Symptoms of schizophrenia can make writing more challenging. But this hasn’t stopped famous authors from telling their stories.
Schizophrenia symptoms include involuntary nerve movements that can make writing and handwriting more challenging. Other symptoms including disorganized thinking can also interfere with a person’s ability to write.
Notable writers with schizophrenia, like Jack Kerouac for example, show us that while these symptoms may increase the challenge, writing well and becoming a famous writer with schizophrenia is nevertheless possible.
Learn more about how schizophrenia affects writing and whether or not doctors can use handwriting to diagnose schizophrenia.
Writing styles are impacted by:
- how we hold a pen
- how much practice handwriting we have
- health conditions that cause involuntary movements or make task completion more challenging
For people with schizophrenia, their symptoms affect the way they write.
Some specific examples of how schizophrenia affects writing include:
- slower writing speed due to slower reaction times
- increased difficulty performing complex tasks (can decrease the ability to complete stories)
- muscle spasms and contractions
- irregular muscle movements including otherwise unexplained jerkiness, contractions, and spasms
Some people with schizophrenia may also experience communication disorders known as graphorrhea and hypergraphia.
Graphorrhea is when a person writes incoherently (without making sense) and continually (without pause). This is more extreme than free writing without a goal in mind. Graphorrhea includes writing meaningless words and feeling unable to stop oneself from continuing on and on.
Hypergraphia is different. It’s the intense urge or feeling or need to write (or draw). Both these conditions are associated with manic symptoms such as those present in bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Doctors may use handwriting to help diagnose schizophrenia, but it will not be the sole measure to determine whether or not you have the illness.
Symptoms that affect writing tend to present earlier than other more characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia-like psychosis. This means the jerks and other involuntary movements develop earlier on during the developmental stages when a person is practicing writing in school.
These symptoms may be detectable to the trained eye by way of examining handwriting style.
Doctors may look for specific differences in writing including:
- different levels of pressure applied from pen to paper
- unusual writing stroke lengths
- poor, undeveloped, or incoherent thought expression in the writing
Several famous writers throughout history have experienced schizophrenia.
Jack Kerouac (1926-1969)
Kerouac is more than the novelist behind the American classic On the Road. His writings defined a generation known as the Beat Generation. Before this, Kerouac was discharged from the military for reported “precox dementia” or what would be today called schizophrenia.
Zelda Fitzgerald (1900-1948)
While most known for being the wife of American novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald, was also a writer who lived with a mental health condition diagnosed as schizophrenia in 1930. Her book Save Me the Last Waltz was written during an inpatient treatment facility stay.
Robert M. Pirsig (1928-2017)
American author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance who was notably diagnosed early in life with paranoid schizophrenia. In his book, he discusses repeat electroconvulsive therapy treatment.
Schizophrenia symptoms can impact a person’s ability to write. Involuntary movements make holding and using a writing tool more challenging.
Disorganized thinking may also limit a person’s ability to craft the story they want to share or to complete the task.
Famous writers show us these challenges can be managed. If you live with schizophrenia and find writing challenging, consider speaking with your healthcare professional or mental health professional about your symptoms.
They can help pinpoint the cause of the challenge and help you find an appropriate plan of action to help you with your writing goals.
In addition, you could also check out Psych Central’s guide to help you find a therapist and mental health support that best suits your individual needs.