Monday, March 7, 2011

5 questions with Carolyn Kaufman, author of Writer's Guide to Psychology


What was the inspiration behind this book?

When I was getting my graduate degree in psychology, I realized that there was sometimes a big discrepancy between the way psychology was portrayed in the media and in how real psychology works. Though there are a few books that talk about the problem, they're geared toward people in psychology, so they don't explain how to correct the misconceptions.

To me, it seemed that to begin correcting misconceptions, we needed to focus on the people who create the media -- writers! So I wanted to create a fun, accessible, affordable guide to help writers begin to get their psych right. Since the book has been published, though, I've heard that people in psychology and people who are just interested in media misconceptions and/or psychology are also really enjoying it!

What aspect of psychology is often difficult for many to write?

I think the hardest thing is that there are just so many popular misconceptions that people don't realize are in fact inaccurate, so we tend to pass them on without realizing the information is wrong.

Besides that, I often hear writers saying they have trouble putting their characters through grueling experiences. They feel bad, or guilty about it. I encourage writers not to be afraid to dig into the darker sides of themselves to find the strength to put their characters through tough situations -- that's how our characters grow and change!

What part of this book was most interesting to write?

Since I had not personally worked in a psychiatric hospital, I really enjoyed meeting with people who have worked in those settings, and in getting tours of public and private hospitals. I learned a lot, and put all the fascinating details into Chapter 12, "Emergencies in Psychotherapy."

What are some of the positive compliments you've gotten on the book?

Wow, I've been so fortunate. People seem to be finding the book a great read in general, but I've also had lots of writers tell me they're finding the information really useful for their stories -- both those who write fiction and those who write nonfiction. I've really appreciated hearing that my experience as not just a psychologist but also as a writer has come through. That is, I'm not just an "expert" who decided to help writers out -- I'm a writer too, and I really have a sense of the kinds of details writers need to know for their stories. And of course, it's always wonderful to hear that people think your writing itself is top quality!

What's next for you?

I'd like to write another book about psychology for writers -- but this time, about psychology to help the writer personally deal with common issues like writer's block, insecurity, and procrastination. As with The Writer's Guide to Psychology, this book will be firmly grounded in research. I'm also working on queries for my novel-length fiction -- it's probably no surprise that my fiction contains lots of psychology!

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