Writers and Thought Disorder

If you are part of the writing community, you have probably met someone with a physical or mental disability. Sometimes, they’re only in one category. For the majority of us (including myself), we fall under both categories.

One issue I’d like to address is a symptom called thought disorder. This is where it is difficult to convey what you want to write or say.

This is common with people who have bipolar, schizophrenia, or schizoaffective disorder, and can wreak havoc on your writing abilities because you don’t realize you’re making these errors.

There are twenty different ways that these symptoms of thought disorder can appear in your writing. Each symptom will be covered a group of blog posts, complete with realistic examples from past manuscripts in future topics.

 

What is thought disorder?

Medical professionals have differing definitions, but Andreasen (2008) cites thought disorder as disorders in the process of thought (dyslogias) or disorders in the form of thoughts (dysphasias).

Thought disorder is a confusing symptom because clinicians are still researching this issue. At first, this was only associated with schizophrenia, but this belief extended to other disorders within the last ten years. Medical professionals now realize that thought disorder can have both positive and negative symptoms within schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder (where this is a mix of both schizophrenia and bipolar disorder), and a variety of other disorders within the autism spectrum (including ADHD).

Thought disorder focuses on several things but can be broken down into four families of categories. They are pressured speech, thought blocking, disordered or disorganized thoughts, and perceptional experiences.

As you can imagine, this presents a challenge—both to writers and for their editors.

 

What challenges do writers and editors face?

For writers, some of the following problems may appear in their manuscripts:

  • Overly verbose narrative or dialogue. This might be endless amounts of narrative/prose or dialogue, or they’re speaking in a refined manner.
  • Unable to realize they’ve written sentences two to four different ways because it processes differently to the writer. It can be labeled as a stream of consciousness issue because this happens as the writer is drafting or editing at that moment. If they’re unable to word their sentence perfectly, they keep rewriting it until they can move forward.
  • Focusing on the wrong parts of their story, particularly in narration. This can happen with disassociation or focusing on too many little details.
  • POV switches when it’s not necessary. (This is a normal thing, but it happens more so to us in mid-paragraph because of jumping topics, which is part of disorganized ideas.)
  • Using words that require a dictionary, but it is part of the writer’s normal, everyday language. (No one should ever use the word derivative within dialogue unless you’re lecturing a class at a university.)
  • Over-analyzing or over-editing your piece to the point where writing is too technical. This means that the original message or idea is lost with constant re-editing to find the perfect set of sentences. This also plays into perceptional issues, as most of the time, this tends to be done in narrative than in dialogue.

 

For editors or beta readers, they might notice some of the following problems while editing a manuscript:

  • Two to three different train of thoughts within a paragraph. Or, one of my favorites: Using em dashes within narrative and dialogue. I state this because my first book had 642 of them, and most were derailing from my train of thought. (This still happens from time to time, but one day to minimize this is to have someone else read it. If they read it as a full sentence, chances are you don’t need the em-dash there.)
  • Disorganized speech (or derailment) in both narrative and dialogue. I call this “playing Tetris with paragraphs” because you need to unscramble the paragraph to understand it. The writer might not write in sequential order, or might leave something important out because they don’t realize they forgot it.
  • Lack of pacing in paragraphs, or where paragraphs have the same rhythm. This is due to clanging or clang association, which will be in a separate blog post. In lament’s terms, the writer hears the narrative or prose in the same beat/rhythm, and they are unable to hear anything else at that time, even with music in the background.
  • Using the wrong words that sound the same, but the writer thinks they’re using the right word. (Mine tend to be larger words within the narrative, but they cannot associate it is the wrong word when they are drafting.)
  • Leaving out connecting words within sentences. (There is a logical explanation for this in another blog post, but leaving out words like “when, as, there, that”, or starting sentences without pronouns.)
  • Transposing letters or tenses. Usually, this is one or two letters. Dyslexia is a common thing with some disorders.

 

Every example listed above is something I have found within my own writing.

If you have found these in your own writing, a client’s manuscript, or noticed it when beta reading for friends, this series of blog posts will uncover some of the reasons behind these errors. There will also be suggestions on how to help others about these patterns or errors.

If you are a writer with these issues, there is no reason to despair. Once you notice them, it’s time to try overcoming these mistakes. It will take time, effort, and critical feedback in order to apply this to your own writing, but think of this as another layer of learning your craft instead of having this become a crippling setback.

The first four topics I will cover in my first blog post are alogia (poverty of speech or being overly verbose), thought blocking, circumstantiality (in both narrative and dialogue), and clanging/clang association (hearing things by similar sounds or rhyming).

Do you experience anything similar, or know someone else who does? How did you overcome it or help others with their writing issues?

 

Reference

Andreasen, N. (2008). Thought disorder. In: Fatemi S.H., Clayton P.J. (eds) The Medical Basis of Psychiatry. Humana Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-59745-252-6_25

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