Monday, March 17, 2008


More on getting cranky if I don't write for a few days running: One of the odder books in my non-fiction library is Alice W. Flaherty's The Midnight Disease, a study of hypergraphia. That's the overwhelming desire to stop washing the dishes or to abandon the car or to leap out of bed and write. Write anything, at great length. Flaherty fell victim to the compulsion as part of post-partum depression, but after she recovered, she wrote this book on the connections between writing, mental health, and creativity.

Chapter two includes this sentence: "Modern researchers have found some experimental evidence that creative people have better access to primary-process thought. They fantasize more, have better memory of their dreams, are more easily hypnotized, and score higher on measures of mildly psychotic traits." It's not that madness and creativity go together; it's more that they are two routes that "access to primary-thought processes" can take. Some people take one and end up artists; some take the other route and end up crazy; some take both.

From my own observations, this rings true. The writers I know do fantasize a lot, can relate their dreams, and invest imagination with the same intensity as reality. I don't know about the "more easily hypnotized" part, never having seen any of them with a hypnosis expert. But they tell anecdotes with gusto and pursue idealized objectives with passion. And some of them do seem mildly psychotic, in that their perceptions don't always seem firmly Velcro-ed to reality.

I may or may not include myself in this group, depending on the day.


Wealthedge said...

Genius touched with madness. A friend in high school was a VERY accomplished classical guitarist at the age of 14. I was still struggling with Stairway to Heaven and he was breaking off Segovia like it was Mary Had a Little Lamb.

He plays for the San Francisco Philharmonic now. If he's off his meds, he's like a musical version of A Beautiful Mind, hanging sheets all over his room covered with strange musical nonsense.

José Iriarte said...

Hypergraphia . . . that sounds like me and my wife lately. I don't think it's a particularly bad thing, though. :-\ I mean, sure, the dishes and the bills and and the work pile up until they reach critical mass, and, yeah, the Christmas tree is still up . . . I'll try to get to it over Spring Break. *blush* But I've found that if I wait to write until I have time to write . . . I never will. I have enough obligations to soak up all of my time, so if I ever want to write, I have to put it ahead of something else.

Still, if I ever do get in trouble over it, do you suppose I can claim to have hypergraphia, and get an ADA accomodation for it? ;)

bluesman miike Lindner said...

A musical thought or two:
Paul McCartney has =never= described how he writes music. All he's said is, "Sometimes I can hear a melody in a single note." Which tells me he =doesn't know.=

And Mozart once said about composition (paraphrasing), "I hear music in my mind all the time. All I have to do is write it down."

Brian Wilson: "I don't know where music comes from. I think God. All I do is sit at my piano. My hands find a nice progression. And you get a melody from that. But I think God is trying to talk to us through music. He's saying, 'Look around and see what you have. Take care of each other, don't hurt each other.' That's how I feel when I hear beautiful music. So I think music is God's language."

It's as good an explanation as any.

Wealthedge said...

"But I think God is trying to talk to us through music. He's saying, 'Look around and see what you have. Take care of each other, don't hurt each other.' That's how I feel when I hear beautiful music. So I think music is God's language."

Tom Hanks from The Green Mile - "I think I just about believe that very thing."

The magic system in my current novel is based around the creative process. The protagonist is a young musical prodigy who finds he's able to "sing" magic (with voice as well as instruments.) Different melodies do different things. Others are painters, sculptors, poets, etc, who can unlock the magic within themselves through their art.

Probably been done before, but I was sick of wands and staffs and spells.

Daniel said...

Just passing through...

With regards to the two paths, I thought it was kind of funny... Become an artist and you'll struggle to support yourself financially. Become a psychotic and you'll get a lovely room with a little window, people to clean up after you, and three healthy meals a day. Seems to me that society should be a little more lenient on the artists...

José Iriarte said...

:-D Brilliant!

In Ireland, writers are tax exempt. Or something like that. Isn't that why McCaffrey moved there?

Fac ut vivas said...

Flaherty's book is not an "odd little book" to those of us who are truly hpyergraphic (almost always also sufferers from Temporal Lobe Epilepsy). She explains a phenomenon that has driven us crazy our whole live through. No true hypergraphic can go for several days without writing. It just ain't possible. If you want to see how a true hypergraphic blogs, see mine (not her on blogspot, but on that other blogosphere ( )Of course, I have other problems, too, but hypergraphia is a symptom of most of them.