10 Unusual Writers’ Words for #NaNoWriMo

With NaNoWriMo or National Novel-Writing Month getting underway this weekend, writers all over the world are doubtless concerned about the prospect of facing writer’s cramp, writer’s block (dare we say it?), and the other occupational hazards that lie in wait for those who live their lives by the pen. We love finding interesting little-known facts to do with language here, so what follows are ten unusual words that sum up the writing experience, or our attitudes to writing, in one way or another…

Cacoethes scribendi. Let’s kick off with some Latin. Why not? This phrase comes from the Roman writer Juvenal and means ‘an irresistible desire to write’. Well, sort of. The term appears in Juvenal’s Satires and is borrowed from ancient Greek, where the first word meant ‘bad habit’ or ‘malignant disease’. In other words, the desire to write is a kind of compulsion, or disease – an addiction for which there is no known cure. Which brings us to…

Hypergraphia. This word means the overwhelming desire to write. Although a dash of hypergraphia sounds like just the sort of thing NaNoWrimers are probably hoping for this month, this specific term actually refers to a very real mental condition, when used in its specific medical sense. Hypergraphia can sometimes afflict people with epilepsy, although certain chemicals in the brain (including dopamine) have also been identified as inducing hypergraphia…

Shturmovshchina. This refers to the practice of writing frantically just before a deadline. However, its Russian origins tell a story: it dates from the days of the Soviet Union, when people would work at full pelt (not just at writing, but any job) in order to meet a deadline. The word literally refers to a storming or assault.

Scrabblement. How about a couple of handwriting-related words? This one is a rare 17th-century word referring to ‘writing of a rambling character like that of a madman’.

Writing and catGriffonage. Another word for a scribble, or poor handwriting. The word first appears in a book of 1832 by Frances Trollope, mother of the novelist Anthony Trollope, the man who would start writing at 5.30 every morning and write 250 words every quarter of an hour (timing himself with a watch), before heading off to his day job at the post office.

Scripturient. This rather grand-sounding noun means ‘one who has a passion for writing’.

Graphomania. Or perhaps you’d prefer to be a graphomaniac? According to the Oxford English Dictionary, you can be – and others have been, too. This word for ‘a mania for writing’ is first recorded in 1840, though ‘graphomaniac’ first appears thirteen years earlier, in the title of a book: The Cheilead … being Violent Ebullitions of Graphomaniacs.

Dysgraphia. This is a problem whereby one finds it hard to write legibly. Agatha Christie was reportedly a sufferer. And while we’re on the issue of the physical difficulties of writing…

Mogigraphia. This, taken from a medical dictionary of 1857, is a rare word meaning ‘writer’s cramp’, the horrible stiffness of the hand which afflicts many writers who prefer to compose the old-fashioned way, pen or pencil in hand. (Two prominent pencil-users were Ernest Hemingway and John Steinbeck; Steinbeck was known to blunt up to 60 pencils a day!) An alternative word for mogigraphia is a ‘graphospasm’, so if you’d prefer to have that, you can.

Colygraphia. Okay, so this isn’t a real one. At least, it isn’t yet. But it seems unfair that we have a technical word for writer’s cramp but no corresponding medical term for writer’s block. Colygraphia is our suggestion, from the Greek prefix coly- meaning ‘hinder’ or ‘prevent’ and graphos meaning ‘write’. Next time you’re explaining to someone that you’re suffering from writer’s block, tell them you’re afflicted with colygraphia instead. It’s more likely to get you sympathy from friends and family, even if you have to explain what it is first.

If you enjoyed this (and are still suffering from writers’ bl… sorry, from colygraphia), then why not read our NaNoWriMo post from last year, on classic novels written in a month?

Image: Writing table with cat and mouse (author: Superikonoskop), Wikimedia Commons, share-alike licence.


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  4. I’m definitely a scripturient seeing as I have entered into NaNoWriMo myself this year! Alas I also suffer from dysgraphia hence I’m very grateful for the invention of the laptop computer! Luckily, so far in my career as a writer I’ve not suffered from colygraphia which I think is an excellent word to invent and almost makes me wish I did have it so I could moan about suffering from it! Perhaps I will later in the month…

  5. Scripturient…. one of my new favourite words.

  6. Reblogged this on Just Another Blog and commented:
    Words to add to your vocabulary, courtesy of NaNoWriMo’s craziness.

  7. ooh, griffonage is a beautiful word!

  8. Reblogged this on YOURS IN STORYTELLING… and commented:
    I am going to add my own blog entry a little later today – but I’ve jumped into NaNoWriMo this month as well. :)

  9. Reblogged this on Beth Warstadt and commented:
    Combining my love of words and my current obsession with NaNoWriMo..

  10. Now I just need a fancy word for writing-related procrastination! I reblogged this post on . It goes nicely with my NaNoWriMo blog post today!

  11. Reblogged this on 1WriteWay and commented:
    I am a dysgraphia sufferer. What about you?
    And before anyone gives me grief about how I should be writing (I’m talking to you, Jill), I wrote 9,050 words this morning. I don’t know if they make any sense, but I did write them :)

  12. Reblogged this on lit!.