marycatelli (marycatelli) wrote,

The Midnight Disease

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain by Alice W. Flaherty.

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-hypergraphics wrote under a hundred.  Hypergraphics wrote thousands.

It's so compulsive that -- well, she tells the story of a Chinese woman who had hypergraphia.  She wrote, compulsively, and then she burned it all because it was criticism of the Chinese regime at the worst possible time to be caught.  (And then she would bring the ashes to a relative's house because it had a flush toilet and she could flush the ashes.)

And then she goes on about other quirks of writing.  The introduction of rifle bullets did much to advance neurology.  Musket bullets tended to diffuse damage, so the survivor ended up with lots of generalized problems.  Rifle bullets could hurt much smaller portions of the brain.  So you end up with people who have alexia -- and can't read, but can write.  (Very rare.  Much more common to have it with agraphia.)

And writers' block.  The author had suffered from manic and depressed states after she gave birth to twin sons who died; she was hypergraphic while maniac, and didn't write when she was depressed.  Then she had twin daughters, who lived, and suffered the same mood swings, but this time she really needed a mood-stablizer.  And when she took it, in her depressed mood, she would earnestly desire to write, and be unable.  That's writer's block.  Not enough to not write -- it has to cause suffering.

Lots of writers have suffered it.  Some writers have suffered writer's block and hypergraphia simultaneously.  Coleridge couldn't write poetry while being able to pour out essays and letters.  And she talks about habits and how they help -- not individual ones, the fact of having habits.

The interactions of the cortext, where we think and know how to write, and the limbic system, which drives us to write.  Problems that make people unable to communicate, some of them horrific -- patients in severe pain who can not communicate how much they are suffering.  And that people with damage to their limbic system do not think more logically than more emotional people with intact limbic systems; it chiefly seems to make them dither.  (Take that, Spock!  0:)  Metaphor and metonymy, and how they relate to pathological conditions -- and innate ability to speak.

Good book.
Tags: non-fiction: science, primary source review, thinking, writing

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