Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Katherine Ramsland

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.


I met Katherine Ramsland earlier this year at the 2012 Write Stuff Conference in Allentown, PA. We were sitting next to one another, signing books. Me, Thirsty. Her Snap! Seizing Your Aha! Moments. She’s cool, smart, and intense, and as soon as I started talking to her, I realized she had something important to say about writerhead.

Go on. Keep reading. You’ll see what I mean.

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

In my office stands a large wraparound desk, an iMac with printer, and an unmatched assemblage of bookshelves full of accounts of murder and mayhem. On the floor are piles of papers that will turn into projects, generally 5 or 6. This is my daily focus. I’m a firm believer in body memories, so I set up my office to become habit-forming. Everything is in place for writerhead-complementing activity.

I start at the same time each day, with coffee. My body has learned the drill, so it’s primed for flen—a combination of Zen and flow. I become one with my subject and method, a practice that now regularly leads to an altered state.

Flow is about our best functioning: We find our niche and do it so well that we feel fully satisfied and successful. The work we do during states of flow feels like quality work and often it’s our best. I once wrote a book, Bliss: Writing to Find Your True Self, in which I figured out how to set up the conditions that maximized this state. The key: body memories.

This work led directly into my recent book—Snap!—which describes the relationship between writerhead and the creative spark. A relaxed mind (via flen) can wander into uncharted territory. It searches beyond the left brain’s known databases into the right brain’s hidden resources. Since you’re not actively calculating, it might feel as if you’re no longer working, but the brain in flen is actually working very hard in ways you can’t anticipate. That’s why the Eureka moment that occurs during writing is such a delightful surprise. For me, the ultimate state of writerhead was nicely described by Francis Crick when he flashed on the structure of DNA:

“It is not easy to convey, unless one has experienced it, the dramatic feeling of sudden enlightenment that floods the mind when the right idea finally clicks into place. One immediately sees how many previously puzzling facts are neatly explained by the new hypothesis. One could kick oneself for not having the idea earlier, it now seems so obvious.”

You can make this happen on a regular basis. This is what writerhead is to me.

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.)

During a freak October snowstorm, the electricity went off for three days. This was a significant interruption, because I had several deadlines. I ran through the five stages of grief: denial (“This isn’t happening.”); anger (“Why me? It’s not fair!”); bargaining (“If you’ll just turn on the computer, I’ll give up M&Ms for a year.”); depression (“I guess the world really IS going to end in 2012…or sooner.”), and acceptance (“The iPad still lights up, so I’ll just read for a while.”) In this final state, I learned gratitude and awareness of things I take for granted.

Actually, I do advocate interrupting your work before the point of closure, because it helps to propel you back to it and to resist inertia when you sit down to write the next time. You can pick up where you left off, and that state of writerhead bridges the two writing sessions. Any interruption that unclenches the brain can pop out an unexpected insight, and it’s better to embrace it than to get annoyed.

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

For me, writerhead is like going into a dolmen—a fairy fort—to let supernatural creatures take me underground for however long they think is necessary and return me later, now full of magic. The picture of me is in such a dolmen, waiting. There’s no guarantee they’ll take you, or that they’ll bring you back, but that’s the risk of magic.

BIO:  Katherine Ramsland writes mostly nonfiction, although she has also published several short stories and two novels. She holds master’s degrees in forensic and clinical psychology, a master’s in criminal justice, and a Ph.D. in philosophy. She teaches forensic psychology and criminal justice at DeSales University in Pennsylvania and writes a regular blog for Psychology Today. She has published more than 1,000 articles and forty books, including The Ivy League Killer, The Forensic Psychology of Criminal Minds, The CSI Effect, The Devil’s Dozen, Inside the Minds of Serial Killers, The Human Predator: A Historical Chronology of Serial Murder and Forensic Investigation, and The Mind of a Murderer: Privileged Access to the Demons that Drive Extreme Violence. She has consulted for CSI and Bones, and has participated on numerous documentaries for CBS, ABC, A&E, ID, E!, WE, and Court TV. Dr. Ramsland presents workshops to writers, as well as to law enforcement, psychologists, judges, and attorneys. She speaks on subjects ranging from forensics to serial killers to creativity. Her latest book is Snap! Seizing Your Aha! Moments.

If you’d like to connect with Katherine, you can visit her website, give her a thumbs up on her Facebook page, greet her on Twitter, link via LinkedIn. Also be sure to check out her blog—Shadow Boxing—at the Psychology Today website.

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