Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Think like Sherlock Holmes — from cracking cases to cracking writer's block

And now for some writerly mojo from Writers' Police Academy. As organizer Lee Lofland described it in his blog:
Place 200 writers in large bowl. Add dozens of police officers, firefighters, EMS folks, Sirchie Fingerprint Laboratories, and other experts. Stir in Lee Child, Marcia Clark, Dr. Beth Murray, and Dr. Katherine Ramsland. Sprinkle in a few generous sponsors. Add a very large dollop of [Sisters in Crime], and then mix ingredients well. Place entire concoction into a pre-heated police academy and wait for the excitement to boil over. Works every time!
I had to work Friday, so I jumped into the weekend's events that night. Forensic psychologist and writer Dr. Katherine Ramsland gave this year's Night Owl presentation, "Mindful Investigations: How to think like Sherlock Holmes."

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle based Holmes on a real person, his mentor Joseph Bell. Ramsland explained that the character (and the man) did not so much use "deductive" reasoning, which is fixed, but "abductive" reasoning, which is more of a mental flexibility. In other words, he gathered lots and lots of data (like how people react, or what type of soil on their shoes comes from which regions of England) and the information would coalesce into a realization, an "Aha!" moment.

She said these sparks of insight actually show up on brain scans (I don't know what type of scan. I whispered to fellow writer that they couldn't measure sparks in my brain, because my "Eureka!" moments usually happen in the shower.) Ramsland recommended steps to train our brains and help those moments happen:

1. Scan. Study. Observe people. We introverted writers (she included herself here) look down at our feet and don't look around unless something interrupts our reverie. Pay attention to things on purpose, instead of reactively. When you're focused on a goal (or writing topic), immerse yourself. But also read and experience unrelated things; that's where out-of-the-box ideas may appear.

2. Sift. Relax. Play. Travel. Let information and ideas mingle around by taking your focus off of them. Rituals can help; she goes for a walk to get ideas.

3. Solve. Having a "snap" or "aha" moment will make you want to take action, to do something right then.

Dr. Ramsland's presentation got me interested in her new book, SNAP: Seizing Your Aha! Moments (affiliate link). While I'm not a crime-solver, I'd like to have better ideas for writing and perhaps other things in life.

More #WPA2012 in the next post.


Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting event to attend. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like an interesting event to attend. Thank you for sharing your experience.

Anonymous said...

Love this idea. Aha moments in the shower make it kind of tough to grab a scrap of paper to write it down. Knowing me, I'd forget what the Aha was for before I'd finished soaping up. Someone needs to invent waterproof paper and pens.

Elizabeth Saunders said...

Thanks for visiting, Jo Ann. I'm not even a mystery writer, and I love it!

Haha! I can remember big things long enough to get out of the shower, JLynn, but not little ideas. But my mind keeps rolling 'til I run out of hot water.