Wednesday, February 6, 2013


Benjamin Nugent once had a bad case of this disease. Monomania, as he defines it, is the "pathologically intense focus on one thing."  Writers are particularly susceptible to monomania, as Nugent chronicles in a recent piece at The New York Times titled "The Upside of Distraction."  Here is a taste:

Monomania is... the opposite of the problem you have if your gaze is ever flitting from your Tumblr to your spreadsheet to your baby to rush-hour traffic. It’s the opposite of the problem you have, in other words, if you are a normal, contemporary, non-agrarian 30-something. It was when I left Los Angeles for the primeval hush of the Midwest that I became a monomaniac.  

I got into a master’s program in fiction and moved to a college town on the prairie. On my stipend, I was able to live like an unprosperous gentleman-landowner of 19th-century Russia. There was nothing to do besides read, write, reflect on God and drink. It was a circumstance favorable to writing fiction. But it was also conducive to depravity, the old Calvinist definition thereof: a warping of the spirit.

I didn’t set up an Internet connection. I didn’t have a TV or an iPhone. For hundreds of miles in every direction, none of the movie theaters were playing movies I wanted to see. There were dangerous roads, there was dangerous weather. I spent my days scribbling longhand, as snow piled up against my house and made high branches slap against my windows. I was embowered in the graces of Turgenev’s age.

For all us who like to write in isolation, Nugent's piece reminds us that sometimes inspiration comes from encounters with real people in real life. Sometimes distractions are good for us.