Your Genius

I’ve got good news and maybe a little bad news. The good news is you have a genius. You’ve always had it, and you always will have it. The sort of bad news is so does everybody else. I don’t mean to suggest that you would not wish success or happiness for anyone else. You’re a nice person. But maybe you’ve heard that some people are geniuses and some people are not geniuses. It certainly looks that way sometimes, doesn’t it? Some people seem positively dense, as if they have committed their lives to never uttering a single original thought. That, they seem to believe, would be dangerous; that would be heresy.

I’ve spent much of my life drifting between trusting and fearing my own heretical impulses. I’ve wanted to be recognized but not ostracized, acknowledged but not singled out. It often seemed like an impossible balance – you could do one or the other. Unfortunately, heresy seemed like certain death, and as an adult I had to survive, to navigate the world of jobs and money and threats, both physical and emotional.

My genius, your genius, everyone’s genius, always says the same thing: You don’t have to navigate anything. Just trust me. How good it felt when I did, how effortless, how inspired. But where was it leading me, and what of those dangers? What about the rejection letters, what about the bills, what about the shame of failure? The Genius says: Trust me and you’ll be fine. I just wasn’t sure about that, so one day I trusted, and the next three I wouldn’t, back and forth and back and forth.

I’m a slow learner, willing as I am to endure much suffering. It seemed like the grownup thing to do. Fortunately, I seem to have grown less tolerant of suffering as I’ve gotten older. The Genius doesn’t want me to suffer except when I’m not listening to it. Then suffer I will. There is heaven and hell, there is pain and there is relief. The only heresy is ignoring what is speaking, and if I but listen, and if I but translate faithfully, honestly, humbly, others can hear in me what they are listening for in themselves – just as I heard in others what I often ignored in myself.

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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Real Genius

I was having coffee with Frank, a childhood friend. We hadn’t seen each other in many, many years, and so there was a lot to catch up on. For instance, since the last time we spoke he’d become a tenured American History professor and I’d written a few novels. One of those novels was set in the antebellum South on the eve of the Civil War. Frank’s area of expertise, the focus of his life’s study and the subject of several academic books he’d written, just so happened to be the antebellum South.

I mentioned that I was surprised to discover, during my research, that historians weren’t in one hundred percent agreement that slavery was the fundamental cause for the Civil War. It seemed pretty obviously the case.

“Well, actually,” said Frank, sitting up in his chair with fresh enthusiasm, “there were also a number of economic factors that played just as large a role—”

Frank paused, cleared his throat, and leaned across the table seriously. “Now we have to be careful, Bill. We’re getting ready to cross the bridge to Boring Town.”

I laughed and assured him I was willing to risk that journey. I thought about the bridge to Boring Town long after Frank and I said goodbye. I had led my friends across that very bridge in conversation a few times. It often happened accidentally. We’d be chatting along about this and that and then we would stumble on some subject about which I had a long and abiding passion, and the next thing I knew I was in the middle of a dissertation about the imagination or unconditional love.

It is a problem, I think, common for many writers – or for anyone who has allowed himself to get interested in something. I’ve come to understand that what we call intelligence is just a function of curiosity, and what we call genius is an expression of our curiosity indulged. And by indulged I mean pursuing my curiosity without any thought of whether anyone else shares that curiosity; pursuing it without any thought of where it’s leading me or if it’s practical; pursuing it simply because it feels good to do so.

Indulging my curiosity is not generally considered polite behavior, a fact that becomes strangely relevant if, as a writer, I wish to share the fruits of my passion with other people. Being an author is a form of socializing, albeit at a distance. The last thing I want to do as a writer is bore my readers, as I have sometimes bored my friends.

Yet for much of my life my number one complaint about my days was that they were boring. Why, I wanted to know, wasn’t there anything interesting to do? That was before I began really indulging my curiosity. Once I began indulging it, I found I was rarely bored. My curiosity, after all, followed me everywhere. My curiosity was a friend who was always interesting and interested.

The nice thing about being an author is that people can simply stop reading what I’ve written without one thought of whether it’s impolite to do so. This freedom allows readers to indulge their curiosity. What an ideal relationship. Now we can meet somewhere we both very much want to be, having freely crossed a bridge to our shared genius.

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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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Ordinary Genius

Like anyone else, writers are likely to take for granted their most valuable creative asset – namely, their curiosity. After all, everyone is curious about something. Being curious does not require any particular talent. Nor does being curious require hard work or dedication. Curiosity, being interested, is simply a consequence of being alive, and aware that certain things naturally attract my attention and other things do not. My curiosity is as familiar to me as my reflection in the mirror.

It is different than, say, looking at a painting I love. Something comes to life in me with a speed that is as surprising as the painting is original. Though my experience of that painting belongs entirely to me, I cannot ignore that someone else was responsible for every brush stroke on the canvas. This intersection of what came to life in me and the awareness of another person’s role in that holy experience is what I have come to name genius. Which is to say, genius is something most easily perceived in others.

In fact, it is so much easier to perceive in others that it is natural to believe that genius is forever a resident of a foreign country. My occasional attempts to attribute that quality to myself and my creations were profoundly disappointing. I could feel my starving ego hard at work, building and building what should be able to stand alone without effort. It’s too much work living in search of constant praise, without which all my value collapses.

So much easier just to be interested in something. To be interested requires no approval from other people. To be interested requires no training or effort. In fact, true interest is identified by its effortlessness. That is how I know I’m interested – that my attention has moved magnetically toward an idea where it can remain, held effortlessly by the weight of my curiosity. The only diligence necessary is the willingness to proceed without ever asking the question, “Will anyone else be interested in this too?”

That is the only worthy effort I ever exert while writing. Because this question of whether anyone else will love what I love has its own magnetism. Why? The answer only seems to foretell my very future. Although I have learned, slowly, by considerable trial and error, that despair waits inevitably for me every time I ask this question, still I can feel the itch to ask it again. And so I must go forward, learning again and again with every word, the difference between curiosity and fear, two strangely similar impulses pointing in thoroughly opposite directions.

Fortunately, in the end there is only one choice I can actually make. There is only choice that actually leads anywhere, there is only one choice that satisfies, one choice that enlivens, one choice that encourages, one choice that leaves me as curious as when I began. When I make that choice I never care whether it’s called genius or not, I only care that I’ve made it, that I’ve rediscovered the pleasure of what I thought I knew so well.

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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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Brilliant Light

As a young man I stumbled across an article in which the author confessed that, “At twenty-seven I finally accepted I wasn’t genius.” I was all for a little self-deprecating humor, but couldn’t help feeling that he had given up prematurely on his genius. I certainly wasn’t prepared to give up on mine, though I wasn’t going to admit this to anyone. Wanting to be a genius seemed like an ambition you really ought to keep to yourself if you ever wanted to have any friends.

The truth was that on any given day I could feel the light of my intelligence shining brilliantly or not at all. When it shined brilliantly, I just wanted to share it with everyone. When it was dim, I felt as if there wasn’t much need for me on planet earth. It was an up and down life. It worried me. Geniuses, I believed, were brilliant all the time. I was hoping the day would come when my light would turn on permanently.

I eventually found myself well beyond twenty-seven with my light still flickering from bright to dim. Then one day I got curious about something. It had to with creativity and freewill, though it doesn’t actually matter what it was, it just mattered that I became very, very curious about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about it and talking to people about it and then even writing about it. It was all I wanted to think about, and the more I thought about it, the more I saw it in everything I did and read and heard.

And the more I thought about it, the less I cared about being a genius. In fact, the more I thought about it, the less I believed in geniuses, by which I mean special people born with a rare and distinguishing gift. My light never shines brighter than when I am indulging my curiosity, and I do not believe there is anything rare about curiosity. I do believe that many people choose not to indulge theirs, that many people think, “Who would be interested in this?” If the answer is, Me, then you’ve found your genius, and all you have to do is keep following that light.

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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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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A Patient Friend

Your genius is waiting for you. She waits for you at your desk like the best friend you will ever know. She is immensely patient and impeccably consistent. She is always ready to talk if you are ready to listen, and she loves to answer any question to which she knows the answer. And of course she is interesting. She never repeats herself and she always surprising. You love her, and she loves you too.

But she is not the sort of friend who will commiserate with you over all your grievances. You cannot meet her at the bar to drink and complain about your enemies. She is unwilling to call this one right and this one wrong. She does not criticize. She does not think you are any better or any worse than anyone else. On all of this she is absolutely inflexible.

She is so inflexible, so stonily silent on matters of comparison and doubt and vengeance, that it can often appear as though she has abandoned you when you need her most. Here you are, feeling alone and unlovable, and the very person you would most like to hear form has gone suddenly and utterly silent. How is that love?

Remember that she is only silent because she has absolutely nothing to say about your fear and your jealousy and your doubt. You are speaking in a foreign language when you ask her about these things. She only understands what you love. She is the world’s foremost authority on this subject. She could go on and on and on about it if you’d let her.

But it is all right if you don’t let her go on and on. It is all right if you want to complain and compare for a while. She isn’t going anywhere. She has nothing else to do. She lives exclusively for the opportunity to chat with you, it is her only pleasure, and she will wait as long as it takes for you to remember what you truly sound like.

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
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