The Psychology of Writers

By: Spencer Ruchti

Looking through the Yeats museum in Ireland’s National Library, I came across some interesting documents. Psychology researcher Eliot Hutchinson from Cambridge University in 1949 made an attempt to understand the psychology of writers, much like the research I wish to conduct. Hutchinson sent a “Questionnaire on Creative Effort” to Yeats, among other great writers of the time. At first I laughed. Measuring creative effort through a questionnaire? Hilarious. But as I read the questions, I realized Hutchinson was a man who understood the creative process. He understood the woes of a writer in search of a Muse, the absence of “productive inclination,” the nature of inspiration and daydreaming, the disgust a writer often feels at his or own work. He understood, yet he was a man like myself, trying to translate those feelings, those frustrations, those inspirations into a science; a calculated process wherein one might unlock the biological doors to infinite muse and sublime art. And not unlike myself, from the nature of the questionnaire, I believe Hutchinson had difficulty capturing this artistic nature within a scientific process (though I haven’t read the book in which he incorporates this reasearch, How to Think Creatively, and though the book dates back to 1949 (which is “outdated” in terms of proper scientific research), I plan on ordering it from Amazon and reading it in the future as part of research). Which brought me to think: What if, by studying the biology/neurology of great writers, I’m going about it all wrong? I think I might need to start focusing on psychology, rather than biology, of great writers, for you cannot study the creative mind through pure science, just as you cannot understand a mountain with a microscope. By breaking an art or artist down, you fail to apprehend and understand the collective picture. Hard sciences, like biology, unfortunately, make an attempt to understand the world by dividing it into its most basic parts and building upwards. May one appreciate a sunset by examining light particles? Surely not. Psychology is much better suited for such a task than biology/neurology, with its basis in philosophy and the overall behaviors of the mind rather than its anatomical functions.  


The Psychology of Creativity questionnaire, used as research in “How to Think Creatively.”


Page 1 of the questionnaire. This questionnaire was not published in the book (I know, because I own a copy).



Page 3 of the questionnaire


Page 4 of the questionnaire. Notice Yeats’ sidenotes.

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