Friday, November 14, 2008


Everyday I write the book. Some days are better than others. It's been said that Balzac could knock off a novel by noon. I assume that was only the first draft. Even so, it was quite an accomplishment. Some write novels in their sleep, with one hand tied behind their back, or on the head of a pin. It takes me much longer than those circus freaks. I sweat over every word, and then rewrite what I've written. Maybe I'm a perfectionist. I can dash off emails or blog posts as if they were Post-it Notes, which I can dash off like Balzac, but send me anywhere near "important" writing and I have to use an axe to break through the ice. Sometimes it's easier and the story carries me along, but I think people who brag that "the story wrote itself" are either bald-faced liars or aren't writing deep enough, and the last thing the world needs is more formulaic crap.

What's going on in my brain? One person who might know is neurologist Alice W. Flaherty, the author of Midnight Disease: the Drive to Write, Writer's Block, and the Creative Brain. What a wonderful, mind-boggling read. (She's on a panel discussion linked below.)

Another person who might have a clue about writing--and the creative process-- is author Francine Prose, who has written a number of novels and a book on writing, Reading Like a Writer.

Writer David Foster Wallace suffered from depression and eventually took his own life, but was extremely creative, prolific, and successful. Was his pathology somehow linked to his prodigious creative output, or was that purely circumstantial? In this interview with Le Conversazioni in 2006 he seems like a mollusk without a shell. Here he discusses failure:

The Philoctetes Center for the Multidisciplinary Study of the Imagination is devoted to exploring creativity and the imaginative process. Not long ago, they hosted Hypergraphia and Hypographia, a roundtable discussion featuring Jonathan Lethem, Alice W. Flaherty, Pedro Reyes, Francis Levy, Alan Jacobs, and Lois Oppenheim. The panel examined the neurological and psychodynamic basis for writer's block and the opposite affliction, hypergraphia, which compels the artist to write, write, write uncontrollably.

It's a fascinating discussion, and to watch it click HERE and select video.


Anonymous said...

I thoroughly enjoyed the panel discussion at Philoctetes and plan to read Flaherty's book Midnight Disease, as well as Lethem's work. I'm also a writer, and although I work as a journalist, many of the same attributes apply even in the narrow confines of a deadline world. When I can't think of a good lead, I rely on the inverted pyramid of who, what, where, when. Fascinating stuff--thanks for the post.


Anonymous said...

nice post

Bob Rini said...

Thanks for the comments. I've always wondered about the neurological basis of creativity--not that I have any desire to reduce a great work of art to mere chemistry and electrical impulses. I'm not an unbiased, disinterested scientist, but an artist interested in maximizing creative output and overcoming blocks--if and when they occur. Flaherty's book is the best I've seen on the subject, and I've bought several copies to give away.