The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain
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The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain

3.89 of 5 stars 3.89  ·  rating details  ·  446 ratings  ·  81 reviews
Why is it that some writers struggle for months to come up with the perfect sentence or phrase while others, hunched over a keyboard deep into the night, seem unable to stop writing? In The Midnight Disease, neurologist Alice W. Flaherty explores the mysteries of literary creativity: the drive to write, what sparks it, and what extinguishes it. She draws on intriguing exam...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published January 18th 2005 by Mariner Books (first published 2004)
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Community Reviews

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M. D.  Hudson
I am far too great a snob to read a book like this except by accident – I found it at the Salvation Army. Snobbery is its own punishment, however, and I found I could not put this book down. It was fascinating, and unlike virtually all the “popular science” books I have ever read, its author (a neurologist and Harvard professor) never condescends to the reader and yet never blinded me with science. The act of writing (and in the case of writer’s block, not writing) is now just as weird to me as...more
Levka
This is a strange, interesting, sometimes bizarre look into the psychology of the drive to write, written by a psychologist who has struggled with depression and mania that affected her drive to write. It is a highly erudite book; the references ramble between psychology studies and classical literature -- Flaherty is certainly well-read, and her book is easily readable by those who are not well-versed in psychology. She explores the links between madness and creativity, religion and inspiration...more
Velvetink
Hope to find this soon....in the meantime a review I found on google books. =
Editorial Review - Reed Business Information (c) 2003
Flaherty (The Massachusetts General Handbook of Neurology) mixes memoir, meditation, compendium and scholarly reportage in an odd but absorbing look at the neurological basis of writing and its pathologies. Like Oliver Sacks, Flaherty has her own story to tell a postpartum episode involving hypergraphia and depression that eventually hospitalized her. But what holds t...more
Bucket
Book: "Hey you! Curious about brain science and writing? Sure you are. I'm accessible and fun, go ahead and open me up! No, really. I'm totally like a layperson's pop-science book about The Midnight Disease (cool title, huh? yeah my publisher came up with that). I mean, look at all the sexy scribbles on my cover and my fully comprehensible subtitle. I'm obviously *not* super academic, jargon-y, madly disorganized, pointlessly tangential or written in such a fashion that only other brain scientis...more
Robin
What I learned from this book" --

1) I am a writer. There were too many times I recognized myself when Flaherty discussed the act or the desire or the joy in writing.

2) When reading a piece written by a scientist, I expect it to be point-driven, logical, and to build upon previous conclusions. This work is not.
Frequently I found myself reading, "And the third idea is ..." only to reply, "Huh??" The author seems unable to stay away from rabbit trails, coming back to the argument at hand only after...more
Beth Cato
The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain is written by Alice Flaherty, a neurologist. Her medical training has a profound impact on the book, but even more so weighs the event that changed her life: the premature birth and death of twin boys. Her subsequent postpartum disorder brought on depression and mania, including hypergraphia--the constant need to write. But this isn't a memoir, even though her voice and experience are integral. This is about the ver...more
Sara
The book tried and failed everything. My complaints?
1. The writing was horrible. It needed a heartless editor. It rarely left the hypergraphic stage-- incoherent and longwinded.
2. I'm highly skeptical of all the posthumous diagnoses. (You know Moses' metal illnesses? Really?)
3. The science didn't seem to hold up, mainly relying on the above. (If there was much behind it, it stayed behind).
4. The author's experience was annoyingly invoked and abandoned. It interrupted the rest of the book, but wa...more
Ghennipher
This is one of my all-time favorite books! I bought this book years ago and have read it at least 4 times.

The book is fascinating in its descriptions of writers who had The Midnight Disease - an untamable urge to write, as well as authors who suffered with writer's block who could prolifically write notes to friends but could not write a page in a book without agony.

Ms. Flaherty makes complex brain processes understandable and interesting in this great book about creativity.
Eliza T. Williamson
This is a scary, curious and extremely informative book. In the spirit of Kaye Redfield Jamison & drawiing on her personal experience Flaherty explores the connection between creativity (and blocks) and depression, illness and neurological disorders. Not a light read, but really really interesting.
Amanda
Flaherty's study of mental illness and the desire to write, inspired by her personal experience with both. As with the DSM-IV, you will end up diagnosing yourself with half the brain disorders recounted here. In other words, it is a lot of fun.
Melinda  Harrison
Considering that human beings are "new" to writing, five to six thousand years at most, our need to write is a mystery. I bought this book and a few others like it because I thought I might quit writing as I do and learn to write others things, for other reasons.

Instead I discovered why I do not write at certain times and why I need to write at others. Not all of my discovery is pleasant, but it's a truth I needed to understand about myself.

A lot of this book is about brain science and yes, bra...more
Mary Catelli
A neurologist's take on writing.

I don't know what a non-writer would think of it, but I found it fascinating.

She starts out with a discussion of hypergraphia which is the compulsive need to write. It's associated with temporal lobe epilepsy and with maniac-depression and it's probably not what drove you to write so much at some point. Doctors discovered that they had a simple test for epileptic patients as to whether they were hypergraphic: ask them to write a letter describing their health. Non...more
Tracey
A few months ago, I heard an interview on NPR with the author, Alice Weaver Flaherty. I submitted a purchase request at the local library, and earlier this month, they purchased a copy & I checked it out.

Ms. Flaherty, a physician, suffered an episode of post-partum depression after her twin sons died; this depression was manifested in (among other behaviours) hypergraphia - an uncontrollable desire to write, and write and write. Once she recovered (more or less) she decided to explore the p...more
Bookmarks Magazine

"Researchers will soon be able to see which patterns of brain activity underlie creativity," Flaherty claims. By offering some powerful physiological theories for the creative process, Flaherty debunks the idea that creativity stems from psychological inspiration. A few impenetrable parts notwithstanding, she eloquently translates scientific information into layman's terms, instilling her narrative with fascinating literary and personal anecdotes and practical advice for writers. Citing skimpy e

...more
cagedpopmachine
wonderful concept, but not terribly impressed with the execution. The gist of the book is the relationship between mental dysfunction and writing. Most examples are anecdotal. I feel like bipolar/manic-depression was over emphasized and glorified as a "creative illness". The author attempted to avoid glorfying mental illness, and yet managed to crash land there anyhow. The inconsistent use of bipolar or manic-depression could be confusing for those not familiar with mental illness diagnostic ter...more
Kristenyque
Lucky find! I have many pages flagged so that I can make note of different bits and pieces of information- all about writing and the brain. There is valuable information about creativity in general but the focus is on writing and the people who write. I like the open-mindedness of the author and her wise viewpoint on creative people and how the world sees them.
Al
Feb 25, 2008 Al rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: writers, people interested in neurology
Similar vein (so I'm told) as Kay Redfield Jamison's An Unquiet Mind. If not just for content, the authors' experiences are similar. The book is easy to read and despite being a medical doctor Flaherty doesn't burden her readers with medical jargon. The premise and context of the book is interesting. Writing as soul search and academic inquiry creates an artistic tension I think Flaherty does well. The subject of her research is off-putting though: the science of creativity. I don't believe crea...more
Laura
Illuminating, inspiring, and even startling synthesis and analysis of the forces behind creativity and writer's block, from the scientific to the literary, from the romantic to the pragmatic. Alice Weaver Flaherty covers all the theories and injects this knowledge with a neuroscientist's understanding of the various functions of the brain, and manages to do so without diminishing the mystical and often baffling reasons behind what makes writers flow and what makes them dry up. This book is summe...more
Megan
This is a fascinating combination of brain science and dry humor! Writer's block (and hypergraphia) are just the jumping off point for her discussion of how the brain is organized and where creative endeavor stems (as in brain stem?) from-- She's pretty funny when she scoffs at the usual self-help pablum for writer's block from the usual suspects--I am still waiting for the explanation (and cure???) for procratination which she promises at the beginning of the book-- Highly recommend to anyone w...more
Grace
I loved this book for it's wealth of information regarding general brain functions compared to mentally ill people as well as its insight on the how creativity and writing are functions of the brain. However, the moments of "Where the hell did this come from?" almost overshadow my enjoyment of the book. For example, in the last chapter, the author spends several pages d.iscussing religion in a chapter about metaphor, the inner voice, and the muse. Sometimes I just couldn't follow her train of th...more
Lorraine
I read this book shortly after it came out. As a writer, I wonder at what drives me to sit for hours staring at a blank page, or at a computer screen, waiting--not always patiently--for words to come. When they do, it is frequently a near-orgasmic experience, and in reading this book, written by a neurologist who became a writer, I learned why.

I also learned why writing is so tied into grief, and why, when my lover died, the only place that I found real solace was with fountain pen in hand.

For...more
Craig
Apr 17, 2008 Craig rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Craig by: Caroline
Basically a neuroscientist's look at creative writing, this book looks at mental illness and its links to writing, where the creative urge comes from, how language works in the brain, and a whole lot more. I was really intrigued with a lot of the theories throughout and I learned a lot that I didn't know before about the inner workings of the brain. (Guess that's why I have an English degree) A slow read, but a very interesting book. I especially liked the more personal tone that the author took...more
The Cute Little Brown-haired girl
This book tells of the "disease" of writing and compulsive writing. It really gives a layman's perspective on writers throughout history that have written classics we are all aware of, but that their mental state while writing is "different" from just the run-of-the-mill person. It really delves into the psychology of writing, why we write, and what is different in the brain chemistry of those that "have to" write vs. those that do it because they are just "wired like that." For anyone who is a...more
Benn
"Give me a condo's quill! Give me Vesuvius' crater for an inkstand. Friends, hold my arms!" Herman Melville
Natalie
If you love writing and neuroscience, this book is for you!

She talks about over-writing, writer's block, and especially fascinating, the drive to write. (Considering a few thousand years ago humans weren't writing at all. All right human evolution!)

Whenever I feel a bit stuck I look at this quote from the book, "The inability to write reflects the sufferer's feeling that he or she cannot contribute to the world, cannot communicate with others in any meaningful way." So volunteer work will help...more
Chad
I was reluctant to start this book until I suffered a case of true writer's block. I don't think I wanted to hear that writing happened through a bunch of gobs of brain gunk in my head. As it turns out, this is the most informative, enlightening, and useful book about writing that I've ever read. It didn't cure my block, but helped me to understand what was happening in my specific case. The neural geography behind creation only makes the process more entrancing. I highly recommend this book, es...more
Lee
I guess I should have expected it from a book on hypergraphia, but this book was a little long-winded and disorganized, as if the writer got upon her favorite topic (the brain) and kept going until she'd told you everything she knew, including lots of personal speculation. If you're actually interested in what there is to say about the brain function that creates writer's block and conditions like it, well...despite that being what the book's billed for, there's not much more than brief speculat...more
Jackie Hesse
Don't not pick up this book because it is written by a neurologist about the neurologic phenomena called writer's block. This book is about the brain's connection to our emotional life- in short, it's about life. Flaherty takes big personal risks and generously shares her medical knowledge, life wisdom and rich, vast understanding of literature and writing with the unknown reader. If sections feel weighted by "medi-speak", stick with it, as this book will deeply enrich the life of anyone who rea...more
Tristan
A psychological and physilogical exploration of both graphiphilia and writer's block. As I am not a compulsive writer nor a particularly compulsive person, I found the section on writer's block significantly more interesting than the first on compulsive writing. The author's background in science is an asset and is the main draw for the book. For the most part she is clear succinct, but she does digress in some spots. Not groundbreaking, but you will learn something have read this book.
Alex
This is an excellent read for scientific-minded writers who wish to understand their passion (and probable blockage) from a clinical perspective with shades of literary tradition (AKA "the Muses"). Weaver Flaherty's style makes the book very readable and attractive for most audiences despite its heavy subject and medical/scientific content. Anyone who wants to understand the passion/compulsion of writing and storytelling should use this to examine their own inclinations.
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“The scientist in me worries that my happiness is nothing more than a symptom of bipolar disease, hypergraphia from a postpartum disorder. The rest of me thinks that artificially splitting off the scientist in me from the writer in me is actually a kind of cultural bipolar disorder, one that too many of us have. The scientist asks how I can call my writing vocation and not addiction. I no longer see why I should have to make that distinction. I am addicted to breathing in the same way. I write because when I don’t, it is suffocating. I write because something much larger than myself comes into me that suffuses the page, the world, with meaning. Although I constantly fear that what I am writing teeters at the edge of being false, this force that drives me cannot be anything but real, or nothing will ever be real for me again.” 7 likes
“How could poetry and literature have arisen from something as plebian as the cuneiform equivalent of grocery-store bar codes? I prefer the version in which Prometheus brought writing to man from the gods. But then I remind myself that…we should not be too fastidious about where great ideas come from. Ultimately, they all come from a wrinkled organ that at its healthiest has the color and consistency of toothpaste, and in the end only withers and dies.” 5 likes
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