What I hate about writing and why I’m stark raving mad

If you consider yourself a writer, it’s necessary to write everyday. It’s true that you can’t really take on the mantle of “writer” or “author” unless you just write every chance that you have. There’s a level of madness that is part of the author’s life. Writing is like a disease that you need to sweat through in order to release it. Writing makes me ill until it writhes itself outside of my mind like a tape worm being torn from my intestines. But, what I really hate about writing is the endless search for the truth. This search makes it very difficult for the writer to write trite phrases. For example, I wanted a way to express that I’m insane. I’m writing two books concurrently- flitting to and fro- but alas, (who uses that word anymore?), my own definition of insanity, borrowed from many other authors, is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Therefore, I’m not insane. Then I wanted to call myself mad, but the fact is, despite our protestations about how many creatures use the word incorrectly to mean angry, the word “mad” just doesn’t seem crazy enough.

Then, I said, but what about stark, raving mad? Does stark, raving mad really mean what it sounds like? Well, yes, but then I started reading every reference to “stark, raving mad.” Did you know that you don’t need the comma after “stark?” Now, you do. When was the first reference to this phrase? The earliest version was in 1489 in John Skelton’s The Death of the Earl of Northumberland: “I say, ye comoners, why wer ye so stark mad?” But the first version using all three words happened a few centuries later, when Henry Fielding used ‘stark raving mad’ in The Intriguing Chambermaid in1734: “I find I am distracted! I am stark raving mad!”

And did you know that another earlier version, sandwiched between “stark mad” and “stark raving mad,” is “stark staring mad” found in John Dryden’s Persius Flaccus of 1693: “Art thou of Bethlem’s Noble College free? Stark, staring mad.” It gets worse for the writer who just wants to make his point. In the 17th century, there were two forms of mental illness that were recognized- melancholia which was depression, and Raving Madness. After all of that, now the question is: was I stark, raving mad before or after I tumbled down the stark, staring madness of internet research? Is writing a form of Raving Madness?

 Frank is the author of “God Cries and An Angel Loses its Wings,” and is currently working on two other books, “You don’t want dessert, do you?” and “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

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