How Writing Saved My Marriage

I married a writer. Even though she and I approach our writing differently, I have often said that I could not imagine being married to anyone who didn’t write. On one occasion, however, those differences were nearly our undoing.

Jen and I were planning a trip to La Jolla for her uncle and aunt’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. We would be there for four days, and Jen went into planning motion. She researched things to do in La Jolla and San Diego; she read reviews of those things; she found out how much each thing would cost and how long it took to get there. Then she wanted my feedback. Read all this stuff I’ve found, she said, and tell me what you think so we can decide what we’ll do.

I hated all the stuff she showed me. I hated reading it and I hated thinking about it. It’s not that I didn’t want to do any of it, I just hated thinking about it ahead of time. It made no sense to me. I didn’t know now what I would want to do then. Plans change. I wanted to handle this vacation the way I handled the stories I wrote: I’d figure it out when I got there.

A week before we were scheduled to leave we got into a horrible argument. She was beyond irritated with me for dragging my feet and I wanted her just to make her list of possibilities and leave it at that. It got ugly. If you did not know us well, you might have thought this was the end of a twenty-year marriage.

And then, right in the middle of this blowup, in one of the few pauses in the yelling, I thought: Wait. Jen’s an outliner. I’m not an outliner. That’s all this is about. Like all outliners, she needed her plan for the future, even though she knew that plan would change. I confessed to her that I never like to make plans, the same way I didn’t like to outline. I don’t understand how to make it work, but if she would sit with me now we could look at all the stuff together. Neither of us, it turned out, was wrong, and once we remembered that, we could be friends 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 William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

How Writing Saved My Marriage

I married a writer. Even though she and I approach our writing differently, I have often said that I could not imagine being married to anyone who wasn’t write. On one occasion, however, those differences were nearly our undoing.

Jen and I were planning a trip to La Jolla for her uncle and aunt’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. We would be there for four days, and Jen went into planning motion. She researched things to do in La Jolla and San Diego; she read reviews of those things; she found out how much each thing would cost and how long it took to get there. Then she wanted my feedback. Read all this stuff I’ve found, she said, and tell me what you think so we can decide what we’ll do.

I hated all the stuff she showed me. I hated reading it and I hated thinking about it. It’s not that I didn’t want to do any of it, I just hated thinking about it ahead of time. It made no sense to me. I didn’t know now what I would want to do then. Plans change. I wanted to handle this vacation the way I handled the stories I wrote: I’d figure it out when I got there.

A week before we were scheduled to leave we got into a horrible argument. She was beyond irritated with me for dragging my feet and I wanted her just to make her list of possibilities and leave it at that. It got ugly. If you did not know us well, you might have thought this the end of a twenty-year marriage.

And then, right in the middle of this blowup, in one of the few pauses in the yelling, I thought: Wait. Jen’s an outliner. I’m not an outliner. That’s all this is about. Like all outliners, she needed her plan for the future, even though she knew that plan would change. I confessed to her that I never like to make plans, the same way I didn’t like to outline. I don’t understand how to make it work, but if she would sit with me now we could look at all the stuff together. Neither of us, it turned out, was wrong, and once we remembered that, we could be friends 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.

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 Kind Mistress

Writing is such a relationship. Roald Dahl described how he would “sniff around an idea” before committing to it. By returning again and again on walks and the shower, or by taking notes, or perhaps scratching out a line or two of dialogue, a writer can see if his interest remains as strong as the day the idea first arrived.

I have started many a story the day it first popped into my head. I would never suggest that one cannot finish a book begun this way. But you can also spend two months on something you discover wasn’t as enduringly interesting to you once you are slogging your way through the torturous middle. If the story, like a partner, is not something you love, it will end, just as many relationships end once the dishes aren’t done and the car breaks down.

But in a good marriage, not only are you willing to work together to see that the dishes get done and the car gets fixed, not only are you willing to find your way through the arguments these petty problems seem to stir, but, in time, you will likely find that the petty problems are as valuable to a marriage as sex and long conversation and romantic vacations. Within the slog of everyday life lived with someone you love you can uncover the divine, the lovely, and the meaning in absolutely everything.

So too is it with a story you love. Every story will become as tangled as a late night argument; every story will appear as hopeless and small as a flat tire. But if you love that story you will discover you have the patience to find your way through a tired middle, will have the discipline to discard an unnecessary character. Love is simply not a mistress you can quit. What you call quitting is only a search that will lead you back exactly where you started, where she will be waiting for you to start another story.

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

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Blank Canvases

One of my favorite novels about the creative process is Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. Narrated by its protagonist, the novel follows the vagabond artist Gully Jimson as he scams his way through London seeking enough money to buy paint and canvas. Jimson is a very chatty narrator, and has a lot to say about why he likes to paint and why sometimes doesn’t like to paint.

As I recall, he spends a good chunk of the novel trying to finish one painting that, in the end, simply won’t come together. When he finally chucks it and starts a new one, Jimson waxes euphoric about the beauty and allure of the fresh canvas, its unique perfection, its pristine field of possibility.

I thought Cary caught this moment perfectly, because even as I read Jimson’s ode to the blank canvas I could feel the coming trouble. One brush stroke and the field is broken. One brush stroke, and you have committed to a direction that ineluctably eliminates more possibilities than it reveals. Such is the unique tension of creation—this seeking of the finite within the infinite.

I used to live my life thinking, “I could do that.” I could be a journalist; I could be an actor; I could be a screenwriter; I could be a game designer. I could, I could, I could. It was a sneaky kind of thought, one that felt like the spark of action but was designed to keep me forever beginning. I was a promiscuous, though romantic, careerist, always certain this next love would be the one.

Yet just as in a marriage, we may think we choose that someone for the candle-lit dinners, for the laughter and kisses and happy conversation, but soon enough will come to the arguments and accusations. Always these moments feel like the middle of an intractable novel. This thing had such promise—now look at it. By and by we find our way through, and when we emerge on the other side I quietly acknowledge it was perhaps the disagreement I was seeking. Within me lived the thought not that I could, but that I could not, and so I seek the crisis, and so the light comes, and so the page is open once again.

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

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Nothing is Broken

My brother married his first wife when he was much too young. It was one of those situations where the rest of the family sensed the marriage was a bad idea from the get go but decided silently amongst ourselves to let John figure that out for himself. Predictably, it didn’t take long for things to start going sideways. A year or two in, he shared some of the troubles with me in a long phone conversation. A week later it was his birthday and during my annual well-wishing call I asked how things were with his wife.

“We had a couple drinks and hashed things out and everything is better now,” he explained.

Oh, how smug I felt knowing that everything was not in fact all better. But I should know. I have often felt the lure of that drug that is, “Now everything is all better.” I do not mean to insinuate that nothing ever gets better. Quite the opposite.  But the idea that I can fix my book, or my marriage, or myself assumes that things are broken to begin with.

No one is broken. Not one person on the planet. Ideas are broken – that is, they lead you away from where you naturally want to travel, which is always towards love – but people themselves are not broken.  The only thing wrong with my brother’s relationship to his wife was that he shouldn’t have been married to her. Once they divorced, their relationship found its true form – polite, cordial, and in different cities.

And so it goes. Stories aren’t broken; they just haven’t found their full form, or their true author. Sometimes stories come to us but we aren’t the ones meant to tell them, and so back they go into the communal story stew. I understand this is a trick of perception, but it’s a trick worth learning. Everything you do is an idea, a possibility, and all ideas are expendable. No matter how many ideas you try out and dispose, no matter how many roads lead to dry valleys, you remain intact as ever before, a perfect light seeking its fullest form.

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

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Blank Canvases

One of my favorite novels about the creative process is Joyce Cary’s The Horse’s Mouth. Narrated by its protagonist, the novel follows the vagabond artist Gully Jimson as he scams his way through London seeking enough money to buy paint and canvas. Jimson is a very chatty narrator, and has a lot to say about why he likes to paint and why sometimes doesn’t like to paint.

As I recall, he spends a good chunk of the novel trying to finish one painting that, in the end, simply won’t come together. When he finally chucks it and starts a new one, Jimson waxes euphoric about the beauty and allure of the fresh canvas, its unique perfection, its pristine field of possibility.

I thought Cary caught this moment perfectly, because even as I read Jimson’s ode to the blank canvas I could feel the coming trouble. One brush stroke and the field is broken. One brush stroke, and you have committed to a direction that ineluctably eliminates more possibilities than it reveals. Such is the unique tension of creation—this seeking of the finite within the infinite.

I used to live my life thinking, “I could do that.” I could be a journalist; I could be an actor; I could be a screenwriter; I could be a game designer. I could, I could, I could. It was a sneaky kind of thought, one that felt like the spark of action but was designed to keep me forever beginning. I was a promiscuous careerist, though romantic, certain this next love would be the one.

Yet just as in a marriage, we may think we choose that someone for the candle-lit dinners, for the laughter and kisses and happy conversation, but soon enough will come the arguments and accusations. Always these moments feel like the middle of an intractable novel. This thing had such promise—now look at it. By and by we find our way through, and when we emerge on the other side I quietly acknowledge it was perhaps the disagreement I was seeking. Within me lived the thought not that I could, but that I could not, and so I seek the crisis, and so the light comes, and so the page is open once again.

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

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Discovering Windows

I thought the Nora Ephron film Julie and Julia was unusual in its portrayal of the relationship between Julia Child (Meryl Streep) and her husband Paul Child (Stanly Tucci). Here was an adult marriage (they were long past the newlywed phase) that was believably and recognizably loving, equal, and sexual. It was my favorite part of the film, perhaps because I am in a marriage two weeks from celebrating its 19th anniversary that on its best days looks more or less like the Childs’ marriage.

As I watched the film it occurred to me how rarely I get to see a marriage like this in movies. It is tempting to lament this. It is tempting to point out how ready we are to mourn the decline of the family and then race off to films in which that family is always laughably dysfunctional or downright destructive. But this would be unfair. Films, like all stories, are about conflict, and in Julie and Julia that conflict lay outside of Julia Child’s marriage. In Julie and Julia, the marriage, it seemed to me, represented Child’s indefatigable love of life and its physical pleasures, a love that would eventually see her through her challenges.

And because stories are about conflict, love stories will almost always be about couples, usually young couples, falling in love. Though I am no longer young, at least by Hollywood standards, I can find no fault in this either. Something in us grows up when we find love for the first time. That moment of recognition we call falling in love, that moment of seeing in another that which you have always felt in yourself. Such is the pleasure of creation: that which was inside of you is now outside of you and the world has changed.

If you marry someone, you only get to fall in love with her for the first time once. But I only ever get to do everything for the first time once. For instance, I only got to discover that I love to write once. And yet writing, like some marriages, can be constant discovery. As with writing, love is not some destination but a portal, a window through which to see life as I intend to lead it.

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

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Love Relationship

Although I am always alone when I work, I look upon everything I write as I would a relationship. A novel, in particular, is like a marriage. All marriages have their challenges, chief among them duration. A passionate weekend can come and go with little turbulence, the sheer velocity of new attraction propelling one straight over the bumps. But marriage quickly becomes about your whole life and its long bumpy trajectory, during which one must forgive and be forgiven, admit to weaknesses, release vices, change habits. A marriage can no more sustain its participants’ stagnation than can a life itself.

So too with a novel. You might get lucky and dash off a poem over a weekend, or find a short story that “writes itself”, but a novel requires the same loving endurance of a marriage. You will lose your way. You will wonder where it’s going. You will wake up some mornings with no idea if the thing will ever be finished. Just as in a marriage, where we stray from our better selves and let the cutting remark slip, forget to listen, grow impatient, so we stray from our story, try to force scenes it doesn’t want, criticize it before it’s finished.

Though showing kindness always feels better than criticizing, and being truly inside your story always feels better than standing outside and judging it, the challenge to release the hurt that brought the criticism, or the fear that spurned the judgment, remains great enough that it cannot be achieved consistently without love. We simply cannot pay attention to something for that long that we do not love. We will lose interest. This is how bad marriages are born and how bad books are written: conceived without love, drawn by some idea of what we hope will bring us happiness, as opposed to operating within what we know already can.

This is why we write what we know, which is another way of saying write what you love. When we feel strongly attracted to a partner, we feel compelled as if by something beyond ourselves, a force of forward energy we need only follow, not generate. When we are strongly attracted to a story, we are following much the same energy, and we will remark how characters talk to us, how scenes appear to us, and of how we lost track of time as we wrote. True love and true creative energy are one in the same, because to love is to create and to create is to love.

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

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Nothing Is Broken

My brother married his first wife when he was much too young. It was one of those situations where the rest of the family sensed the marriage was a bad idea from the get go but decided silently amongst ourselves to let John figure that out for himself. Predictably, it didn’t take long for things to start going sideways. A year or two in he shared some of the troubles with me in a long phone conversation. A week later it was his birthday and during my annual well-wishing call I asked how things were with his wife.

“We had a couple drinks and hashed things out and everything is better now,” he explained.

Oh, how smug I felt knowing that everything was not in fact all better. But I should know. I have often felt the lure of that drug that is, “Now everything is all better.” I do not mean to insinuate that nothing ever gets better. Quite the opposite, as I wrote a few days ago.  But the idea that I can fix my book, or my marriage, or myself assumes that things are broken to begin with.

No one is broken. Not one person on the planet. Ideas are broken – that is, they lead you away from where you naturally want to travel, which is always towards love – but people themselves are not broken.  The only thing wrong with my brother’s relationship to his wife was that he shouldn’t have been married to her. Once they divorced, their relationship found its true form – polite, cordial, and in different cities.

And so on it goes. Stories aren’t broken, they just haven’t found their full form, or their true author. Sometimes stories come to us but we aren’t the ones meant to tell them, and so back they go into the communal story stew. I understand this is a trick of perception, but it’s a trick worth learning. Everything you do is an idea, a possibility, and all ideas are expendable. No matter how many ideas you try out and dispose, no matter how many roads lead to dry valleys, you remain intact as ever before, a perfect light seeking its fullest form.

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

More Author Articles

Follow wdbk on Twitter