An Interview with Mary Potter Kenyon
I met Mary Potter Kenyon in February when she hosted a writers conference at Shalom Spirituality Center where she is the program coordinator. Being around other writers is always a treat for me, but this conference was especially so due to Mary’s warmth and hospitality. Rarely do I leave such a conference feeling like I’ve made a friend with the host, but this time I did.
That feeling grew when I read her memoir: Refined by Fire: A Journey of Grief and Grace. Mary’s writing is as genuine as she is.
When she asked for volunteers to join her launch team for Called To Be Creative, I signed up. Although I’d never participated in a launch before, Mary made me feel like I could make a contribution.
Recently, she obliged my interview request and responded to a few questions this editor had for a published writer.
Why did you write this book?
I have found such joy through writing and public speaking, I wanted to encourage and inspire others to discover their own passions. I truly believe that God designed each of us to create; that if we live the life God intended, we become his masterpiece. I was thrilled to discover scientific research that backs up that belief. My main goal in writing the book is to convince the reader that they were designed for a purpose and guide them to discover and reignite that natural creativity they were born with. Click To Tweet I love to see faces light up with the energy that practicing our passion gives us.
What was it about the topic of creativity that intrigued you?
I grew up with a very creative mother; the kind of woman who, at the age of 42, picked up a kitchen knife and decided to try her hand at carving a wooden statue, and then honed that talent. Mom raised ten children in poverty, but still managed to find ways to be creative; through gardening and canning, the way she fed us with whatever she had on hand, by beautifying our simple home with handmade wall hangings, rag rugs, quilts and even homemade teddy bears and Raggedy Ann dolls.
She eventually began selling her paintings, wood carvings, and other creations as a home business. After Mom died, she left behind writing that made it clear the legacy she wanted to leave was in her faith and her desire that each of her children use their God-given talents. It was that legacy that made me take the writing I’d been doing for twenty years seriously.
I began doing public speaking on couponing as part of a platform to sell the book I was working on, but realized how much I enjoyed talking to groups so readily agreed to talk to a homeschooling mother’s group on the topic of creativity. It was there I heard words like “I don’t have time” regarding practicing creative endeavors. When I spoke to a room full of women on the other end of the spectrum, retired women in their seventies and eighties, it broke my heart to hear comments like “I don’t have talent,” or “It’s too late for me now.” I knew then I wanted to write a book about creativity, but it was a long time coming. I researched the topic, talked to creative people, began my own creativity group, and finally, in early 2017, sat down and began writing it.
Most writers admit to experiencing writer’s block from time to time. Have you? And how do you handle it?
I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’ve never experienced writer’s block, if writer’s block means being unable to write. I think it stems from the fact that writing time was at such a premium as I was raising eight children, that the minute I finally had it, everything that had been brewing in my head for days or weeks would just come pouring out.
Even now, I have so many ideas I’m working on several things at once, which isn’t always a good idea. I might have half a dozen projects started but nothing completed for weeks on end. I accomplish more if I concentrate on just one thing and finish it.
I have had writer’s “pauses,” however. After each of my babies were born I didn’t even try to write, so it wasn’t really a block. I wasn’t getting sleep and I didn’t have the ability to concentrate, so I just gave myself permission to take that time off from writing. I was always itching to get back to it, though, and was a happier mother when I was writing.
I also put myself on pause after I’ve completed a book. It’s as if I’ve put everything into it and after weeks and months of research and writing, there’s nothing left; I’m depleted. I feel at odds with myself for three or four weeks; like maybe I’ll never be able to write again. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, and I was scared the first time it happened, but now I know to expect it.
As an editor, I’m curious about the editing experience from the writer’s perspective. Tell us about the editing process with your book(s) and your relationship with your editor.
I’m always assigned an editor and have been very pleased with the ones I’ve worked with. Once I submit my final manuscript, it goes to the editor, and we’ve typically worked chapter by chapter. They work on one chapter, checking for errors, or paragraphs or explanations that aren’t clear, things that need tightening, etc. Then I rework and revise and send that chapter back. Sometimes it is two or three chapters at a time.
The editing process is intense, and I’ve occasionally changed more than what they asked for because when they point out one problem, I might see another. Click To TweetWe’ve moved chapters around during the editing process and deleted entire sections. After the revision process with Called to Be Creative, the book went to yet another editor and came back to me with a few more things to change. Finally, it went to a copy editor who went through all the references and checked again for errors.
What do you read for pleasure? Do you have a favorite genre? Author?
I read a lot of non-fiction. I always head to the non-fiction shelves at bookstores and libraries. I love a good fiction book, too, but rationalize taking time to read non-fiction because I am learning while I read, whereas fiction is simply entertainment. I keep track of my books on Goodreads, and I hit my yearly goal of 52 books just last week, 90% of them non-fiction.
I read fiction differently, usually in one sitting, which means I know if I read a good fiction book, I’m not going to get much else done that day. There are authors, like Jodi Picoult and Heather Gudenkauf, whose books I refuse to begin past 6:00 in the evening because I know I can’t fall asleep until I finish them. I love a good mystery, or feel-good fiction, but not chick-lit or romance.
I associate certain authors or series with particular periods in my life. I read the entire Left Behind series the winter I got pneumonia, because I was too exhausted to do much beyond reading. I read small paperback books behind the heads of nursing babies while I rocked them. With one baby, it was every Agatha Christie, with another, Grace Livingston Hill.
I wonder if I could ever switch to writing fiction if I read 90% fiction? Writing fiction sounds like magic to me. I write about what is real; fiction writers write from their imagination. They are the creative ones!