6,925,000 pageviews

Wednesday, September 8, 2021

The Writer's Personality: A Study in Abnormality

     Is there such a thing as a writer's personality or type? Are there quirks, personality traits, and emotional qualities common to writers? Do writers, like serial killers, fit some kind of psychological profile? Are writers, as some people think, emotionally disturbed egomaniacs? Some writers openly reveal in memoirs, journals and letters that they consider themselves, at least in some respects, psychologically strange and abnormal. In addition to being odd, many writers have outsized egos and are pathologically competitive. George Bernard Shaw, for example, said this of himself: "With the exception of Homer, there is no eminent writer, not even Sir Walter Scott, whom I can despise so entirely as I despise Shakespeare when I measure my mind against his." Writers have also shown themselves to be compulsive, whiny, petty, and cruel. When Truman Capote died, his rival Gore Vidal was supposed to have referred to his passing as "a good career move."
      What follows are quotes from authors about the writer's personality:
Most writers I know have a combination of self-loathing and great narcissism.
Anne Lamott

One has to be an egomaniac to be a writer, but you've got to hide it.
James Jones

[Writers are] a bad lot on the whole--petty, nasty, bilious, suffused with envy and riddled with fear.
Roger Rosenblatt

Personally, I think it's [the talent to write] a disease, and the fact it produces books that people buy doesn't make it any more healthy.
James M. Cain

Most people who have strong talent [to write] also have impedimenta. There is something wrong with their character one way or another. It's not accident that so many talented writers are heavy drinkers and all that.
Norman Mailer

Neurologists have found that changes in a specific area of the brain can produce hypergraphia--the medical term for an overpowering desire to write.
Dr. Alice W. Flaherty

Unsurprisingly, a psychological survey of the Iowa Workshop showed that 80 percent of writers in the program reported evidence of manic depression, alcoholism, or other lonely addictions in themselves or their immediate families. 
Tom Grimes 

Sigmund Freud said that writers and artists are people who discovered as youngsters that they lost out in the hurly-burly of the playground. They discovered, however, that they had the power to fantasize about such things, about the fruits of power, such as money, glory and beautiful lovers.
Tom Wolfe

Do you have a new idea almost every day for a writing project? Do you either start them all and don't see them to fruition or think about starting but never actually get going?...Do you begin sentences in your head while walking to work or picking up the dry cleaning? Do you blab about your project to loved ones, coworkers or strangers before the idea is fully formed, let alone partially executed? Have you ever been diagnosed with any combination of bipolar disorder, alcoholism, or skin diseases such as eczema or psoriasis? Do you snap at people who ask how your writing is going? What is it to them? Do you fear that you will someday wonder where the years went? How is it that some no-talent you went to high school with is being published everywhere you look?...If you can relate to the above, you certainly have the obsessive qualities--along with the self-aggrandizement and concurrent feelings of worthlessness--that are part of the writer's makeup.
Betsey Lerner 


  1. I'm beginning to think that there's some kind of clandestine contest among writers to trash-talk writers in general... "See how humble I am?" Why can't you writers just write? Save the literary hand-wringing for your personal journal! If you don't have one you are missing out on some great stress relief.

  2. GBS - modest to a fault, wasn't he? Ironically, Shakespeare is still in circulation today; GBS, not so much. I remember reading Ellroy's Black Dahlia and thinking that the guy who wrote this was either insane or a violent psychopath. Of course, I read it to the end. I live in Switzerland and we have no great writers (plenty who think they are), except maybe Blaise Cendars, who was part-French. Maybe that's because the Swiss are too sane. And cheese-making is a far more lucrative and stable career.