Finding Intuition

I interviewed the intuitive psychiatrist Dr. Judith Orloff yesterday for our upcoming May issue. Intuitive psychiatrist is an unusual combination, one born from Orloff being raised by two physician parents and possessing an intuition so innately strong that she spent much of her childhood believing that something was very wrong with her. Once she understood that the voices she was hearing were not a sign of madness but the product of a very loud and insistent creative guidance system, the life as she knows it now began in earnest.

One of the things I like about Orloff’s work is that she teaches people to use and strengthen their intuition. Until I began paying very close attention to my own creative process, I would not have thought intuition was anything you could teach. Either it visited you or it didn’t. Like the weather, I was glad for sunny days, but no amount of prayer or science would ever part the clouds.

But leaving communication with my intuition to the whims of a capricious subconscious is like leaving my writing schedule to the whims of my mood. I’m going to write every morning regardless of my mood because I have learned that once I start writing I soon find I am in the mood to write. My desire to write never actually turns off, I merely lose track of it in the grumbly, fussy business of daily life. So too with my intuition. It is always running, pulsing away with inspiration and guidance if I can but locate it.

Orloff has certain mechanical steps she recommends, like sitting quietly and taking deep breaths and so on. All good ideas. But there is a reason writers and teachers like Orloff often wind up speaking in metaphors. I could easily point a stranger from Seattle to Boston on a map, but the route to your intuition is like the journey from fear to love. Before the journey can even begin, you must remember it is possible, remember that your destination is real precisely because no one else can find it for you.

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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The Slow Assembler

I can be a pretty logical guy when I want to be. I enjoy a little algebraic thinking now and again. It’s fun when I can show that if A = B, and B = C, then A = C. In many ways, writing is about showing the connection between things that appear from one perspective to be utterly disconnected. In that moment when the connection is revealed life collapses just a little, from a disparate collection of independent forms or thoughts to an integrated world, where the many serve the whole.

It’s a lovely thing, but I can’t become too enamored of my rational mind, no matter how athletic and proud it feels after one of its success. As Einstein pointed out, it is only a servant of the intuition. My rational mind, however, does not like to see itself as anyone’s servant. When things are going well for him, he is The King. He rules an iron kingdom of incontrovertible truths, truths built of the solid and knowable bricks of facts and bound by the sure mortar of logic. Come into his castle and be safe from the storms of preference and prejudice.

Things do not always go well for him, however. He’s fabulous at building things, but not so good at knowing what to build. In fact, he hasn’t a clue. At some point he looks from up from his throne and sees all the other castles around him. There are as many castles as there are kings and queens. All of them are correct. In that moment, his castle falls. It protects him from nothing.

Until, of course, he receives his instructions again. Now he is happy once more, helping to build what wants to be built. He doesn’t know why it wants to be built, and if he’s honest he admits that he doesn’t care. The why’s belong to something else. He is the slow assembler who must pull together all the parts that form what something else saw and knew in an instant.

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

Knowing Everything

I watched a recent episode of Hollywood Game Night (where six celebrities and two non-celebrities team up to play a series of pop-culture themed parlor games) that included Henry Winkler among its panel of famous people. I had the opportunity to interview Winkler in 2009 after he had published book seventeen in his Hank Zipster series, an easy reader collection about a boy with dyslexia, and seeing him perched on the set-couch I thought, “This may not go so well.”

Most of the games involve remembering the names of movies, songs, television shows, or actors, and, due to his dyslexia, remembering stuff is not Winkler’s strongest mental muscle. The longer the show went on, the more I started worrying for him. He’s such a sweet man, and when it was his turn to guess who sang that or who played this and he once again got that innocent, vaguely lost look in his eye, I wanted to bust through the television and cry, “He’s dyslexic! Why don’t you all leave him alone?”

I don’t think he got one answer correct, and yet, if his performance bothered him at all, he never betrayed it. I admired his steady demeanor in the face of constant failure. I am a little bit rabid when it comes to winning. I kept picturing myself in his place and thinking how I’d want to crawl under that couch until the show was over. But he didn’t crawl under the couch. He smiled and joked and seemed interested to learn who did sing “That’s the Night When Lights Went Out in Georgia.” (It was Vicky Lawrence, by the way).

Then yesterday I decided to include his interview on my new website, and watched it again for the first time in several years. In the middle of the conversation Winkler talked about his intuition. “Your mind knows a few things,” he said. “Your instinct knows everything.” Perhaps that was why his demeanor was so steady. The student’s job is to answer the teacher’s questions. The artist’s job is to ask a question and let his instinct, intuition, and imagination bring him the answer. With this arrangement, you can only fail if you are unwilling to wait for the answer to come.

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

A Good Story

It was a several years ago at the PNWA’s summer writer’s conference and I had a YA fantasy novel I was shopping around. I had an agent for the book that I liked very much, but we were still looking for the right editor. There was one editor from St. Martin’s attending the conference that I thought would be a good fit, but I had decided I did not want to sit down with her at one of the pitch sessions, but rather find some time we might talk privately about the project. This was what I wanted. I really wanted this. I had thought about it a lot before the conference.

Unfortunately, this editor did not attend the pre-conference party the PNWA throws for the agents and editors. It was the next day and Bob Dugoni was in the main ballroom introducing all the agents. The hallway outside, where I was standing, not knowing what to do with myself, was deserted. What should I do? I wondered.

Get some coffee downstairs at Spencer’s,” a voice in my head answered.

“I don’t want coffee,” I told the voice.

Get some coffee downstairs at Spencer’s,” the voice said again.

And so there I was climbing into the elevator, and there I was winding my way toward the lobby and Spencer’s, thinking how I did not want coffee, when I looked up and saw a professional-looking woman drifting toward me with a lost look in her eye.

“You looking for the conference?” I asked.

“Yes. I’m supposed to be on the Editor’s Panel. This place is so confusing.”

“I’ll take you there.”

Now I recognized her from her picture in the conference brochure and I introduced myself and told her who my agent was and about the project and she said I should send it right along to her.

This would be a perfect story, I suppose, if she had bought it and that had been the beginning of my YA fantasy writing career, but she did not. In fact, no one bought that book, which turned out to be a good thing, because that very same voice eventually told me to write a very different kind of book. I am sure that voice had been trying to talk to me for many years, but that, to my memory, was the first time I actually listened to it.

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

Before Fear

One of the challenges with children on the Autism spectrum is how to teach them to behave like all the other human beings. So often these children’s behaviors seem out sync with the rest of the world, their voices too loud, their questions inappropriate, their attention inflexibly focused on one subject. And so we train them to use “outside voices” and “inside voices,” how to make “topic appropriate conversation,” and so on.

It is useful in a way for these children, just as it is useful for us if we were travelling to a foreign land to learn its customs so that we do not inadvertently insult our hosts. But in my experience what most stands between these children and what we would call normal behavior is fear. Fear is the dissonance drowning out their intuition and social radar. Fear is what keeps them hidden in their circular stories and twitches and murmurs.

Because how can you really train someone to live? This moment is different than the next moment. Every single moment in your life is singular and without imitation. How can you possibly train yourself for all of them? Isn’t it rather that we have trained ourselves to trust that which guides us through each of these very different moments, that which tells us when it is okay to swear and when it is not, when we can stay on one subject and when we should move on? Who amongst us has not behaved awkwardly when caught within the white noise of fear?

So it is with writing. Every story, every paragraph, every sentence requires something different of the writer. You cannot train in preparation for each sentence you will ever write. Rather, you can only train yourself to trust that which knows what is required in a given moment. To enter into that trust is to enter the deepest conversation you will ever know. Life may be swirling all around you, the noise and lights may be loud and bright, but you can know it all, you can speak appropriately to it all, if you but sink within yourself and become the voice for that which existed before fear.

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

A Losing Formula

In the late 70’s, my father brought home a strategy football game. The game was quite simple. Whoever was on defense had a deck of cards, each with a different defensive alignment. The game’s board was a grid, along the top of which were 20 or so different offensive plays, from Dive to Razzle Dazzle (my brother’s favorite).  The defenses ran along the side. The player on offense would announce which play he was running, and the player on defense would reveal which alignment he had selected, the two choices would be cross-referenced like finding coordinates on an X-Y plane, and you would learn the result of that play.

In this way, it was really a guessing game, not a strategy game. It became an intuitive, psychological struggle to read the other player’s mind and proclivities. There was a lot of, “He thinks I’ll throw a bomb, but I’ll actually run a dive – unless he thinks I think he thinks I’ll run a dive in which case I’ll throw the bomb.” You were always better off going with your first instinct.

At this time, my father had begun to learn how to program computers. He looked at this game and began to hatch a scheme. He believed he could come up with a program that would tell which play or defense would have the highest rate of success given the down, distance, and so on. He dreamt of having his children go to a big gaming tournament armed with a stack of computer printouts and whipping all the adult competitors.

Fortunately, the permutations proved too expansive for either my father’s know-how or actual interest in the project. I believe it was probably the latter. It seemed emblematic of his struggle at that time: a doomed search for a means by which the straight line of intellect could triumph over the reasonless nudge of intuition.

I was glad to see this plan die. My heart always sank when he painted the image of our theoretical triumph. On the one hand he was my father, and he had so many dreams; it would have been nice to have just one not come up well short of where he imagined it might take him. On the other hand, intuition seemed like the great equalizer in human endeavor, available to all regardless of age or income. Why look to triumph over it?

I cannot blame him for wanting a world that could be won with computer programs. Like all fathers, he wanted his children to be safe, and I do not believe he understood where safety could be found outside the clear perimeters of logic. But where is the safety in a life stripped of choice? That safety is a seed still buried, hiding beneath a world where anything is possible.

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

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This History Of You

Mary Daheim has written a whopping 50 plus books in her thirty-year career. The majority of these were mysteries, but she broke into publishing writing what she describes as “bodice rippers.” She hadn’t intended to write bodice rippers (luscious historical romances) but her agent explained that her books would have a much better chance of selling if there was more sex and less history and Mary said, “Okey-dokey,” and so it began.

Here is the point where the screenplay of Mary’s life might portray her as a writer selling out. She abandons her love of the true historical novel for the crass profit of sex and fantasy. But her story is hardly so pat. Mary is a practical woman, but more importantly she is a woman who knows herself. She knew, for instance, that she was no fan of romances, and after four novels she also knew that it was time to write something else.

When Mary’s patience with romances had run out she could have tried to write straight historicals again. After all, someone was selling them, and she was now a published author. But she decided to try her hand at mysteries instead, and the rest—no pun intended—is history.

If Mary Daheim had absolutely been meant to write historical novels I don’t think she would have spent the last three decades happily writing mysteries. Is it not possible that the best thing that could have happened to Mary was to have her agent convince her to write a romance, not just to get her published, but to move her attention off of what in the end it turned out was only the first idea of the kind of book she would like to write was?

It is so easy to judge someone’s choices, even when that someone is ourselves. Intuition seems to have a prescience all its own, as if sensing where the thread of a single choice stretches far into the darkness of the future. The more taught that thread, the more drawn we are to follow it, and yet from our myopic vantage in the present some threads can seem headed in entirely the wrong direction. Here is the moment we must judge not. There is the idea of who we are, and there is truth of who we are, and our job has never been to prove an idea but only to follow the truth.

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

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Darkness At The Window

One of the more surprising interviews I did for this month’s issue was with Diana Gabaldon. I was certain that anyone writing a sprawling, historic, time travel romance was bound to operate with some kind of grand plan. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Diana’s novels appear to her like a recovered memory, accumulating details from the beginning, middle, and end in no particular order.

Every writer does this to some degree, but that Diana writes her books in one draft and does not know exactly where a scene will be placed in the arc of the narrative when it comes to her struck me as particularly trusting of the process. I have written often about the importance of trusting and listening when writing, but take a look at An Echo in the Bone and consider that this 820 page beast (whose size she limits for practical purposes) was composed with no real architecture other than her understanding of story and her willingness to allow that story in at the rate at which it wants to be revealed.

I do not think Diana is some kind of unique genius, however—at least no more than anyone else. Rather, she is a woman completely at peace with the mystery of original stories. To write as Diana writes you must not be afraid of the dark. Her stories emerge out of nothing—a window, someone at the window, the curtain is open, there is snow outside the window—but if she were to race to fill the darkness with bright lights and dancing characters she would never get to see what gifts the shadows have to offer.

I used to be afraid of the dark when I was a boy. The secrecy imposed by night seemed perilously uncertain. Anything could step out of the dark. Yet what was it keeping me awake at night but my own imagination? Here I was, a writer-to-be, afraid because his imagination had come to life. There was my clue for the future. I was not afraid of what might come, but simply that anything could. And so I would spend the rest of my life turning toward shadows for inspiration, eventually propelled by that which I had once so feared.

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No Accident

My brother sent me something rather alarming this morning: PDFs of two pages from his best friend’s journal in which I had been asked to write one bleary evening in 1986. That this journal still exists is amazing to me, that my brother’s friend had thought to photocopy the pages and digitize them for me is just as amazing—but what is perhaps most amazing of all was that, as I re-read this 23 year-old piece of writing, I could remember what it felt like when I wrote it.

I remembered because that was a time in my life when I had begun to discover the power of fast writing—just putting the words down as quickly as possible while thinking as little possible. It was a kind of trick, really, designed to take my very watchful and wicked brain out of the equation.

And it worked for a time. I wrote very quickly and very intuitively, but I had no idea about trying to publish any of it—I just liked how it felt to write that way. My brain, however, wasn’t about to be sidelined so easily, and by the time I sat down to write my first actual novel I called upon the brain because now I needed to sell something and make money and the brain seemed like just the thing to see such a project through.

That first effort was many years and many books ago. I don’t like to think about that first book—it’s like forcing myself to remember what it felt like to perform a play for which I had not memorized my lines. But I don’t much believe in chance, not in what we remember, nor in what comes across our desk.

For hadn’t I just begun rewriting a novel?  And hadn’t I just told myself that I am not to think of the publishers waiting to read it, that no matter whether it finds a publisher or not I am to enjoy the writing of it first, last, and only; and that I should write quickly; and that I should write intuitively; and don’t I sometimes forget that; and isn’t it sometimes good to get a 23 year-old journal entry to remind me?

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Your Antennae

Trust your tuner, people. What is your tuner? It’s your antennae. You’ve got one, you know, and you’ve absolutely got to listen to it. It’s your first and best tool, aside from what editorial writers like to call “common sense”, for writing and publishing.

I just finished looking at an interview I did recently with Heather Barbieri, the edited version of which will appear in our September issue. Hers is not an unusual story. She needed an agent (a new one actually, as her old one had stopped representing fiction) and so set about her search, which involved scanning through listings on agentquery.com. When she saw her eventual agent’s name, Heather for some reason thought to herself, “She might be the one.” And indeed she was. The agent took her on one day after receiving the query and sold her novel a week later. Talk about a good antennae.

But what is doubly interesting about this story is that when she began her search, friends – and by that I mean published writer friends – had recommended various agents to her. Conventional wisdom says, start with recommendations. But she had the idea that these recommended agents weren’t right. Whether they were or not, she certainly found an agent who knew how to sell her book.

You’ve got to trust your antennae. To be sure, in the beginning stages of your publishing career you won’t have the opportunity to meet face to face a lot of the people you’ll have to deal with. So listen closely. I understand that for some folks intuition on this level seems like so much transcendental hocus-pocus. Fair enough. But I have spoken with so many writers who have talked about information “coming to them” both for their books and when searching for a publisher.

So trust the antennae. Because it’s really just a muscle. And the more you trust it, the stronger it becomes.

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