Creative Energy

I was teaching at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference recently. I love teaching, particularly at conferences, where I get to meet so many new writers, and there’s such a condensed, creative energy in one place. But I’m a man of routines, and those routines involve a lot of solitude. All those people, and all that teaching, and all the hustling from one session to another, and all the late-night gatherings with wine and earnest conversation can wear a fellow out.

It was 2:00 in the afternoon on day three and I was slotted to moderate a session on making picture book dummies. I asked the Powers That Be if I could get out of it. I could not. I considered pouring a fourth of cup of coffee but decided against it. I knew the author teaching the class, and it was nice to say hello and learn how busy she’d been recently, but once I’d passed out her materials to the students, and told everyone to silence their cell phones, I felt like curling up in my chair and taking a nap.

My friend began explaining how one makes a dummy. It was sort of interesting, but I don’t write picture books. My mind wandered and I felt more tired still. The students were folding paper into book-shaped stacks, when my friend turned to me. “Bill, you want to make one?” I chuckled and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”

The class booed me. I was going to explain how tired I was, but I decided to make a book dummy instead. The point of the exercise was to learn how to lay out a picture book, to understand which pages a story can start on, and how one decides how much text to put on a given page. The other students had come with stories they’d already written and were busy choosing what text should go where. Once I’d folded and stapled and numbered my pages I wondered if I should copy off someone else. “Nah,” I thought. “I’ll just make something up.”

So I heard the first line of a story and wrote it down. It was pretty good. Then I heard a second line and it was even better, because it told me something about my protagonist and what his challenge was going to be. Now a third line came, which I quickly rewrote, and then a fourth and fifth line, and then nothing. But not nothing, of course. I was just waiting. I was interested now and I could feel another line coming and I was curious to learn what it would be when it did. Then I had it and I felt good writing it down.

As I raised my hand to call my friend over to show her what I’d written, I realized something had changed. It had changed without me noticing or caring, without coffee or naps or television.

I wasn’t tired anymore.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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The Stream of Life

I met a woman recently who told me there was only one obstacle between her and a fulfilling writing life: she wasn’t creative. “I’ve never written a poem or short story or a novel. I’ve never written a play. I’ve never painted a picture or composed a sonata. I’m not creative.”

I have always thought of myself as creative. I have also written poems, and plays, and screenplays, and novels, and personal essays. I’ve written sonatas and songs and mini-symphonies. I’ve made little movies and I’ve acted. I even fancied myself a cartoonist when I was a boy. That is to say, I have all the evidence of my creativity this woman believed she lacked.

But when I think of my creativity I do not think of any of the things I’ve created. I think of that place within me where I must go to answer the question, “How shall I fill this blank page?” The answer to that question changes every day, and so no sooner has one answer been given than I feel the itch of a new question forming an intriguing disturbance within me. That is my creativity. Meanwhile, all the things I’ve made are merely an expression of how often I have focused my attention on that creativity.

To think that you could be born without this same restless curiosity is to think that you could be born without a beating heart. But unlike my heart, my creativity requires my attention to function properly. Without my attention it forces itself through me in awkward ways, or keeps me up at nights, or finds me critical of other people’s creations. The moment I allow myself to consult it, to ask, “What shall we do next?” my creativity and I are moving in the same direction, flowing like blood with questions and answers within the stream of life.

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Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Getting in the Flow

The hardest part of my writing life is those long swaths of time when I’m not writing. It is easy for me to get a little sloppy with my attention, by which I mean, drift out of the flow. I love being in the flow. It’s really the only reason I write. If you’ve ever enjoyed writing, you’ve been in the flow too. When I’m in the flow, I’m not worried about tomorrow or regretting yesterday; I’m not thinking about results, I’m not comparing myself to other people, I’m just focused on the next interesting thought and the next interesting thought and the next interesting thought. When I’m in the flow, my job is to ask interesting questions and then listen to the interesting answers. There is no right or wrong in flow, no good or bad, just that which belongs in my story and that which does not.

So I like the flow. But then I stop writing and it is easy to believe that that which was flowing while I wrote has gone still. Being that I am an adult, it seems like there’s a bunch of things I have to do – my chores and appointments. In truth, I don’t mind doing chores, I don’t mind cooking dinner or going to the store or paying the bills, and if I made an appointment I’m usually happy to keep it. I just don’t like being out of the flow, and I’m not entirely sure that if I were in the flow I would want to attend to my chores and obligations because the flow sets its own course. In other words, the flow feels great, but is it practical?

Yes, it is. In fact, it is the most practical state of mind I can achieve. The flow is where opportunity is found. Whether I’m writing or vacuuming, being in the flow is how I attract new and interesting ideas. Ideas are a kind of opportunity. A new story, a new essay, or a new lecture always begins as an idea. I cannot manufacture, demand, or conscript these ideas. All I can do is get into the flow and wait for them to come, which they always do.

Then there are those opportunities that I spot in the world around me. When I’m in the flow, I’m curious and optimistic. When I’m in the flow, I’m not judging the world, I’m just interested in it. It is the perfect state of mind to notice the website, the article, or the book that will inspire me, assist me, or answer a question I’ve been asking. The flow is a supremely friendly state of mind, and all these things other people have created, instead of being in competition with what I’m trying to create, now exist to help me.

Finally, there are those mysterious opportunities, the unexpected email, phone call, or encounter on the street. Someone literally offers me an opportunity to speak, to teach, or to write. The more time I spend in the flow, the more often this happens. I admit that unlike thoughts and things I spot, I cannot perceive the direct link between being in the flow and getting a “lucky” phone call other than a consistent experience. By and by, I have had to conclude that one is born out of the other.

There is, of course, one other opportunity that is only available to me in the flow: the opportunity to be happy. This is the flow’s the first and last benefit and its one requirement of me. I do not get to be unhappy and be in the flow. I do not get to doubt or criticize or be afraid. To be in the flow, I must let the world be what it is, let myself be what I am, and find out what we will make together.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Holiday Season

It is very hard to try to do two things at once. It is very hard to love someone while simultaneously believing you must protect yourself from them, or that you must always be right, or that there are good people in the world and bad people in the world. Likewise it is hard to listen to your creative potential, your muse, your imagination if you simultaneously believe that you must write perfectly, or that you must know that what you’re creating now will succeed later, or that no one wants to hear from someone like you.

Be glad it is hard to do two things at once. All these stories of protecting ourselves and being right, all these stories of writing perfectly and success, are our invention. They are not real, and so can only be maintained by our constant attention. The truth, meanwhile, requires nothing of us. Love cannot be manufactured, only perceived. Our imagination cannot be commanded, only received. How kind life is to make suffering exhausting.

Eventually, everyone must rest. We will complain about it first, and march in protest about how hard it is, and form committees to determine why it is so hard, but by and by, because these stories are not actually a part of reality, we will either forget to tell them or grow weary of telling them. Either way, the truth of love, the truth of our creative potential, will be waiting for us when we do.

We will celebrate such moments. “The good stuff was really coming today,” we’ll say. Or we’ll say, “I had a great time with my wife. No arguments, no debate. Just fun.” These are like holiday seasons, respites of pleasure from the grind of life. But the other day a cashier asked me if I was looking forward to the weekend. “My life’s a weekend,” I confessed. And I didn’t realize until I said it that it was true.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Stream of Life

I met a woman recently who told me there was only one obstacle between her and a fulfilling writing life: she wasn’t creative. “I’ve never written a poem or short story or a novel. I’ve never written a play. I’ve never painted a picture or composed a sonata. I’m not creative.”

I have always thought of myself as creative. I have also written poems, and plays, and screenplays, and novels, and a memoir. I’ve written sonatas and songs and mini-symphonies. I’ve made little movies and I’ve acted. I even fancied myself a cartoonist when I was a boy. That is to say, I have all the evidence of my creativity this woman believed she lacked.

But when I think of my creativity I do not think of any of the things I’ve created. I think of that place within me where I must go to answer the question, “How shall I fill this blank page?” The answer to that question changes every day, and so no sooner has one answer been given than I feel the itch of a new question forming an intriguing disturbance within me. That is my creativity. Meanwhile, all the things I’ve made are merely an expression of how often I have focused my attention on that creativity.

To think that you could be born without this same restless curiosity is to think that you could be born without a beating heart. But unlike my heart, my creativity requires my attention to function properly. Without my attention it forces itself through me in awkward ways, or keeps me up at nights, or finds me critical of other people’s creations. The moment I allow myself to consult it, to ask, “What shall we do next?”, my creativity and I are moving in the same direction, flowing like blood with questions and answers within the stream of life.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

All Together Now

I had a very interesting conversation with the journalist and memoirist Cate Montana a couple weeks ago on Author2Author. Cate is a true Baby Boomer and her book (Unearthing Venus) seemed to encapsulate that generation’s particularly acute struggle with what feminine power is and isn’t. Her conclusion was very much my conclusion watching the “Battle of the Sexes” from my boyhood’s perspective – that what was a feminist movement was really humanist movement.

I say this because growing up I came to perceive two ideals of manhood: the Warrior (conservative) and the Scientist (progressive). The Warrior was strong and the Scientist was smart. There were also artists, notably actors and musician, who to me seemed like glittering man-child exceptions to this rule. Unfortunately, even though I enjoyed the battle-like arena of sports, I knew I was not a warrior; and even though science (and its theoretical grandfather, math) was interesting, I did not feel that the questions I most wanted to answer could be answered scientifically. So if I wasn’t a warrior or a scientist, was I weak and stupid? This was a question, I noticed, a lot of women also seemed to be asking themselves in one way or another.

It was in writing that I found my answer to this question of my strength and intelligence. To write, I needed to be a whole human being. I needed my male side, the side that wants to make stuff in the world and is rational and linear and likes to figure out how things work; but I also needed the female side, the empathetic, intuitive, emotional, and receptive side. Without both sides, nothing authentic could be created.

A lot of the essays in this space are a conversation I am having with my more masculine half, who very much wants to me write stuff but is a little wary about the way in which these things are written. He still wants to be strong and smart. And indeed he is. His strength is his integrity, the wholeness from which creation is born; and his intelligence is his curiosity, those questions to which he receives answers.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Temple Building

Each of us spends our days building our own temple so we can see with our eyes what it is we believe. It is often a life’s work, this temple building. What we believe is important. Sometimes, in fact, we are more aware of the importance than the belief itself, a feeling of meaning within us pointing toward a thought we call belief. This can make the building of temples confusing. What should it truly look like when the meaning it is meant to hold lacks all form?\

We are drawn to begin the building anyway. It is an odd relationship between the building and the builder. Sometimes the building teaches the builder what he should build. This seems backwards and yet it often is the case. As the temple grows we learn its shape even as we set each brick in place.

And in the hours when we rest from our work, we may sometimes become aware of what has grown within us. It is simpler to look upon the growing temple than this namelessness we feel. It is there and then it is gone. The temple is always exactly where we left it, unchanged by mood or thoughts or the sadness of shadows.

Only time affects the temple. We dream of building something as permanent as the earth itself, but every speck of dust that collects on its walls, and every stone before the altar worn smooth by our knees, teaches us of the truth. You rise from prayer at such moments, awareness shattering solid life, and all the world feels ready to crumble. Yet it is through those cracks in the walls of your temple that a light reveals what has taken shape within you. There is the temple at last, visible now that the walls between and you and it have toppled.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Gardener’s Tale

My job is to plant the seed and water the flower, not to grow it. Only the flower can grow the flower. Only the seed itself contains the complete potential of the flower; only the seed understands what that flower will actually be. It is not my job to know nor determine, only to give my attention steadily and trust what occurs underground, where everything begins.

We must choose deliberately which patch of earth to cultivate. Life will flourish everywhere, though environment affects the shape the life will take, whether a cactus or a dandelion. Comparing preferences renders them meaningless, a war of apples and oranges, and yet when obeyed privately the meaning of life’s ceaseless nudging is revealed as you discover the perfect mix of shade and sun for the seeds you’ve so long been carrying in your pocket.

You can get used to having those seeds in your pocket, even believing they were meant to stay there. But they must be surrendered to the earth. This is an unspectacular beginning. No pop of the champagne bottle here, merely laying what might as well be a bone interred for all the inactivity. How easily you are reminded of death as you create life; how easy as you bury life to begin imagining its expiration as your poor, weak eyes can perceive no movement.

And how futile can seem the watering of tilled earth. This water could be more useful elsewhere, could feed a thirsty, growing world, rather than turn a patch of dirt to mud. The garden’s true engine is as beyond the mind’s comprehension as the planted seed is beyond the eye’s perception. But growth occurs all the same, often while we sleep. We awaken one morning to green and yellow and red, and are left to wonder exactly what part we played, and soon enough to dream of other gardens, whose seeds we pull from those new blossoms.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Underground

Sometimes when I tell people what I do, they will say, “Oh, you’re so creative. I’m not creative.” I am flattered that they think I’m creative, but the truth is that complimenting a person on their creativity is a little like complimenting a fish on how well it swims. Likewise, the only person who is actually not creative is a dead person.

Yet I understand this distinction. Those people we call creative seem to have harnessed an unevenly distributed power. From them emerges new stories, new songs, new buildings, new ideas. They are the fertile garden in which all this shiny and interesting newness is grown, and the others, the non-creators, eat happily from their fruit. Such is life.

But such is not life. This distinction is not life’s distinction, but ours. Everyone stands in the same garden. Some people have noticed that the ground beneath their feet is fertile, and some have not. Some people have planted an idea and watered it and watered it with their attention until it bloomed, and some people were not so patient. But our creative ground is like all soil; it does not discriminate between who is watering. All it asks for is seeds, and water, and sun.

I have compassion for those who call themselves uncreative. So much happens beneath the soil, and some seeds spend years spreading their roots, that our attention can seem wasted, water poured into a barren land. And how miraculous can seem those first buds of spring, year after year, miracle upon miracle, something born without our effort. Such are the stories we tell while thoughts take root. And how easily we believe them all, believe them and tell them while all that we have planted grows and grows beneath our feet.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Unrated

Here is my first, and probably only, sex column.

Ideally, sex is about pleasure. Two people (we’ll leave it at two) get together and seek pleasure. This feels good, that feels good, now this, and that – no not that – but yes that, and that, and that, and—

Baby. Which is to say, creation. That it doesn’t always make babies, or sometimes can’t make babies, isn’t the point. The point is that to make a baby, which is one of our most fundamental creative acts, we seek pleasure.

But humans are geniuses at taking the pleasure out of things, even sex. Sex can be no fun at all, and we can still make a baby. Or maybe it isn’t even sex but something quite awful that happens to look like sex, and still we might make a baby. That’s just how creative we are.

In this way, sex is a giant, red, blinking, garish, neon sign of a clue about the true nature of creativity: It is supposed to feel good. To make a baby, we seek pleasure in one another. Why do we think writing, or drawing, or talking, or cooking are any different? What better way to create a world that pleases us than seeking pleasure in what we create?

I understand that to finish a book you must be able to treat your writing like a job, which is something adults have, and adults can’t bother themselves forever with fun and pleasure because we’re busy, busy, busy and if all we cared about was pleasure, well, we sure as Hell wouldn’t do this, would we? Oh, but I think we would. Life itself is our first and last partner. Life would deny us no pleasure unless we asked it to in the name of preventing death. Meanwhile, pleasure pulses within every moment, ready to awaken with the first touch of thought.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter