seek help, you effing psychopaths.)