Susan K. Perry writes the blog “Creating in Flow” for PsychologyToday.com and the blog “Creative Atheist” at Patheos.com. Susan is the author of the novel Kylie’s Heel; here is a link to her website:
Q: What is Kylie’s Heel about?
A: Kylie’s Heel, a novel, features a humanist who writes a Q&A column called “A Rational Woman.” While she tries to help others deal with issues rationally, she begins to suffer the most awful losses a woman and mother can encounter. How she copes without resorting to the comfort of the supernatural is the heart of the story. There’s some very dark humor and a number of quirky bits, such as the protagonist’s “Connection Collection” and her “Bleeding the Brakes Scale” of bummers. Lots more info here.
Q: Why was it important to you to make the main character a non-theist?
A: My own atheism and rational thinking have become more important to me over the years. I read a huge number of novels, some of which I review for my blogs, and it’s rare to see one with outright non-theist characters. Especially in books that appeal to women. So I figured it would be helpful for people to read a good novel with a very clearly atheist female character. Her beliefs tell us a lot about how she makes choices and lives her life.
Q: What exactly does a social psychologist do?
A: Generally speaking, a social psychologist researches human behavior. I am especially interested in individuals and how various social influences affect our behavior. That’s why I focused on creativity in my own work.
Q: What theories in social psychology have influenced your work?
A: The main one is the theory of flow. Flow is that state of consciousness when time seems to stop because you’re so deeply engaged in whatever you’re doing, whether it’s writing or sports or work. You become one with the thing you’re doing and feel just the right amount of challenge to keep things interesting for you. The social psychologist who came up with this theory is Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced Me-HIGH Chick-Sent-Me-HIGH-ee).
Q: What is the focus of your blog “Creating in Flow”?
A: “Creating in Flow” takes on everything to do with creativity. As my own main interest is creative writing, I often review books on how to write, or I do interviews with novelists, or I round up some terrific novels and seek out some commonality that makes the post interesting. I hope to provide readers AND writers insights into the creative process.
Q: Why do you think creative people sometimes have a hard time starting projects?
A: Actually, I find at least as often that creative individuals have a hard time completing what they’re started. But when even starting is the issue, it’s often a matter of perfectionism. They think their first sentence or first draft has to be great, whereas the truth is that we each struggle to make things better once we have a rough version down on paper (or in clay or paint or any other creative medium).
Q: Why do you think creative people are shy about sharing their work with others?
A: Not all creative people are shy about sharing. Some, in fact, share way too soon, before they’ve made all the improvements and revisions they can. For those who are too shy to share, it’s often that old perfectionism again. Plus, if you share with the wrong people, the feedback you get may turn you off sharing ever again. Choose those with whom you share carefully.
Q: What separates therapeutic writing from literature?
A: If you’re writing about yourself with the aim to get your feelings out and feel better, that would be mainly therapeutic. And it does work! If you are trying to write something lasting, using the techniques of good fiction, hoping to have it published and read by others, you’re aiming to write literature. A lot of writing isn’t necessarily “literature,” per se, just entertainment. That’s okay too.
Q: You also write a blog called “Creative Atheist.” What specific needs do creative atheists have that other creative people do not have?
A: It’s not so much that creative atheists have additional needs, it’s that they need more outlets that are open to those who are non-believers. I review a lot of atheist novels there, as well as nonfiction that explores the role of atheism in society.
Q: If you could meet any famous social psychologist in history, who would it be and what would you ask him or her?
A: The field of social psychology isn’t even a century old, and I’ve already met a number of current experts in the field. I wouldn’t mind talking to Irving Janis (now deceased) about his “groupthink” studies. I’d ask how we can get people, especially voters, to stop making errors in thinking when they’re part of a group.
Please note; Eliza’s interviews are done by email. All answers are unedited and come right from the lovely fingertips of her subjects:)