I was reading this discussion thread from a messageboard about science fiction and writing, when it struck me (and not for the first time): There are some seriously crazy people out there. And some of them aspire to be writers.
There's no space here for a philosophical treatise on "what constitutes madness," or researching its biological roots, so I'll just go on gut feeling: I know madness when I see it.
Paranoia is fairly easy to recognize. Schizophrenia is more subtle, but there are obvious clues (like seeing things that are not there, or referring to "voices telling me to do X"). Obsessive single-mindedness calls attention to itself (to put it lightly). Chronically depressive or aggressive people are... well, chronically obvious.
And when crazy people write, or write about their writing... boy, does madness show through.
My pet theory about crazy writers goes like this:
The less talented a writer is, the more blatantly his/her mental "issues" show through in his/her fiction writing.
You know the old cliché about "inspired madness"? It ain't true. Of all the crazy people in the world, only a small minority are creative or inspired in a positive sense. Most of them are mediocre, untalented and narrow-minded.
The truly mad and talented - like, say, Philip K. Dick or Vincent van Gogh - are very, very few.
Now, I'm not saying crazy people shouldn't be writing! Maybe it's therapeutic. I don't know. It's better than murdering people in the streets, I suppose. What really annoys me about crazy writers is just one thing: they insist on being taken seriously.
No matter what the specific madness is - a crank invention that doesn't work, conspiracy theories, persecution manias, psychotic bigotry, feverish hallucinations, or just bipolar mood swings - crazy writers demand that you keep a straight face, that their causes are Sacred, Gravely Serious Matters and Not To Be Taken Lightly.
(Isn't a sane pompous blowhard annoying enough?)
It's funny that the cliché of the laughing, cackling, wise-cracking, comedic madman ISN'T true. Most mad writers are guaranteed to bore you out of your skull.