Fun fact: All writers are crazy, to some degree. There is a reason for it -- actually making it through a novel almost requires it. If you love to read, then you're continually benefitting from other people's craziness.
But in all of the history of the written word, probably no one has topped the sheer insanity of ...
#6. Writing a Coded Novel Mocking the Nazis (While in a Nazi Prison)
Hans Fallada is the all-time poster boy for writers who just didn't give a shit. By the age of 50, he was a full-blown criminal lunatic, drifting in and out of prisons and insane asylums. He was a morphine addict, a womanizer and an alcoholic, all while being one of the most celebrated German authors of the 1930s and '40s. And true to his nature, while other artists were fleeing Germany at the outbreak of the war, Fallada stayed behind, despite openly despising the Nazis. How could he resist the urge to mess with one of the most murderous regimes in history?
"Is 'deutschebags' hyphenated?"
So, in 1944, Fallada was put in a Nazi prison/asylum for the criminally insane for the attempted murder of his ex-wife (classic Hans). To obtain writing materials and to survive an incarceration that was generally seen as a death sentence, Fallada told Nazi propaganda minister Josef Goebbels that he wanted to write an anti-Semitic novel. However, Fallada had no intention of doing any such thing.
What he actually wrote, under the guards' watchful eyes and in constant fear of discovery, were three encrypted books in a single notebook so densely coded that they weren't deciphered until long after his death.
"I plan ahead."
One of these books was the much acclaimed The Drinker, a dark semi-autobiographical novel depicting addiction, crime and homosexuality in a way not quite in line with Nazi literary policy. Another book was a collection of children's stories. Both books were written in tiny, condensed, almost indecipherable handwriting, but he kept the children's stories visible, to give the guards something simple and nonthreatening to see should they question what he was up to. But in between the lines of the short stories, upside down and backward from the end to the beginning, he wrote a frank, extremely anti-Nazi memoir of his life under National Socialist rule, entitled In Meinem Fremden Land.
When he ran out of space, he turned the notebook around again and wrote even more miniature lines between the existing ones, resulting in 72 crisscrossing lines of writing per page. Had the Nazis found out about the contents of the notebook, Fallada would have been supermurdered. But his book of "children's stories" fooled everyone.
"Children's eyes need to be challenged."
Fallada managed to smuggle the manuscript out during a home visit, arranged under the false premise of picking up materials for the anti-Semitic project (because for some reason the Nazi prison in which he was incarcerated had anti-Semitic materials in short supply). In December 1944, as the Nazi regime began to crumble, Fallada was released from prison. Goebbels never received the anti-Semitic novel he had been promised, and Hans Fallada died three years later of a morphine overdose, having written three books (two of which were staunchly anti-Nazi) under guard of the Nazis themselves.
"Oh wait, this is what he was writing? God, I feel like an asshole."
#5. A Diary the Size of 500 Novels
Robert Shields, a former minister and English teacher, holds the record for having kept the longest modern diary ever, at a mind-boggling 37.5 million words. To put that in perspective, the average novel is about 75,000 words long. So this was the size of about 500 of those.
How in the hell did somebody stretch a personal diary into something long enough to fill an entire bookcase? Well, for 25 years, from 1972 to 1997, he wrote down what he experienced every five minutes. He would spend four hours a day doing this, sometimes just checking and recording his vital signs.
February 4: Yup, not dead. Still weird.
There are also a disquieting number of entries that focus on the force and consistency of his bowel movements. He kept writing right up until he had a stroke and eventually died, and his journals were donated to Washington State University, presumably because his surviving family assumed every single page was haunted. Some gems include:
"7 a.m.: I cleaned out the tub and scraped my feet with my fingernails to remove layers of dead skin."
"7:05 a.m.: Passed a large, firm stool, and a pint of urine. Used five sheets of paper."
"6:30-6:35 p.m.: I put in the oven two Stouffer's macaroni and cheese at 350 degrees."
"6:50-7:30 p.m.: I ate the Stouffer's macaroni and cheese and Cornelia ate the other one. Grace decided she didn't want one."
There are 37 million words of this.
The Unaborer manifesto.
Inevitably, because he spent so much time composing his journals, many of his entries are literally about him writing the entry in question:
"6:35-6:50 p.m.: I was at the keyboard of the IBM Wheelwriter making entries for the diary."
Still, despite the sheer volume of his work, it's not like he had to come up with a whole story or anything. Not like ...
#4. A Janitor's 15,000-Page Illustrated Epic
Back in the 1970s, an elderly janitor named Henry Darger gave his friends a little unpublished story he had been working on for, oh, the last 60 or so years. What they saw was a mind-boggling epic of illustrations and typewritten pages called In the Realms of the Unreal.
The story spans 15,145 pages -- three times longer than the entire A Song of Ice and Fire series. It has over 300 illustrations, cobbled together from newspaper clippings, coloring books, magazine ads, watercolors and tracings of Darger's own creation, and photocopies from an era where a single photocopy cost about one day's wages. Some of the illustrations stretch out as long as 10 feet in width on both sides.
Because it's crucial that people see this.
The "story," as best as can be pieced together, is about seven supernatural girls, enslaved by an evil race, who fight for their freedom, for some reason across several planets. There are scenes of teleporting fairies scaring grown men with mice, those same fairies being tortured and killed by the millions, and two different endings -- one where the girls win their freedom and one where they get hauled back into slavery (see "story," in quotations, above). Darger overtly cribs characters and entire passages from other sources, and even names one of his characters General Darger, to make sure everyone reading knows full well he is out of fucks to give.
Which you can tell by looking at this illustration.
It should be noted that the girls in his story are portrayed as having penises. This isn't treated in a sexual way at any point, and actually seems to suggest that Darger didn't properly know what sex was.
"Anyone you teabag, I teabag better! I teabag anyone better than you!"
But before you laugh at him too much, you should know that ItRotU and its illustrations have generated $2 million for Darger's landlords, who ingloriously published it after his death to recoup the money he owed them. The book has also been the subject of an Emmy-nominated documentary. Hopefully someday somebody will adapt the story itself into a miniseries, mainly so we can see how they handle the subject of the girl penises.