Thursday 19 July 2012

Hypochondria and Writers

Years ago at a workshop I went to, Jo Shapcott said that she thought poets were prone to hypochondria and didn't like driving. These observations made sense to me at the time, connecting up. A few little, random symptoms might ingeniously be connected by a writer's imagination. Some little object seen out of the corner of one's eye while driving might make one's concentration drift while approaching red lights. In "The Information" Martin Amis writes "Poets don't drive. Never trust a poet who can drive. Never trust a poet at the wheel. If he can drive, distrust the poems ...".

But it's not all bad news. In "Tormented Hope" Brian Dillon suggests a link between "health anxiety" and creativity, pointing out that the illness can be used as an excuse to get a bit of piece and quiet. Charlotte Brontë and Proust were worriers. Fear can be a spur. Someone I know is thinking of using his worries to make him send some of his work off "before it's too late". I think Antony Burgess started frenzied writing when he death-threatened himself.


  1. I wonder if it is much simpler than is suggested. Creative types are quite capable of making up all sorts of possible scenarios around an illness - the possibilities take a small step sideways and simply
    become probabilities.

  2. I'm sure you're right. When some little idea takes wing, the writer begins to develop it, and wonders "what-if...". A morbid sensibility and working in isolation make it worse. The booze and fags don't help either.

  3. I don’t drive. I can drive and needed to drive for many years but I can’t say I miss it. I’ve not owned a car for eighteen years. As for whether I’m a hypochondriac I don’t think I am. I am, and always have been, a sickly individual—there’s never nothing wrong with me—but I soldier on. The only time I’ve ever taken time off work has been when I’ve had no choice and even with the depressions I’ve muddled through until I couldn’t fake it any longer. As always you cannot generalise. It’s like suggesting that all poets need to be miserable sons of bitches. A lot of us are a lot of the time but I don’t think it’s a prerequisite for being a poet. I’m struggling to remember if I’ve ever written a poem whilst actually driving. I have while being driven but I don’t think I have whilst driving but I don’t see why one couldn't; we multitask all the time. Thinking about what Vanessa said, yes, I can see where she’s coming from but it’s not something I do. Illness doesn’t seem to inspire me. It’s an inconvenience to be worked round like the guy mowing the lawn when I’m trying to concentrate. Even the depressions. I imagine many writers produce screeds of self-indulgent twaddle when depressed but not me. After a couple of lines of “Oh, woe is me,” I’m bored. Writing is a place to escape from the depression. Why drag it with me?