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

3.90  ·  Rating Details  ·  579 Ratings  ·  95 Reviews
What underlies the human ability, desire, and even compulsion to write? Alice Flaherty first explores the brain state called hypergraphia - the overwhelming desire to write - and the science behind its antithesis, writer's block. As a leading neurologist at a major research hospital, Flaherty writes from the front lines of brain research. Her voice, driven and surprisingly ...more
Hardcover, 307 pages
Published January 6th 2004 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2004)
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M. D.  Hudson
Dec 14, 2009 M. D. Hudson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 18, 2010 Levka rated it really liked it
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
Beth Cato
Apr 10, 2012 Beth Cato rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: in, 2010, writing, nonfiction
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
Hope to find this 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
May 12, 2013 Bucket rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
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
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
Feb 14, 2008 Lorraine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jul 26, 2009 Robin rated it it was ok
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
May 12, 2014 Sara rated it did not like it
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
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
Apr 06, 2009 Chad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, science, brain
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
Jun 26, 2016 Jessica rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book remains one that I'll recommend to aspiring writers. The premise is fascinating--that we can learn about writer's block and the creative process more generally by studying hypergraphia. The anecdotes that have wedged in my mind come in handy when teaching. For example: I often tell students about Mark Twain's battle with Huck Finn, how a simple decision to make his characters sail down the Mississippi River, rather than up, cleared a path for him to finish his most difficult novel in s ...more
Jan 03, 2015 Christine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In many ways, this is the literary equivalent of Daniel Levitin’s This is Your Brain on Music: Flaherty is as dexterous with her literary sources, which she seems to quote with aplomb, as Levitin is with his musical sources. It’s such a pleasure to be inside as fine and curious and searching a mind as hers.

Flaherty is incredibly well-read and seems to have been attracted to literature with at least as much zest and interest as in her chosen field. I have to admit to some envy in the way she pul
May 12, 2009 Ghennipher rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Oct 18, 2014 Bill rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, science
I've sort of stalled out on this book, and I'm not sure if or when I'll return to it. The proximate cause is the following passage (from page 46) comparing normal to hypergraphic (i.e., compulsive) writers:

Who counts as a prolific -- if not quite hypergraphic -- writer? Those often mentioned include Balzac, Burgess, King, Oates, Proust, Trollope, Updike … Of course, who gets on the list is influenced by factors other than output. For instance, my list contains few genre writers because of the c
I couldn't get into it. There were some sections I understood and was able to relate to, but there was a lot of medical jargon that I couldn't grasp. I expected that as I'm not a very science-minded person, but when she did stray from the technical, her prose was dry and I had to drag myself through the book.

When she discussed how hypergraphia didn't always make for good writing, I completely understood what she meant because I felt like I was reading an example of it. She rambled and went off t
Apr 04, 2007 Amanda rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Jan 19, 2015 Anton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: neuro-science
This is a really terrific book. Although it is about writer's block, it's more about the brain. It is the best brain book I've read; I guess I've read six or eight over the past few years. As a writer, Alice Flaherty is really top notch. She describes so well her own problems with postpartum depression and it's effect on her writing. Her name-dropping of writers is the best; she lets you know what she knows. I mean that in a good way! I like what she's read and how she reads! ....I feel like I ...more
It is midnight.
You’ve been searching, searching, searching,
down long hallways, past still and silent spaces,
finding nothing, nothing, nothing,
climbing flights and flights of stairs,
moving through galleries of images,
not what you’re seeking,
turning corners, crossing passageways,
through blue rooms, through red rooms,
rooms with cupboards, rooms with shelves,
rooms with desks, rooms with drawers,
in one drawer, a gleam of gold,
just what you’re seeking,
you turn it over and over,
you press it, you
Jacob Campbell
Feb 15, 2016 Jacob Campbell rated it it was amazing
This is a book written for persons who are interested in the creative process, the mind of the writer, and creativity in fiction writing. The author is both a published author and a neurologist. With just a little study of the anatomy of the human brain I was able to understand the entire book, it's premise, and promise.

I was fascinated by the information presented. I have not read this thorough a book about the mind and the anatomy of the brain and the writing process ever.

There was a psychoana
Jun 06, 2015 QS rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers with a science background
Finally finished it! That sentence says a lot about how I feel about this book.

It had a lot of interesting information and theories, but I often found myself wanting for more of a certain subject. She also often stopped discussing a topic without warning to move into another little spiel about her life and how her writing of this book reflected on the events of her life, which was more than a little irritating. I picked up this book expecting a thorough discussion of the neuroscience behind writ
Nov 20, 2014 Jam rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
TLDR; don't read it.

Good grief. Never have I dragged on a non-fic for as long as I did with this book. I was expecting a technical treatment of the topic, but I walked away with a dryly written autobiography of a neuroscientist who suffered depression whose manifestation is that of hypergraphia. The idea of it sounds great, but the execution was not.

Needless to say, her writing is not that compelling. It could have used some organization, and I agree with most reviews complaining about the lac
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
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

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
Apr 09, 2014 Kristenyque rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.
Dec 01, 2014 Phil rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I wrote this big long review...and lost it. Here's the cliff note version.

I had high hopes that there would be some serious science behind the conclusions. Instead, there were no conclusions. Writer's block could be caused by depression...or helped by depression. When people are in a good mood, they write more...or maybe less.

I finished this book because of all the high ratings, but I didn't see the magic. The end digressed into a lot of the author's feelings and personal experience and wander
Feb 25, 2008 Al rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Nov 06, 2012 Laura rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Melinda Jane Harrison (Girls and Their Goblins)
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
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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.” 8 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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