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.

Enjoy!

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.

Writerhead Wednesday: Featuring Therese Walsh

Welcome to Writerhead Wednesday, a weekly feature in which a brilliant, charming, remarkable author answers three questions 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.


Sshh…today we’re sneaking into the wildly creative noggin of author Therese Walsh to get a glimpse of her writerhead. In 2009, Therese’s debut novel The Last Will of Moira Leahy was published to much acclaim, and she’s hard at work on her next project (which is why we need to be very, very quiet). Therese is a gem—on the page and in person, as I recently learned when I met her at Grub Street’s 2011 MUSE conference in Boston.

Those of you who are writers will likely recognize Therese as a co-founder of Writer Unboxed, a treasure chest of information, story, and writerly know-how for writers of all genres. If you don’t know it, check it out.

But before you do, here’s what a few important industry folks had to say about The Last Will of Moira Leahy:

“Walsh’s debut is a magical, involving journey, one that mixes a compelling mystery from the past with a suspenseful search in the present.” ~ Booklist

“Walsh’s debut seamlessly weaves together past and present. This tender tale of sisterhood, self-discovery, and forgiveness will captivate fans of contemporary women’s fiction.” ~ Library Journal

“Therese Walsh’s strange, fascinating novel of psychological suspense is suffused with the supernatural. (It’s) an imaginative exploration of the bond between twins.” ~ The Boston Globe

First Line of Moira Leahy: “I lost my twin to a harsh November nine years ago.”

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So dig in. Enjoy. And see if you can relate to Therese’s “runaway muse.”

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

Truth is, I have a love-hate relationship with writerhead—when I’m eating, sleeping, and breathing the book—because it’s an absolutely exhausting time for me. First, it’s hard to get there. I can’t just turn on my computer and summon this state of being going in cold to a new work or when trying to reconnect with a work I’ve been away from for a while (and by a while I mean more than a few days). I have to entice it, like a dog run away from home—or in this case, a muse run away from home. I work away from my office at first because my muse is definitely not there, and try to entice her back with my version of a juicy steak (list of story questions or ideas) and favorite squeaky toy (crappy draft). Second, when my muse comes running back, it lands hard—like that runaway dog leaping all over you, glad to be back, slobbering, famished, and full of need. For me, this is a quick and sure drop into the world of writerhead.

Writerhead means I’m working far longer than eight hours a day. I’m working from the time I wake up and have my first cuppa tea until I realize I haven’t eaten breakfast somewhere around noon. I shove something in my face and keep going. Break again for dinner to connect with my family, and then work some more. Sometimes I shock myself with a 3k day when I’m in writerhead, and what’s even more surprising is that the quality of the work is often the best I produce. Because I’m really, really in it, the prose sings, it soars.

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.)

Nothing interrupts a writer working at home more than the needs of children who are also at home. Pull something from a high shelf, make a favorite grilled cheese sandwich, play lifeguard at the pool, stop a sibling battle, build a tower out of colored blocks, comment on a pink-sky drawing. I remember one time when I was in writerhead and all of a sudden my son had a sore throat and fever. My kiddos and I piled into the car and went to the pediatrician’s office. As we sat waiting for the results of a strep test, something came to me—a plot fix, a snippet of dialogue—and I pulled a crayon out of my purse and wrote the idea on the white paper covering the exam table. I was in the process of tearing off that section of paper when the doctor returned to the room. Strep. Pharmacy. At least I heard that much, and had my kiddo on antibiotics within a few hours.

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

When I’m in writerhead, I become a blind juggler in all other areas of my life. I try—believe me, I try—to juggle everything that needs to be juggled, but I’m handicapped and balls will be dropped. I may forget about something I said I’d do or need to be asked three times to do a simple task, and I may think I’ve written something on my calendar when I fact I haven’t at all. Mistakes like these can lead to chaos, which drives me crazy as I like to be on top of things and think of myself as a responsible adult. But it’s just how it is: When I’m in writerhead, I might look at you, smile, and nod when you’re speaking to me, but I probably can’t hear more than 20% of the words coming out of your mouth because the majority of my mind is focused on the needs of a character or what I have to fix or something I forgot to research. Thankfully my family life is rarely in a Critical-Need mode, but my daughter has been known to say to me, when I ask over dinner about homework or a test she took, “Um, Mom, you know I told you that when I first came home from school, don’t you?” Oops. Luckily, my family is filled with creative types. They get me, accept my writerhead-ness, and know I’m happiest when in the thick of its madness.

Now you know why I dread writerhead. I love it. I dread it. I love it. And why I give in to it.

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Therese Walsh’s debut novel, The Last Will of Moira Leahy (Crown, Random House), was named one of January Magazine’s Best Books of 2009, was nominated for RWA’s RITA Award for Best First Book, and was a TARGET BREAKOUT BOOK. She co-founded Writer Unboxed, named one of the 101 best websites for writers by Writer’s Digest for five years running, and recently named one of the top 10 sites for writers by Write to Done. She is also the founder and president of RWA-WF, the women’s fiction chapter of RWA. She’s currently hard at work on her second novel.

You can connect with Therese on Twitter (@ThereseWalsh) and Facebook.

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Q4U: Readers / Writers / Looky-Loos: Anything sound familiar? Does your muse have a tendency to head for the hills just when you need her/him the most? Are the folks in your household creative types who “get” your writerhead…or do you struggle to make yourself (and your need for writerhead space) understood?