away your school books: Here comes Textbook 2.0'
article on the CNN news site about a free online learning materials-sharing
website at Rice University called Connexions (cnx.org):
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The overwhelming urge to write
is it that some writers struggle for months to come up with the
perfect sentence or phrase, while others, hunched over a notepad
or keyboard deep into the night, seem unable to stop writing?
In The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer's Block,
and the Creative Brain (Houghton Mifflin, January), neurologist
Alice W. Flaherty explores the hows and whys of writing, revealing
the science behind hypergraphia the overwhelming urge to
write and its dreaded opposite, writer's block. The result
is an innovative contribution to our understanding of creative
drive, one that throws new light on the work of some of our greatest
whose work puts her at the forefront of brain science, Flaherty
herself suffered from hypergraphia after the loss of her prematurely
born twins. Her unique perspective as both doctor and patient
helps her make important connections between pain and the drive
to communicate and between mood disorders and the creative muse.
readers through the inner workings of the human brain, Flaherty
sheds new light on popular notions of the origins of creativity,
giving us a new understanding of the role of the temporal lobes
and the limbic system. She challenges the standard idea that one
side of the brain controls creative function, and explains the
biology behind a visit from the muse.
writes compellingly of her bout with manic hypergraphia, when
"the sight of a computer keyboard or a blank page gave me the
same rush that drug addicts get from seeing their freebasing paraphernalia."
Dissecting the role of emotion in writing and the ways in which
brain-body and mood disorders can lead to prodigious or
meager creative output, Flaherty uses examples from her
own life and the lives of writers from Kafka to Anne Lamott, from
Sylvia Plath to Stephen King:
Dostoevsky, the author of nineteen novels and novellas and voluminous
notebooks, diaries, and letters, suffered from spells of altered
consciousness, intense mood swings, and seizures. Neurologists
today believe he suffered from temporal lobe epilepsy, the best-understood
cause of hypergraphia.
King, who, after being hit by a truck, suffered his first-ever
episode of writer's block. Flaherty suggests that writers whose
writing has been "shaped by collisions with large vehicles are
as rare as hens' teeth" but goes on to write memorably about
her own collision with a truck, and the illuminations it offered
her about art, communication, and suffering.
Plath's poetry was dramatically affected by her menstrual cycles
a sign of bipolar disorder, which often causes severe
PMS in female patients.
we come to understand why we are wired and why some of
us are truly compelled to write. Fascinating, moving, and
original, The Midnight Disease will forever change the
way we look at writing and the drive behind it.
Conversation with Alice Flaherty About The Midnight Disease
block is something we hear about a lot, but I wasn't familiar
with hypergraphia until reading your book. What is it, and why
did you choose to write about it?
hypergraphia is essentially the opposite of writer's block. It's
driven, compulsive writing keeping huge journals, writing
letters to the editor at the drop of a hat, that sort of thing.
Some people will write on toilet paper if nothing else is available.
One of the things that makes hypergraphia interesting is that
known brain conditions can trigger it, and they all seem to heavily
involve the temporal lobes, parts of the brain that are right
behind the ears. The other interesting point is that hypergraphia
seems to reflect a component of literary creativity, namely creative
drive. And there is fairly solid evidence that drive, and emotional
involvement in your work, is even more important than talent in
creating something new.
are the most compelling examples of hypergraphia and of writer's
block you've come across?
One person who fascinates me is van Gogh, who was hypergraphic
and who painted with a fury that amazed others and even himself.
He was one of the most prolific artists ever, and at the same
time he wrote two to three long letters a day to his brother Theo.
Schumann is another example he wrote feverishly while he
was composing feverishly. The incredible drive of those two artists
to communicate something, regardless of the medium, is evidence
that the temporal lobe is involved not only in the drive to write
but in the drive behind other art forms as well.
As for examples
of writer's block, the strange thing is how paradoxically eloquent
many writers are in describing their block. Because a block is
often very genre-specific, as anyone knows who has felt blocked
on a big paper and has procrastinated by writing long e-mails.
Coleridge is a perfect example of that he used to churn
out metaphysical treatises when what he really wanted to do was
write poetry. The recent movie Adaptation demonstrates
a trick many writers use in that situation, which is to escape
your block by writing about it. Both Coleridge and Wordsworth
a practicing neurologist, but also an avid reader, and you describe
in detail the ways in which writers such as Stephen King, Sylvia
Plath, and Dostoevsky suffered from writing problems. How did
your knowledge of the brain affect the way you interpreted their
Dostoevsky had temporal lobe epilepsy. Some, but not all, people
with temporal lobe epilepsy have a group of five personality traits
called the Geschwind syndrome, which includes hypergraphia, strong
religious or philosophical interests, and wide mood swings. Just
before a seizure, Dostoevsky would experience an ecstatic or religious
aura in which the world was flooded with meaning. Just after the
seizure, he would be depressed and unable to write. And in the
longer stretches between seizures, he wrote hypergraphically,
grappling with, among other things, how to reconcile the fact
that the periods when he experienced the highest truth were the
result of seizure.
As for Plath,
she had manic depression, or bipolar disorder, which is incredibly
common among creative writers. Some studies show that up to 70
percent of poets are manic depressive. Manic depression shares
a number of personality characteristics with temporal lobe epilepsy,
and temporal lobe activity is altered during manic episodes. So
even though one condition is "neurological" and the other is "psychological,"
you have to keep in mind that both are coming from the same brain.
Not only is manic depression a genetic condition; it is also highly
influenced by biological factors like the seasons; most creative
writers have a slump in output during the winter.
there's evidence that creative ability varies with the menstrual
cycle. Plath illustrates this very vividly. After Ted Hughes released
her diaries, a scholar went through them and figured out the dates
of Plath's periods throughout her writing career. And both the
turbulent premenstrual and the relatively calm postmenstrual phase
had immediate effects on her writing. The Ariel poems, all of
which are dated, show a recurrent rise and fall in their themes
of barrenness, fertility, misery, bleeding, and relief, all overseen
by the image of an inspiring but indifferent moon goddess. "If
I could bleed, or sleep!" Plath wrote in Poppies in July.
Eventually she did both: her suicide, like the writing of her
bleakest poems, occurred during a premenstrual period.
you briefly describe what neurologists have found about the physical
relationship between emotion and creativity?
psychological terms, it seems that drive is more important than
talent. Dean Simonton at Stanford has argued that the composers
who produced the greatest works, like Mozart and Beethoven, are
simply the ones who wrote the most they were composing
all the time, as they walked down the street or sat at a dinner
party. But the type of motivation is important. Teresa Amabile
at Harvard has done a number of studies to show that intrinsic
motivation, such as enjoyment, is more likely to produce creative
work. And, paradoxically, such extrinsic motivation as money hurts
creativity. This may be because money is distracting or because
the person stops working the instant money comes in.
terms, we know that emotion and drives are controlled primarily
by the limbic system. This sits under the cerebral cortex, which
is more concerned with cognition. Again, I'm oversimplifying.
We can have emotions that are cognitively very complex
for example, loving Marlene Dietrich and not Greta Garbo. So the
neurology of emotion and cognition are tightly intertwined. The
cortical area that is the most closely connected to the limbic
system is probably the temporal lobe. And the likely reason that
the temporal lobe can trigger hypergraphia is that the limbic
system, which has a big role in our affiliative instincts
our desire to be in contact with family and friends produces
a drive to communicate that in turn drives the speech area of
the temporal lobe.
your book, you describe some unusual personal experiences that
triggered your interest in why people write. Can you tell us about
Well, it started after I gave birth prematurely to twin boys who
died. For ten days I was filled with sorrow. Then suddenly, as
if someone had thrown a switch, I was wildly agitated, full of
ideas, all of them pressing to be written down. Because I was
holed up in my office all the time, my friends worried that I
was depressed, but I felt quite the opposite. As a neurologist,
I had heard of the phenomenon of hypergraphia and was pretty sure
that was what I had. That phase lasted about four months; then
suddenly I lost all interest in writing. I felt peaceful
unless I tried to write or speak. Then I felt as though my lungs
were full of water, suffocating. So I just stayed quiet. That
lasted about six weeks.
year, by a strange symmetry, I gave birth prematurely to twin
girls, but they were and are healthy, my wonderful daughters Katerina
and Elizabeth. Again I had the same four months of hypergraphia
followed by it wasn't writer's block; it felt like not
being a writer at all. This time my writing was even more clearly
not a grief reaction. It was a strange feeling to be suddenly
driven into what felt like a creative state by what were probably
biochemical changes. But if we can get a handle on the brain changes
that underlie creativity, we can start to help people who have
problems with creativity.
there ever be an effective "treatment" for writer's block or hypergraphia?
definitely. 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.
more down-to-earth treatments of block that don't involve this
sort of technology. First of all, it's important to be very observant
and systematic about things that cause and help your block. If
you're the sort of person who feels blocked around the holidays
in November and December, it might be partly the stress of dealing
with your dysfunctional family, and in some cases therapy to work
that out can help. But you also might want to try a full-spectrum
light box, which will help block your body's natural tendency
to get sluggish and hibernate in the late fall. I have never been
especially athletic, but I've grudgingly come to admit that exercise
greatly increases my mental sharpness and creativity. And there
are scientific studies showing that exercise is as good as Prozac
in mild depression.
book talks a lot about how disease states like epilepsy and manic
depression can give rise to creativity. Do you think there is
a particular link between creativity and disease?
question has a very complicated answer. First, you definitely
don't have to be sick to be creative. Many very creative people
are also very healthy. And engaging in creative work may actually
make you healthier it certainly can make you feel better.
But illness and suffering can be the drive behind creative work
too, and the unusual perspective of people with mild mental illness
sometimes aids their creativity. I think the relation between
mental illness and creativity is useful; mental illnesses are
often extreme brain states that allow you to see more clearly
how the mechanism is working, even in "normal" people who don't
have a diagnosis of mental illness. But it would be a dangerous
mistake to go from there to pathologizing creativity. It makes
more sense to go in the opposite direction and notice that in
certain cases mental illness can also bring strengths, and that
all of us share traits with the mentally ill.
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authors society to research author rights
Society of Authors (http://www.asauthors.org)
has appointed a researcher to undertake a short-tern research
project examining the Australian educational publishing sector
and the return to authors. "Our ASA's Contract Advisory Service
has noted that contracts for educational books are becoming more
onerous in terms of the rights being asked for and the payments
offered in return," said Dr. Jeremy Fisher, ASA's executive director.
"We want to reach out to educational writers and educate them
further with regard to their rights."
Educational Publishing is worth around $526 million. That's a
third of the industry. About 4,600 new Australian educational
titles are published each year. That's over half of the total
book sales in the country are declining. As a result, publishers
are cutting costs to retain profitability. One way they are doing
this is reducing the return to creators - authors and illustrators.
- In 2003-04
royalties or fees paid to authors represented 6.5 percent of
publishers' total expenses. This is down 11 percent from the
previous year. The 2003 report by David Throsby and Virginia
Hollister Don't give up your day job:an economic study of professional
artists in Australia indicates that in the period 2000-01 writers
had a median arts income of $11,700.
- In 2003-04,
the average salary of full-time publishing employees was $52,300,
an increase of 9 percent over the previous year.
- Sales representatives
will have salaries from $50,000.
staff members have salaries starting from $40,000.
writers are a diverse group," said Fisher. "While children's literature
is used extensively in primary curricula in English and literacy
programs, textbooks in other curriculum areas require the skills
of specialist authors. This is true for both primary and secondary
education. Since these specialist authors may well have a first
career as teachers, they may not think of themselves as authors.
Hence they do not always query the terms of contracts they are
offered. We want to make sure they are well aware of the commercial
aspects of book contracts, and other income they may be entitled
to, such as that from photocopying."
The ASA expects
the results of its research to be published online and in print
by February 2008. Educational authors and interested others are
invited to contact the ASA at: PO Box 1566, Strawberry Hills NSW
2016 or email [email protected]
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for textbook effectiveness course January 15, 2008
of Utrecht (Netherlands) and the University of Stirling (Scotland)
will be holding a three-day course on textbook writing and design
at the University of Utrecht, Februrary 20-22, 2008. The course,
"Good Books, Bad Books: What makes an effective textbook?", will
include discussions about why textbooks should be evaluated and
what should be evaluated; practical and theoretical approaches;
parallel sessions on the pedagogical approach of textbooks and
evaluating the publisher, and a presentation and summary of conclusions
from those discussions; parallel sessions on selecting and organizing
content and textbooks and the curriculum, and a presentation and
summary of conclusions from those discussions; and a case study
of textbook design and presentation. Course leaders are Arno Reints,
director of the Centre of Curriculum Studies at the University
of Utrecht, The Netherlands, and James McCall, Centre for Publishing
Studies at the University of Stirling. The conference fee is 550
Euros ($764.56). For more information on the conference or to
register, email course leader Arno Reints at [email protected]
Download a brochure: Click
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need member-specific password, username to access members-only
sections of TAA web site
If you have
not received an email from TAA containing your member-specific
password or username, please contact TAA headquarters at [email protected]
or (727) 563-0020. We either do not have your email address, or
current email address, in our database or your membership has
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sought for 2008 TAA Conference sessions
2008 TAA Conference
Chair Paul Siegel is seeking panelists for three different panels:
"Milk that Dissertation!"; "Keeping it Simple Isn't Stupid"; and
"The Review Process: Stories of Praise and Horror". Learn more
about these three panels at the 2008
Conference web site. He is also seeking presentations proposals
on other topics. If you're interested in serving on any of the
above panels, or have an idea for a different panel, please contact
2008 TAA Conference Chair Paul Siegel at [email protected]
with a short (100-200 word or so) description of your interest
in the topic and what you think you have to offer to make the
panel an especially successful one.
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the following sustaining members: Wayne L. Weiten
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Heidi Andrade, Billie Bennett, Francis Boscoe, Aaron Bueno, Jean
Cardinale, Seth Chaiken, Douglas Conklin, Edward Cupoli, William
Doane, Erzsebet Fazekas, Mary Gallant, Senem Guney, Brigitte Hines,
Laura Hobson, Kecia Johnson, Alethia Jones, Vincent LaBella, Jason
Lane, Shigang Liu, Barry Loneck, Kathleen Lundgren, Kathleen McDonough,
Jean McLaughlin, Louise-Anne McNutt, Emil Michal, Lucy Michal,
Zhengyu Ouyang, John Overbeck, Jessica Overby, Eliot Rich, Annette
Mcleod Richie, Sally Rust, Corianne Scally. Peter Shrock, Kayalvizhirani
Sivakumar, Carolyn Alifair Skebe, Desh Raj Sonyok, Kimberly Van
Orman, Cindy Wiseman, Star Wood, Xiaoh Yan.
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