Posted by: oneyearbook | February 23, 2009

Book: The Midnight Disease

Just finished up reading The Midnight Disease, by Alice W. Flaherty, which doesn’t neatly fit into the ‘how-to’ category of writing books that I’ll normally look at here, but I still think there’s something for writers to learn from this read, besides just how interesting neurology can be.
The book looks at writing from that neurology point-of-view; Flaherty is an accomplished neurologist, but she is also a gifted writer and, useful for the topic at hand, she suffered from hypergraphia (the overwhelming desire to write) after a bout with postpartum depression. The book looks at the two different ends of ‘the midnight disease,’ beginning with the urge to write, from the extremes like hypergraphia to those who simply wish to be writers, and then switching over to writer’s block, in its various shades, from the procrastinator to the writer who stares at the blank page for hours on end, unable to produce a single word. (She says that she’s had writer friends complain that when she mentions writer’s block they invariably begin to suffer from it, so if you’re reading this and feel the same way … sorry.)
On the science side of thing, she talks about the areas of the brain that could be linked to writing, to writer’s block, to hypergraphia; temporal lobe epilepsy, it seems, may be a causal factor in some hypergraphia, and a number of famous writers – Dostoevsky, she says, and probably Lewis Carroll, among many – were sufferers; she discusses the possible role of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, in overcoming writer’s block, which plagued Conrad and Kafka, among countless others.
For a book about science, Flaherty has gone a rather more personal route than usual, candidly discussing the issues that have plagued her and how they have interacted with her desire and ability to write. This closeness to her subject keeps the scientific content friendly, even for the non-science reader.
Considering that I don’t suffer from any particularly noticeable maladies of the brain, and that even my version of writer’s block has always been closer to procrastination and perfectionism (although she discusses both, a bit), the book wasn’t particularly useful as a guide, but I don’t think that was Flaherty’s goal, anyhow. It did give me a lot more respect for all the business that goes on in my brain everytime I put words down on paper, though.

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