The 6 Most Certifiably Insane Acts of Writing

#3. Finnegans Wake: A Completely Unreadable Masterpiece


James Joyce was one of the most influential writers of the early 20th century. His most famous work, Ulysses, was a version of Homer's Odyssey, except that it took place in then-modern Dublin (even though most copies were seized and destroyed by American and English customs officers due to "obscenity").

"Me, obscene? What would give you that impression?"

For his last hurrah, Joyce tried to write the most difficult-to-read novel in history, because apparently he was afraid his existing works hadn't fulfilled the "pretentious douchefritter" quotient most artists seem to adhere to. By most accounts, he succeeded with a work called Finnegans Wake.

To give some background, the book took 17 years to write. Almost every sentence is painstakingly crafted to be a pun or double meaning. It's so impossible to understand that you need guides to read it, while you're reading it. He used different languages (including some that he invented), combined words together and purposefully made sure there were multiple layers of meaning in everything. Impossibly, it somehow has characters and a plot.

"Why don't you tell me what it's about?"

For example, here is a typical passage:

"All the vital-mines is beginning to sozzle in chewn and the hormonies to clingleclangle, fudgem, kates and eaps and naboc and erics and oinnos on kingclud ..."

The first part of the sentence is made up of double words, so here, we can read "sozzle" as "sizzle + dissolve," "chewn" as "chew + tune" and "hormonies" as "hormones + harmonies" (doubtless by this point we all wish Joyce were still alive, so that we might beat the living shit out of him). The second part of the sentence is just anagrams -- scrambled words. "Kates" = "steak," "eaps" = "peas." Continuing, we get bacon, rices and onions on duckling. The word "vital-mines" confirms the food theme, as it could be a way to say "stomach," while also referencing vitamins. In conclusion, we have a sentence about the health benefits of a steak and duck dinner, with a musical metaphor running through the whole thing as an entirely separate second layer of meaning.

Admittedly, we still don't know what the fuck "fudgem" is supposed to be.

"Fudgem if they can't read my book."

That was pretty exhaustive work for half a sentence. Now multiply that by 600 pages, and you can easily see why it took this book club 13 years to finish reading it, and this translator 10 years to write it in Polish. For more fun, listen along as Joyce himself recites passages in his offensively fake-sounding Irish accent, daring you to like anything about him.

It's not hard to imagine a writer shitting out a book just to piss people off. But only Joyce would ever have put so much effort into it.

#2. A Hit Novel from a 9-Year-Old Girl


Daisy Ashford, a 9-year-old girl living in 19th century England, scribbled a story called The Young Visiters into the pages of her schoolbook. As the title suggests, the story was rife with spelling and grammatical errors, which seems to indicate that the schoolbook she was using to record her story wasn't being used for much else.

Still better than Stephenie Meyer.

So who cares, right? Normally, this kind of thing would be hung on the fridge for a week, but as there were no refrigerators in Surrey in 1890, it was just stuffed into a drawer and completely forgotten about. Twenty-seven years later, a grown-up Daisy found it among some other papers when her mother died and passed it along to a friend. The story -- which was actually a 105-page novel -- began making the rounds as people realized that this thing she had scribbled out in elementary school was actually a perfectly coherent story, and kind of hilarious. It told the tale of a love triangle between Ethel, Bernard and Mr. Salteena (described as "an elderly man of 42"). Spoiler: It culminates in this:

"Oh Bernard she sighed fervently I certinly love you madly you are to me like a Heathen god she cried looking at his manly form and handsome flashing face I will indeed marry you."

"... and then it's pretty much all f-bombs from there on out."

The book finally landed in the hands of a reader for a publishing house, who was so captivated by the story that he decided to put it into print, because back then publishing companies would still throw money at projects purely because they thought they were adorable.

"Keep writing, this mortgage isn't going to pay itself."

It was a good thing they did; it was a huge hit. The Young Visiters would have to go back to print 18 times in its first year. In 1920, it was adapted into a play, followed 50 years later by a musical. A feature-length movie in 1984 continued the sensation, finally culminating in a TV movie on BBC, starring Dr. House and directed by David Yates, who would go on to make one of the Harry Potter movies.

The entire work can be found online, though you should be warned that it contains four different scenes depicting graphic scrotum torture.

#1. A Novel Typed Entirely With One Eyelid


Imagine you had to write a novel, but for some reason you couldn't type or write. Like, say, your fingers didn't work. OK, so you'd just hire somebody to type it, and tell them what to type, right? It'd take way longer, but it's definitely doable. OK, now say you've lost your voice. Now what? You could use, uh, some kind of sign language to communicate with your typist, we guess. OK, now say that you can't speak, and your entire body is paralyzed except for one single eyelid. Now what?

Those were the circumstances under which Jean-Dominique Bauby wrote his autobiography The Diving Bell and the Butterfly. Bauby, a former fashion-world powerhouse and editor for Elle magazine, woke up after a refreshing stroke-induced 20-day coma completely paralyzed except for his eyes, sort of like Daniel Day-Lewis in My Left Foot, except with a much more useless body part. In order to save him from getting an infection, his right eyelid was sewn shut soon afterward, leaving him with just his left eye as his only means of communication. This proved to be a near insurmountable challenge, because as you may already be aware, eyes cannot speak and can only hold pencils with great difficulty.


Yet, working with a speech therapist, Bauby managed to develop a method of communication based around blinking his one working eyelid. Once he had the basics down (presumably beginning with simple phrases like "Shoo this mosquito away" and "Turn up The Dukes of Hazzard"), he decided it was time to write a book about his experiences, because honestly, what the hell else was he going to do?

"If he pees, I'm making him a child molester in my book."

So, how in the possible hell did this work? Well, letters would be read aloud to him, and Bauby would blink that stalwart left eye of his when the letter he wanted to use was spoken. Then they'd write that letter down. The process would start all over again until a word was completed. Once they got good at it, he could usually get a word out in about two minutes. The final book, about 140 pages long, took Bauby an estimated 200,000 blinks to complete.

Even weirder, the book was good. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly was a critically acclaimed hit (which saved the publisher the incredible awkwardness of having to reject a book a dude wrote with one eyelid). Sadly, the author died mere days after its publication of complications from pneumonia. But his book became an international bestseller and was adapted into a movie 10 years later that received multiple Academy Award nominations.

So, for all of you aspiring writers out there still procrastinating on your novel, what the fuck is your excuse?

"I'm still looking for the right coffee shop. Every writer knows that's the most important step."

Feel free to bug Elijah by email at, or read his blog at Chris Rio likes to write music, tweet and check email at

For more terrible bouts of insanity, check out 5 Crazy Street Performers (Who Happened to be Geniuses) and 6 People Who Died In Order To Prove A (Retarded) Point.

If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out 4 Reasons Gremlins Are the Deadliest Movie Monster Ever.

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