Interview With Author Dr. Susan M. Weinschenk

Please introduce yourself and your book(s)!

I’ve written many books. My most popular books are 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People, and How to Get People to Do Stuff. I have a Ph.D. in Psychology and founded a consulting company called The Team W, Inc. We consult, teach, write, and speak on brain and behavioral science applied to design.

What is/are the real-life story(ies) behind your book(s)?

I am endlessly fascinated by people, and my books are all about translating brain and behavioral science in a way that is practical and useful, but also aligns with what the science is actually telling us.

What inspires/inspired your creativity?

Using my brain to come up with new ideas as well as figure out how to communicate others’ ideas (for example, researchers) to new audiences inspires me. My brain is always going 100 miles and hour, and writing and creating is what I love to do.

How do you deal with creative block?

Writing books, or ANY other form of creativity is all about working WITH the natural way your brain works. I have studied the research on what goes on in your brain when you are being creative. This means I understand the things to do and not do in order to work WITH your brain, not against it. (I have an online course on this topic!).

Here is what I would have to say about creative block:

1. Make sure you are working with the natural ways your brain works to be creative.
2. Creative block is sometimes not creative block. Sometimes it’s just procrastination. There’s another whole science about that! When I am working on something like writing a book, it’s not the creative part that’s hard, it’s the carrying through on details that can be hard. And so you just have to slog through the hard work. I also have an online course on productivity! There’s a science behind that too. Many writers face the same issues, and many would say the same things: take a break, get some exercise, set a time and place where you work, and just be disciplined and do it.
3. I am very patient with myself. You have to understand your own creative cycle. I have learned over the years that I work in 3 month/6 week cycles. I will be very productive and very creative for 3 months. And then I slow down and go into an approximately 6 week period where I do not feel motivated, don’t have any new ideas and so on. Years ago the 6 week “down cycle” would be very disheartening and I would wonder whether I’d ever have good ideas again. But over the years I have come to recognize these cycles, so when I am in a “down” cycle, I just do other necessary and unexciting work, like clear off old files on my computer, clean my office, and so on!

What are the biggest mistakes you can make in a book?

Not knowing who your audience is and/or not writing to fit what they want/need/like

Do you have tips on choosing titles and covers?

For covers… hire a great book cover designer! For titles, go with your gut.

How do bad reviews and negative feedback affect you and how do you deal with them?

They are a part of a writer’s life. Listen to them, see if there is something useful in them, take note of that for the “next time” and move on.

How has your creation process improved over time?

It’s different every time! The process depends on lots of things, including the particular book. The process is more efficient and faster, but basically I have learned to let the process be part of my creativity — if I get an idea that for this particular book I should do the process differently, I follow that inspiration. That’s part of the creative process too.

What were the best, worst and most surprising things you encountered during the entire process of completing your book(s)?

Best: how much people liked the books;
Worst: how long it takes to create a good index; how much work it is to get a bibliography formatted correctly; How years later I can still find a typo or other error! No matter how hard we all proof the book.
Surprising: how much “staying power” one book in particular has (years later it’s still selling well)

Do you tend towards personal satisfaction or aim to serve your readers? Do you balance the two and how?

Both. A big part of personal satisfaction is knowing that I have served the readers. However, I do also get a lot of personal satisfaction in taking an idea for a book and making it a reality in my own way.

What role do emotions play in creativity?

This goes back to my comments about what I know about the science of creativity. As much as I think we can’t separate emotions from thinking, I actually think emotions play a very small role in creativity (from the neuroscience point of view at least)

Do you have any creativity tricks?

Hard to detail this without detailing the science of creativity, but let’s just say that in order to be creative you have to set the problem or idea you are trying to work on, and then you have to go away and STOP working on it. So, figure out what is the activity that is your “go away” activity. I have don 90% of my creative work in the shower. AND make sure you ALWAYS have a way to record the ideas you get during your “go away” activity. I ALWAYS have my cell phone right outside of the shower so I can record (literally voice record) the ideas I get while in the shower, and I have a pad of waterproof post it notes and a waterproof pencil IN the shower. And then I just live with the idea that I will always have a large hot water bill.

What are your plans for future books?

Tossing around a few at this time, but haven’t settled on anything.

Tell us some quirky facts about yourself

I don’t know how “quirky” these are, but my creativity is also what drives my song writing. I compose and perform original music.


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