Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Dawn Tripp

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.


Earlier this year, I saw on a Facebook post that author Dawn Tripp (Moon Tide, The Season of Open Water, and Game of Secrets, a Boston Globe bestseller) had slipped into writerhead while running on a beach. (Of course, Dawn didn’t use the term writerhead, but her description of what happened while running had writerhead stamped all over it.) In a blink, wild, writerhead-obsessed me jumped all over the opportunity, and pretty soon, Dawn had agreed to a Writerhead Wednesday interview.

The paperback edition of Dawn’s most recent novel, Game of Secrets, came out yesterday, June 5, so it’s a perfect day for Dawn to share her writerhead.

Ooh, readers, you’re going to love this…

So hush!

Listen up.

Bend your beautiful ears this way…

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

Smack-dab in the state of writerhead, I wrote this note to a friend of mine:

I am either losing my mind or beginning to create a slightly breathtaking story, the scope of which leaves me rather dizzy, because I can’t quite believe (with my daylight mind, of course) that it is possible, that it could really all work, that I could execute it, and that it wouldn’t fail, disastrously or gloriously, and maybe this is simply the other side of crazy I am arriving at, and it is all rubbish, what I am chasing, but it hasn’t let me rest all spring, whatever it is, and still won’t.

To me, this message describes the essence of writing, at its best, and most necessary: a restless, exhilarating, at times terrifying, ride. The strongest work has come from this place. There is a certain authentic intensity—an almost feverish rush of words and images, accompanied by an equally intense piercing doubt—because while I can feel the story, glimmers of the story in my body, when I am in writerhead, I can’t always grasp the larger arc and logic those pieces belong to. For me, there is the sense of being moved by a force that is at once inside me, and at the same time, beyond me. It’s like being in love. It’s like having the flu. And over the course of my career, I have come to have faith in this particular state.

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.)

Writerhead for me isn’t a moment—it’s not entirely temporal—so it doesn’t get interrupted in the same way. When a story really burns in me, it doesn’t matter if I am at my desk, running the dog, or driving to school to pick up my boys; it doesn’t matter if I am out for dinner, or in a conversation—it’s like a parallel skin layered over everything else. It might be silenced for a moment, or be turned to a lower volume—I might get wrenched out of a paragraph, or a line I am in the midst of it, that line might be lost, but I have a certain faith that if a line or even a paragraph gets scattered like that, it will return if it’s meant to. The line might be gone, but the state isn’t. And to me, what matters is that larger state of being on fire for a story. When a story has me that way, it moves like hot silver through my veins, and it is always falling through me, pushing up in me, that is the state I am in, and I can answer the phone or the doorbell, or not, I can respond to an email, or not, I can drive into school to pick up my boys, fix dinner, go to baseball, come home, take the dog for a walk, and at the end of those instances of ordinary life, that story will still be there waiting—for me to write into it and write it down. When I am in that place of free-fall through a story—which it can last for several weeks—the most significant change, I notice, is that I don’t really sleep. It keeps me up late after the rest of the house is in bed; it snaps me awake at 3 a.m.

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

Cliff-diving. Like liquid silver in the veins. That rush of speed and falling through free space. Love it.

BIO: Winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, Dawn Tripp’s fiction has earned praise from critics for her “thrilling” storytelling (People Magazine), her “haunting, ethereal” prose (Booklist), and her “marvelous characters” (Orlando Sentinel). She is the author of the novels, Moon Tide, The Season of Open Water, and Game of Secrets, a Boston Globe bestseller. Her essays have appeared on NPR and online at Psychology Today. She teaches workshops on structuring the arc of a novel out of fragments of fact and fiction. She graduated from Harvard College and lives in Massachusetts with her husband, sons, and 80-pound German shepherd.

Want to give Dawn a high-five, ask a burning question about Game of Secrets, or find out the name of her German shepherd? Lots of ways to do so. Check out her website; connect with her on Facebook; tip your hat on Twitter.

2 Responses to Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Dawn Tripp

  1. Hello Dawn! We met at the “First Person Second Story” AHA fundraiser last fall. It’s fun to see you here! When I clicked over and saw your face I thought, “I know her!”

    I love your descriptions of your writing process. I experience writerhead in a physical way, too. It’s a sensation that I’m on the edge of something important and at the same time scary. I often have to make myself push through my fear because that’s where the good stuff happens.

  2. Hi Dawn,

    You already know who I am, so I will jump right in with my comments 🙂 I loved your description of your story always being in the background. This is how I experience stories when I am actively writing – like I can continue with real life no matter what it brings and still feel confident that I can pick up the thread of my story. The article you published for Psychology Today (2010) about writing in fragments explained your approach beautifully (and I hope you will be teaching the class in our area sometime soon – I’ll be the first in line) http://bit.ly/grFHmz Happy writing!