Wednesday 24 December 2008

Long Nights for the Midnight Disease

While we celebrate the shortest days of the year, it seems like an appropriate time to consider the writing that whiles away long nights. For the next four Wednesdays, I’ll be writing about narrative and creative production in a short series of posts partially inspired by Alice Flaherty’s 2004 book The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain.

A central theme of Flaherty’s book is the exploration of hypergraphia – the compulsion to write a lot. Flaherty is a neurologist who experienced a psychotic postpartum break characterized by compulsive writing and metaphors that were compelling almost to the point of being delusional. Her book is an eloquent treatise on hypergraphia as a way to explore temporal lobe influence, and of mood more generally, on the experience of creating narrative.

One of the most prosaic – although not insignificant – implications of Flaherty’s exploration of writing a lot is the conclusion that more creative production may be a very useful precondition for brilliant creative production. Claiming that many famously successful writers have had close relations affected by temporal lobe epilepsy or mood disorders, she raises questions about how much quality depends on prolific quantity, in addition to discernment. She suggests that perhaps more important than the practice represented by quantity is the crucial step of getting quality production out there, actually transforming ideas into a form outside of thinking.

In this series of posts, I will be considering creative production – particularly in light of the kinds of hypergraphic conditions like the urgent, emphatic need to communicate that Flaherty calls “pressured speech.” Especially following from recent posts about engaging in reading or creative production, it seems interesting to consider how much people are motivated (pressured) to produce (or to creatively explore) because of their moods – or their personalities.

Alice Flaherty (2004). The midnight disease: The drive to write, writer's block, and the creative brain. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

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