The Midnight Disease — Press Release

There are already educational and psychotherapeutic treatments for writer’s block, some fairly effective. But remember, not many people want to be treated for hypergraphia. Their writing is usually very important to them. That raises an important point: What right do I have to give a medical name to a character trait that people value in themselves? The reason I do so is that I think talking about creative drive in neurological terms does not have to degrade the experience or value of creativity. The medical terminology can coexist with the equally important, more subjective language that we are more comfortable with. And this approach can also bring in the increasingly powerful ability of neuroscience to treat brain conditions.

As for treating writer’s block, there is much more consensus among people who have it that it needs treatment. And there is a long history of writers self-medicating, usually not very successfully, with everything from alcohol to coffee to amphetamines. There are many ways to get blocked. For instance, some writers have a feeling of emptiness, as if they have no ideas. They might benefit from an antidepressant that is on the stimulating side. Other writers are crippled by perfectionism they feel as if they have ideas but can’t get them out. In some ways this problem can be treated like stage fright or anxiety disorder. A very unfortunate number of writers have used alcohol to calm this sort of anxiety. It may work in the short term, but in the long term it clearly damages creativity. Recently, although this is very experimental, there has been some evidence that transcortical magnetic stimulation through use of a wand over the temporal lobe can produce in some people the sensation of being visited by the muse. That opens up a new world of medical treatment that is not pill-based for problems of creativity. Although it sounds science fiction-y, this kind of technology is already being used for treatment of Parkinson’s disease and depression. —Alice Flaherty on her book, The Midnight DiseaseThe Midnight Disease — Press Release (Houghton Mifflin)