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Why Do Writers Write?

What About Writers’ Block?

What is Hypergraphia?


Dr. Alice Flaherty answers these questions and more as she investigates the mysteries of the writer’s mind. Both a medical doctor (MD from Harvard Medical School and a PhD from MIT) Flaherty explores what underlies the ability and desire to write.

Dr. Alice W. Flaherty, neurologist, researcher, author
Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston


In her book Midnight Disease the author merges brain science with her lively literary voice. Her subtitle, “The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain” illuminates how mind and body connect in human creativity. (All examples below are from her book unless otherwise noted.)  Brace yourself for some humor!


Why Writers Write: Some Practical Reasons

Chekov “The main thing is – father and mother must eat. Write.”

Nathaniel Hawthorne: “I don’t want to be a doctor, and live by men’s diseases; not a minister to live by their sins; nor a lawyer to live by their quarrels. So I don’t see there’s anything left for me but to be an author.”

T. S. Eliot, who had been a boxer in college, notes: “I was too slow a mover. It was much easier to be a poet.”


Philosophical Reasons

William Faulkner   “’An artist is a creature driven by demons . . . He has a dream. It anguishes himself so much he must get rid of it.”

Orwell   “Besides ‘sheer egoism,’ he argues three other factors: aesthetic enthusiasm (the desire to propagate beauty), the historical impulse (the drive to discern true facts and store them for the use of posterity), and the political impulse (the desire to push the world in a particular direction).”

Joan Didion, echoing Hawthorne, Orwell and others, “Like many writers I have only this one ‘subject,’ this one “area” the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front.”


Writing in Pajamas

George Bernard Shaw “My main reason for adopting literature as a profession was that, as the author is never seen by his clients, he need not dress respectably.”

Shaw may or may not have done his writing in pajamas, but one thing for sure, he was probably not wearing a suit and tie.

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Dany Laferriere, a Haitian-Canadian novelist and journalist, writes in French. He admits to actually writing in pajamas as this book title suggests: Journal d’un écrivain en pyjama, 2013 (Montréal: Mémoire d’encrier)

Haitian-Canadian novelist and poet, Dany LaFerriere writes in French.
His book Journal d’un ecrivain en pyjama attests to the fact that he writes in pajamas.



Samuel Johnson’s essay on procrastination was written while a boy from the newspaper “The Rambler” waited to carry it to press.   114


Diversionary Tactics

Charles Dickens’ while writing Little Dorrit found himself prowling about the room, sitting down, getting up, stirring the fire, looking out of the window, tearing my hair, sitting down to write, writing nothing, writing something and tearing it up, going out, coming in, a Monster to my family, a dread Phaenomenon to myself.”


My Own Version of Diversionary Tactics

How my own writing habits mimic Dickens’ and others   (A glimpse into one writing day)

I sit down with hot tea, stand up, warm up tea cup, write some more, add lemon slice, find lavender candle for concentration; light it; write some more; wonder whether mailman has come, red flag on mailbox would tell me; jump up, bring in mail, don’t open in, sit on writing chair for more minutes (insert wee groan); faint pulse from Fitbit on my wrist reminds me to walk.

Despite brief distractions, I manage to write for almost two hours. Thus, I write by fits and starts, allowing for my own humanity. Otherwise, I could wail, “I can’t concentrate. But then I would give up. I won’t do that!

Former Mennonite with a Writing Habit


According to Flaherty:

Graphomania: The desire to be published

Hypergraphia: An excessive desire to write, a description I associate with Joyce Carol Oates, Stephen King and others who admit to constant writing.




Do you write in pajamas?

What are your writing props?    ~  a candle, music, complete silence, the ambiance of a certain room, a coffee shop or restaurant? The company of a pet?

Please add any other authors to the list of quirky writers you know about. Maybe it’s you!

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