Bridge Builders

I was at a writer’s conference when I fell into a conversation with an engineer husband of one of the attendees. While an avid reader, he was not a writer himself, though he considered himself creative. In fact, he had made a point of this when a writer-friend of his wife had expressed surprise that he had scored high on the creative end of some personality test.

“Of course I’m creative!” he’d explained. “I’m an engineer. My page starts out just as blank as yours.”

He couldn’t have been more right. It is easy sometimes for the artist to overlook the creativity of the scientist or the mathematician or the engineer. As he said, their pages begin more or less as blank as the writer’s. Each problem the engineer solves has never been solved before. How is that anything but creativity?

There is an important difference between the artist and the engineer, however, a difference the artist must never forget. The engineer solves problems entirely intellectually. Emotion plays no active role in the putting together of jigsaw puzzles or building bridges or solving mathematical equations. I have sometimes sought relief from my own emotional life in the puzzles of the world, the Sudoku’s and video games and even the tax forms—anything to occupy a restless mind in search of a focus.

The creative writer, meanwhile, designs bridges from fear to love again and again and again. The intellect becomes the heart’s loyal servant, hefting the stones of logic and language and placing them in an orderly fashion. The intellect has no idea where the bridge began or where it will end. In fact, the intellect doesn’t even know why the bridge exists. Nothing you can hold in your hand or eat or measure is gained from it, yet look at everyone on earth crossing that expanse, look at every soul rushing through the gate only the heart can open.

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 William at: williamkenower.com

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Slow Down

Why are writers so fond of specific details? Because details amplify emotions. There is very little emotional momentum in the sentence: John was angry. Nor: John was really angry. Nor even: John was really, really, really super angry. On the other hand: John came home, slammed the door, took one look around the living room and said, “Does anyone clean up anything in this house besides me?

The final example has the most emotional momentum, yet the word angry is never mentioned. This is what we call showing and not telling. The author is a like a lawyer, his readers the jury, and his details the evidence. A storyteller’s only currency is feeling, and specific details focus the reader’s imagination on specific feelings. The more specific the details, the greater the focus of feeling, the more likely I will receive the verdict I was seeking.

This works when we aren’t writing as well. Perhaps I am sitting at my desk and I cannot find a scene. I try one way and then another, yet neither works. I know these approaches don’t work because of how forced they feel. I do not like this forced feeling, and I recall that I have felt this way before. I begin remembering the stories I’d written that also felt forced yet I sent out anyway, and then the women I dated because I didn’t want to be lonely, and the jobs I took because I was afraid of being poor. I remember these stories, and girlfriends, and jobs in increasingly specific detail, and soon I feel like a fake, a man who has never said or written or done one genuine thing.

It is not so easy to dismiss this story of Bill the Fake because is it feels absolutely true. I am truly feeling like a fake. Yet in simply thinking, “I feel like a fake,” without any further evidence to back it up, I have already slowed my own emotional momentum. Now I might be able to think, “I want to feel genuine. To feel genuine is to feel interested. To feel interested is to feel curious. What about this scene makes me curious?”

And I am back where I belong, ready to write again.

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

Inviting Perspective

Though we have lovely brains capable of calculating the distance from Mars to Pluto or memorizing the lyrics to six dozen show tunes, human beings are first, last, and always emotional creatures. It is our feeling of fear and love, and the myriad shades between, that guide us through all our life choices, from which shirt to buy to which man to marry. Without them, we would be computers without software.

A writer cannot write his emotions exactly as he lives them. The emotions that come to us throughout our day are information, guiding us toward what will serve us and away from what will not. But these emotions are as immediate as impulse, and often extraordinarily strong, and it is impossible to render them accurately when experienced in this way. It would be like trying to paint a flower while holding it one centimeter from your face.

And yet a writer must feel what his characters are feeling, must, to the best of his ability, feel the same fear and love and jealousy and delight. As writers, we summon those same feelings at our desk, but because these feelings are not meant to guide us, we can instead behold them. This is the artist’s proper relationship to aesthetic emotion. While beholding the emotions from an artistic distance, we can paint them accurately without the bias inherent in heeding, or not heeding, their guidance.

This may seem academic, but in the end, whether we are writing or not, we are always the ones observing the feelings. We are the ones to whom the fear speaks, we are not the fear itself. Likewise, we are the ones who follow love or ignore it. Writing, whether it is poetry, memoir, suspense, or romance, becomes a discipline of elevated perspective. It is a perspective I have learned to seek away from my desk. Life, after all, is always friendliest when viewed as a whole, is always most inviting when you can see where you belong.

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

The Third Emotion

Some days it seems as if there are three basic emotional experiences, and two of them aren’t good. The first is despair. This we feel when we believe that which is responsible for our happiness has been denied us or has been taken from us. Oh, the loneliness of these hours waiting for its return or mourning its loss.

The second is what we might call exhilaration. Now that which brings us happiness is here. Part of the thrill of such moments is the uncertainty of it all. Life’s roulette wheel spins . . . spins . . . and we win! That our exhilaration is merely one more spin from despair is part of the romance of life. Such ups and downs are the stuff of fiction and the therapy room.

Finally there is that third emotional experience. It hasn’t nearly the drama of despair and exhilaration and as such makes for much less interesting fiction, but it is where we must all rest by and by. This we can call peace. At such moments we are not following the roulette wheel of life because there is nothing that wheel can win for us. We already have what we need.

This peace, this contentment, can look from certain angles like life’s sweet conclusion, but it is in fact just the opposite. This contentment always says, “You have all you need. And now lets find more.” It makes no sense to the hungry and yearning mind that there could be anything more beyond all that we need, but this contentment has no interest in acquisition. This contentment knows only creation, the expansion of that which both sustains and compels us.

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

Inviting Perspective

Though we have lovely brains capable of calculating the distance from Mars to Pluto or memorizing the lyrics to six dozen show tunes, human beings are first, last, and always emotional creatures. It is our feeling of fear and love, and the myriad shades between, that guide us through all our life choices, from which shirt to buy to which man to marry. Without them, we would be computers without software.

A writer cannot write his emotions exactly as he lives them. The emotions that come to us throughout our day are information, guiding us toward what will serve us and away from what will not. But these emotions are as immediate as impulse, and often extraordinarily strong, and it is impossible to render them accurately when experienced in this way. It would be like trying to paint a flower while holding it one centimeter from your face.

And yet a writer must feel what his characters are feeling, must, to the best of his ability, feel the same fear and love and jealousy and delight. As writers, we summon those same feelings at our desk, but because these feelings are not meant to guide us, we can instead behold them. This is the artist’s proper relationship to aesthetic emotion. While beholding the emotions from an artistic distance, we can paint them accurately without the bias inherent in heeding, or not heeding, their guidance.

This may seem academic, but in the end, whether we are writing or not, we are always the ones observing the feelings. We are the ones to whom the fear speaks, we are not the fear itself. Likewise, we are the ones who follow love or ignore it. Writing, whether it is poetry, memoir, suspense, or romance, becomes a discipline of elevated perspective. It is a perspective I have learned to seek away from my desk. Life, after all, is always friendliest when viewed as a whole, is always most inviting when you can see where you belong.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Behind The Rain

I am told that in dreams water usually means strong emotion. As a writer, this makes sense to me. In stories, and particularly in films, water is a sure sign that our characters have reached a moment of emotional release. How many romantic comedies have ended with our hero (or sometimes heroine) racing through the rain to reach his (or her) beloved? How many “I love yous” have been confessed through rain-streaked lips?

It just works, doesn’t it? However, add thunder and lightening and the rain becomes a threat. Now we find ourselves in the emotional storm, buffeted by winds, cowed by sudden, heavenly crashing. If you put a character in a storm, he or she is in trouble. If you put that same character in a lighted house by a fire while a storm thunders outside, he or she may be safe, but trouble rattles at the windows.

It is probably futile to try to write against these tropes. Rain alone is a bit more flexible, as it can also mean boredom to the child home alone, or irritation to the businessman ducking into the laundromat—but it’s going to mean something. Pity the sun so taken for granted. If no weather is mentioned, it is more or less sunny. Wind at least means change.

The sun will perhaps always be taken for granted because it is that against which change and action is written. As Einstein said, darkness does not actually exist; it is merely the absence of light. I think of this sometimes when I am with friends suffering in their own darkness, or raging in their own storms. You don’t have to look hard, no matter how black their mental night, to see the sun within them. I know this seems Pollyanna to some, but when someone begins ranting about a hurt that will never heal, I feel as if I am listening to a child who has stepped out into the rain for the first time, and cries because the sun has been taken from the sky.

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

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter