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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

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  688 ratings  ·  107 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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3.90  · 
Rating details
 ·  688 ratings  ·  107 reviews

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M. D.  Hudson
Dec 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
May 25, 2015 marked it as non-review
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
Apr 17, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it really liked it
Shelves: in, 2010, nonfiction, writing
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
Dec 18, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
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
May 12, 2013 rated it it was ok
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
Jun 23, 2009 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
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
Feb 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.

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
Feb 15, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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
May 12, 2009 rated it it was amazing
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.
Aug 01, 2018 rated it really liked it
“Beauty drives copies of itself, whether in art, or when we want to make children with someone we love.” (p.4)

“Nearly all of us, artists or not, feel the terror of work as well as the joy of work.” (p.5)

“Most procrastinators are very aware of exactly what they are not doing.” (p.16)

“When two people are given a project, one paid to do it and the other not, the former’s creativity seems to be inhibited by the reward. Surprisingly, at least when studied in schoolchildren, the inhibiting effect of e
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Alice Flaherty writes with deep love for both writing and neuroscience. Her writing is of such great quality! So thoroughly researched and informed by a wide range of thought, from philosophy and political science to psychology and hard sciences of the brain. It is written with care and respect for the reader, subtle humour, and so much attention to detail ("the sounds and shapes of words”). Grounded in Flaherty’s experience of postpartum mania and clinically obsessive writing spells, the book i ...more
Marilyn Michel
May 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
I don't have writer's block, but the book did not seem to be very helpful with that problem. There is a lengthy discussion of various areas of the brain, with the conclusion that no part of the brain is dedicated to writing (unlike speech), or the drive to write. The best advice I've heard is that you must know why you write. Then you can decide how much of your time, energy and life you want to devote to it.
Wendy Landers
Apr 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing
This is a dense medical text on abnormal psychology as it pertains to writers. It took me a couple of attempts to get through the book. It is time consuming to read. But for a medical text, it is really charming! This type of information is hard to find.
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
A neurologist's personal exposition centred around the intriguing condition of hypergraphia that involves a good deal of Brain Science 101 that's easy to understand. The kind of book that makes you want to read more about the subject.
Nov 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Totally different type of book than I expected. More Nueroscience than was advertised - or maybe it was just in the wrong section of the library. Going to try Betty Edwards book next!
Domenic A.
Jul 11, 2018 rated it liked it
A solid read, very informative. Any creative type that dabbles in nueroscience should give it a shot.
Joan Lieberman
Aug 10, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sobering description of manic writing.
Aleksandra Janusz
As enlightening as this book is to me, I think that in order to fully appreciate it one has to be at least interested in popular neuroscience and in the literature at the same time. I've read about most of the case reports Flaherty mentions, I have read Sacks and Ekman, I have some knowledge in hard neuroscience (given it's my field as well, though I'm a basic science person and I don't implant anything in real living humans). and as such, this is a light enough read to me.

Flaherty's style is mo
Dec 19, 2007 rated it liked it
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
Jan 03, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Nov 23, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Oct 09, 2014 rated it it was ok
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 co
R. Glenn  Guillory
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
Sep 30, 2014 rated it did not like it
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
Jessica Wildfire
Jun 25, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Alex Black
Jun 05, 2015 rated it it was ok
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
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Alice Weaver Flaherty is an American neurologist. She is a researcher, physician, educator and author of the 2004 book The Midnight Disease, about the neural basis of creativity. She writes in various genres, including “scientific papers, humorous essays, and picture books”. Her book, The Massachusetts General Hospital Handbook of Neurology is the most "widely used neurology text in its class".[ht ...more
“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.” 10 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.” 7 likes
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