Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Keith Cronin

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author talks about her/his writerhead…a precious opportunity for looky-loos around the world to sneak into the creative noggins of talented writers and (ever so gently) muck about.

When I spoke about Writerhead last week at the PechaKucha event in Kennebunkport, Maine, I told folks in the audience that every writer’s writerhead was unique and that how every writer talks about her/his writerhead is unique.

This week, Keith Cronin—the fantastic author of Me Again—has proven me right. His take on writerhead is unique, hilarious, honest, and—though I’ve never met him—I suspect, very, very Keith.


1. Describe your state of writerhead (the where, the when, the how, the what, the internal, the external).

You might think of it as the ultimate backstage pass. As a professional musician, I’ve lived most of my adult life around rock stars. And as anybody who’s ever attempted to meet a rock star has learned, it’s all about access. You can’t get close to them without the right backstage pass (they come in gradations, from Peon to VIP), your name properly spelled on the guest list (a rare and miraculous occurrence), or a sudden covert text message from a roadie named Spike whom you befriended during your misspent youth, telling you at which gate in the arena to wait for him to slip you backstage to meet your idol. And only a very, very select few are blessed with one of those cool laminated passes that you hang around your neck on a lanyard, with those two ultimately empowering words on them: ALL ACCESS.

That’s what writerhead feels like—a highly anticipated but all-too-rare moment when you are granted passage beyond EVERY obstacle that stands between you and your goal: in this case, writing with the passion, grace and confidence of the awesome writer you know you can be (but are so rarely allowed to be).

My hat’s off to people who can get into that kind of zone or headspace at will. For me, the muse is both a powerful and elusive force. So I relish those moments when I’m granted access to the rushing literary waterfall that a good dose of writerhead can open up.

But I do my part to facilitate these moments. I clear time during the part of the day when my creativity is at its sharpest; I surround myself with tools and gadgets to help me capture the inspiration, including a voice recorder, a NEO word processor that boots up in seconds, and even a scuba diver’s underwater writing slate (for capturing ideas in the shower, a brilliant idea I picked up from writer Tracy Hahn-Burkett). I also repeat the odd rituals that I’ve found have triggered writerhead in the past, such as going for a drive, taking a shower, etc. The driving thing is what works best for me: after noticing how often I’d get cool ideas while driving somewhere, I’ve started hopping in my car with no destination in mind, for the express purpose of prompting more ideas.

2. What happens if someone/something interrupts writerhead? (a spouse, a lover, a barking dog, an electrical outage, a baby’s cry, a phone call, a leg cramp, a dried-up pen, a computer crash, etc.)

Two things can interrupt writerhead: people and stuff.

Of the two, stuff is definitely the more challenging opponent. By this I mean things like having to go to work in order to earn a living, fixing the toilet (which seems to be set on a recurring semiannual auto-destruct sequence), or getting an emergency root canal. Let’s face it, these are all hard to avoid. So the best you can do is to plan some workarounds: get up early to write before work and/or set aside writing time on weekends; stock up on spare parts for the toilet; and only eat soft foods and keep ample amounts of Scotch on hand to serve as a dental anesthetic.

People-based interruptions are different, because they require something that is often in short supply when in the throes of writerhead—I’m talking about diplomacy. When you’re truly cranking on what might well be The Greatest Book Ever Written In All Of Human History, it’s hard to summon the strength and presence of mind to look up and utter a gentle, “What was that, honey?” to your interrupter (who is inevitably your romantic partner or a beloved child) without a certain undertone of annoyance. And trust me, your own annoyance never goes over well with others; indeed, it seems to only spark up a higher level of annoyance on the part of the interrupter, and then things really start to go south.

So I have taken to confronting such interruptions with a three-pronged response plan:

  1. The Look. The advantage of this approach is that you don’t say anything, which of course means that you don’t say anything stupid, which will only make your quality of life take a rapid plunge into the abyss. But be careful—there’s a lot of nuance involved. I recommend practicing The Look in front of the mirror, until you’ve mastered the fine distinction between the look that says “I’m a little busy right now, so maybe you might want to try me later, but don’t forget I love you more than anything on earth” and the one that says “How DARE you interrupt my moment of genius, and thus impede me from writing what might well be The Greatest Book Ever Written In All Of Human History, you insensitive baboon?!?” In situations where The Look is not successful, you will need to escalate your efforts, and go to the second stage:
  2. The Sigh. Now you’re bringing some audio into the equation, while still avoiding the risk involved in actually speaking. But again, nuance is important. You want to avoid too much Overt Exasperation, instead going for a blend of Charitably Patient and Mildly Distracted, with a soupçon of Tormented Genius gently drizzled on top. Again, you’ll want to spend some time practicing this to get the sonic recipe just right. But when this doesn’t work, it’s time to proceed to the third and final stage:
  3. The Surrender. This entails putting down what you’re writing, taking a deep cleansing breath (trying not to allow your exhalation to be interpreted as Yet Another Sigh), and realizing that right now, writerhead just ain’t gonna happen.

3. Using a simile or metaphor, compare your writerhead to something.

Three words: writerhead is Drano.*

And I’m not talking your garden-variety, everyday basic Drano. I’m talking the industrial-strength, shock-and-awe, super-mega-nuclear-foaming-action with lasers version, which can cut through anything in less than the time it takes to update your Facebook status.

Because that’s what writerhead does: it cuts through the barrier between me and the story I want to tell. I’ll see the thing in my head, and know how good it can be—or at least how good I want it to be. But there are always those nasty clogs preventing the flow, which only writerhead can drill and burrow through. I just wish bottles of writerhead were available in stores. I’d buy it by the gallon.

* Please note that the author is receiving no compensation—either in the form of financial remuneration, commercial endorsements, or invitations to exclusive parties with supermodels—from Drano® or any of SC Johnson’s other fine brands. But he wouldn’t say no to a lifetime supply of Ziploc bags, or perhaps some of those cool plug-in Glade air-freshener thingies (having always thought the “Alpine Mist” scent was particularly nice). Oh, and the whole partying-with-supermodels thing would be okay, too.

BIO: Author of the novel Me Again, published in 2011 by Five Star/Gale, Keith Cronin is a corporate speechwriter and professional rock drummer who has performed and recorded with artists including Bruce Springsteen, Clarence Clemons, and Pat Travers. Keith’s fiction has appeared in Carve Magazine, Amarillo Bay, The Scruffy Dog Review, Zinos, and a University of Phoenix management course, and he is a regular contributor at the literary blog Writer Unboxed. A native of South Florida, Keith spends his free time serenading local ducks and squirrels with his ukulele. Visit him online at www.keithcronin.com or Facebook. Though he’s not wildly active on Twitter, feel free to give him a yodel there and he’ll probably yodel back (@KeithCronin). You can also watch the book trailer for Me Again here on YouTube.

13 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Keith Cronin

  1. Keith–this is genius, and oh, so well timed, as I nearly murdered my mother-in-law for calling 3 F***ING times while I was in the zone yesterday. It sounds so simple and so silly, but I will simply no longer answer the phone. If it’s an emergency they’ll call my cell or leave a message.

    Your post had such helpful advice for dealing with people in person; thank you. You also reminded me not to take myself too seriously, which is a key ingredient in surviving life as a writer.

    Brilliant post.

  2. Practicing my three-pronged response in the mirror is sound advice. Especially since I not only care deeply for the primary interruptor, but also because she’s our household’s primary source of revenue (The Greatest Book Ever Written In All of Human History isn’t exactly rakin’ in the dough just yet).

    I’m glad I read carefully, and saw that your Drano endorsement was just a metaphor. In my wild desperation for a means of more easily achieving writerhead, I had a momentary flash where I thought, “Okay, if Keith sez so, I’ll do a shot of Drano.” Luckily, I read on, and the impulse passed.

    Thanks to you both, Keith and Kristin, for the smiles and insight (and for keeping me from drinking Drano)!

  3. Thanks for the shout-out, Keith!

    And your descriptions are brilliant. I love your outline of “The Look,” “The Sigh,” and “The Surrender.” I’m certain my family would tell you that mine need work. I’ve never been known for my poker face, and I fear they always know when they’ve interrupted me in the midst of Writerhead.

    Speaking of which…look there’s the school bus…

  4. Lawd, made me laugh 😀 *and waving at you up there Vaughn!*

    I don’t have many interruptions up here in the mountain cove – but for GMR I have perfected The Look . . . The Look works so well, I don’t even have to actually LOOK at GMR – my eyes stay on my work, but there is that sudden stillness in the air, crackles of ozone, and The Look is understood – GMR flees.


    Enjoyed this!

  5. Keith – loved this. Still having issues with the art of diplomacy when I’m in the writing zone – but I can blame my snippy response on PMS.

    Great post. I’ve shared and thanks for posting on Backspace. I now have another fun blog to follow. 🙂

  6. Awwwww, thanks for posting such nice comments – I’m glad you enjoyed my observations.

    I hope that they help you write The Greatest Book Ever Written In All Of Human History!