The introduction tells you what the book will be about on pages 14 - 16: Chap 1 is brain conditions that increase desire to write; Chap 2 is about how the temporal lobes drive both writing and writers block; Chap 3 is writers block psychology; Chap 4 is biochemical explanations and treatments of block; Chap 5 is the new science brought to bear on 'normal' desire to write, and writerly things like metaphor; Chap 6 is about how the drive to communicate pushes writing (oh, sure); and Chap 7 argues that metaphoric thinking is a temporal lobe function and mediates most types of establishing meaning.
Chapter two transmits a good understanding of the neurobiological base of the desire to write, along with some pretty darn good quotes. It covers epilepsy, temporal lobes, and a brief run through of the major brain functions involved in writing (p20 - 23). But I agree with the other reviewer that her understanding of one of her own breakdowns seems so superficial (the Cap'n Crunch 'scene' for instance) that you wonder if the rest of the stuff is so also. Here's one more and I will quit carping Flaherty says that in, In Search Of Lost Time, Proust's smell of the much-quoted madeleine spurs him to huge output of associated memories because smell is processed in the temporal lobe. She is a neurobiologist and missed the main point: smell is the only sense that passes first into the subconscious brain - dreams, memories, feelings, emotions, etc., - and then is shunted up into the temporal lobes.
And then, like after reading a hundred turgid pages of Sartre's, Being and Nothingness (phew), we come to some clear, succinct, well put together words on the combination of left and right hemispheres that increases creativity, and fosters written art - p 68 - 73, with the rest of the chapter devoted to what the new tools can do: PET, MRI, fMRI, TMS. The latter can change our thoughts and abilities simply by aiming magnetism at the brain. Fascinating, Brave New World stuff.
Chapter 3 is about writer's block and contains some wonderful quotations on the subject from writers down the last few centuries. It's discussion of what block is is good at considering all the nearby states as well. Flaherty points out that the psychologists who don't think much of the notion of inspiration that is separate from skill or hard work aren't writers. And there is the issue that the definition of block is dependent on one's point of view: cognitive psychology. behaviourism or depth psychology like psychoanalysis, under the control of conscious drive or the will 'o wisp intuition. This chapter's good point is that it is a good introduction to the literature on writer's block and fairly evaluates them. The appendix at the back let's you get into the subject further, if you wish.
Chapter 4 presents a general discussion of a lot of brain states that affect writing: such as sleep, mood, length of day light, time of day, hormones, drug therapies, anxiety, depression (causes block by sapping energy and motivation), procrastination, high-energy block, rejection of ideas prematurely, alcohol, Xanax, sleep medications, beta-blockers, SSRIs (Prozac, Effexor), self consciousness, talk of block leads to block (so say it to writers you don't like), block is caused by the failure of helpful repressive mechanisms, compulsions, listening to music, antipsychotics, dopamine's effects of increasing motivation, initiation of movement, these neuroleptics suppress the critical internal voice, epilepsy and their anticonvulsant drug effects for stabilizing mood, perfectionism, self help press, placebo effects, 'objective' tests or tools like the number of words you have written this week to counteract negative perceptions, exercise, drugs, diurnal rhythms, therapy and the right therapist, intense moods, these are mediated by the limbic system in the desire to write.
Chapter five is about how we write. For the reader without a scientific background, this one will be difficult sledding. On the other hand, it gives the actual parts of the brain where language and parsing language occur. If this is something you must learn, then it is all in one place, and for the general reader, a chapter to be reread whenever you have questions about the minutia of reading, writing and speaking. Most discoveries have come from brain-damaged patients, those with lesions or cuts, and what they lose. For example, a lesion can be so small and so precise that it causes the sufferer to not be able to visually recognize a capital letter, while leaving intact recognition of lower case letters. Other subjects: synaesthesia, dyslexia, Winston Churchill, autism. The main centres are: Broca's and Wernicke's area in the left hemisphere.
Chapter six is about why we write. The underlying motivation, arousal and continuing to prefer writing over other activities is mediated by the limbic system, various neurotransmitters and parts of the conscious brain. The limbic system of the amygdala, hippocampus and hypothalamus are subconscious and about emotion, memory and action.
Humans have the instinct for language as evidenced by the notable asymmetry of our left hemisphere. It is larger before birth, when we have no need of speech. Speech explodes from us starting at about 18 months after birth and we learn a word every two hours until we are 18 years old. That's an amazing 70,000 words. Flaherty goes through what speech is for in communicating, its development in our lives and the underlying motivation for writing, as well as the seemingly trivial exchanges. Gossip, for example, is an entertainment and a way for us to share some good juicy stuff with one or more or our confreres, and foster group identity: man as monkey.
A good part of this chapter discusses both language and behaviour in our social species and other social animals, the interdependency that language or complex behaviour creates. Think of weeping or screaming, for example, both expresses a need and requests a response. Or winning the lottery results in joy. And there is laughter. This underlies her point that language is about emotion, not about expressing logical propositions in a detached way. Descarte's and the western tradition of mind/body, or reason/emotion to use Plato's distinction. And then she moves to say that writing is an extension of our emotional speaking.
More to come.