Deviant

June 29th, 2015

This month’s issue of Author includes my interview with Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and, most recently, The Painter. Peter’s a very interesting guy who loves stories and literature and who had many valuable things to say about his process. Unfortunately, one of those interesting things contradicted something I had come to believe about how people write.

Peter’s first novel was written in what he described as a fugue state. He heard the first line, found the narrator, and then ran with it. He wrote it in seven months, and his publisher accepted the book more or less as it was. The second novel began similarly. But Peter was aware that he didn’t want to experience the sophomore slump, and so began thinking about the book, planning the story’s next narrative steps. All this thinking concerned him. This wasn’t how he wrote his first book. Should he quit thinking about it?

About this time he met another writer who advised him that his only job was to “write a story that didn’t suck,” that it didn’t matter whether it was outlined or not outlined, whether he thought about it some or just let it rip. So Peter relaxed, let himself do a little thinking, and a couple years later we were talking about how he had finished and published that second book. He also told me his third novel began with a concept, an actual story idea. This was new for him too.

My own writing experience, as well as the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with other writers, taught me to believe that we each have our own approach and that the worst thing we can do is deviate from it. Peter, meanwhile, deviates systematically, and successfully so. And so my rule has been amended. Our job, as Peter’s writer friend pointed out, is to get where we need to go by whatever means necessary. You can use a map or simply strike out with a flashlight and walking stick. Either way, the road is going to teach you what you came to learn.

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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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Belief

June 25th, 2015

Whether you are writing a book, or starting a business, or attempting a seven-foot high jump, you must first believe that it is possible to do what you are about to do. Belief is more than a self-help buzzword; it is the starting place for nearly everything humans have ever attempted and accomplished. If I believe it is impossible to do something, I will not attempt it; if I believe it is possible, I might.

In this way, belief is more important than evidence. Someone might show me evidence that it is possible to become, say, a successful writer. They might show me hundreds video interviews with writers who were themselves once upon a time nothing but young men and women who thought it would be cool to tell stories for a living. No matter how many videos I was shown, I could still choose to believe it impossible.

Likewise, someone could show me evidence that it is impossible to become a successful writer. They could quote statistics of how many writers try and fail, how many manuscripts are rejected by agents and publishers. They could tell me I have a better chance of winning the lottery and that to succeed I must be both lucky and talented. They could tell me all of this, and I could still choose to ignore that evidence and believe it possible.

I have lived most of my life taking my own belief and disbelief for granted. I had allowed the concept of belief to drift into the airy realm of superstition and desperation. Yet it is nothing less the foundation of my entire life, the only springboard from which any idea can launch. It has never been my job to accept reality, only to believe in the reality I wish to enjoy.

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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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Evolution

June 23rd, 2015

More people are writing more often than ever before in the history of mankind. More people are also sharing that work, whether in traditionally published books, independently published books, blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook posts, emails, or even comment pages. The digital age has created a generation of writers and authors, if you define an author as anyone who has ever shared anything with another person – which I do.

If you’re a little older than, say, thirty, and if you’ve always wanted to write, and if you grew up with the dream of entering what used to seem like the rarified air of the Published Author, it is easy to view this new development grumpily. Now any clown with a keyboard and an Enter key can become an author. This publishing proliferation has cheapened the position of the author. To be an author one need be an authority on nothing other than one’s own strident opinion. Where’s the value in that?

For me the value is everywhere. Not that long ago, much of the population didn’t even know how to write, let alone publish. In this way, writing is evolutionary. Let everyone on earth meet the blank page and ask, “What would I like to see there?” What a question. To answer it is to meet one’s own creative identity as little else can. To answer it is to confront the reality of free will, the fluidity of thought, and our connection to something that has taken on many names over time.

Most of all, writing asks us to be responsible for the life we are living. The blank page simply will not fill itself. Only our choices will fill it, and we can only choose from thoughts we are thinking, and we can only think about what we are focused on – and we can focus on anything. We can focus on genocide or flowers, argument or cooperation. We are as free as our boundless imaginations. So what do you want to see on the blank page? The answer to that question is how what we have come to call reality is created.

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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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Agreeing With Life

June 22nd, 2015

I have spent more time teaching writers in the last two years than I had in the previous forty-eight. Most of the writers I work with, either as clients or students, come to me in the second half of their life with the book they have wanted to write for some time. Most of the writers, if they forget to be afraid, or to doubt themselves, or to doubt whether anyone would want the book, can write as well as anyone would need to tell the story they want to tell.

The challenge for these newer writers is not skill, although they usually believe so. The challenge is creation itself. To write a book is to confront the reality of making something on purpose. Writing a book is not like deciding to paint your own house. There is no list of dos and don’ts that, if followed and married with time and labor, will produce a satisfying product. To begin a book is to begin a relationship, bringing with it all the joy and confusion inherent in all relationships.

Trust is the foundation of all working relationships. Without trust all relationships are slaves and masters. Without trust anyone is a potential enemy. To trust a friend is to know that despite arguments and misperception, your goal and your friend’s goal remains the same: love. To write a book is to trust that my imagination’s goal is the same as my goal. I don’t get to boss my imagination around; I don’t get to tell it where to go. My imagination and I must agree to go somewhere together, or we will not go anywhere.

In this way, creation contradicts the story that we are ever alone. I cannot create alone. I don’t know how. I alone don’t know what a story is. I alone don’t even know what the right word is. I know what the right story, the right scene, or the right word is when I have reached agreement in this relationship. Fortunately, there is no better feeling in my life than this agreement, for it is agreement with life. And that is how you write a book: you agree with life. The rest is just details.

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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

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Free Time

June 19th, 2015

It is officially summer in the Kenower/Paros household, meaning our homeschooling – such as it was – is over. Meaning, I have a lot more free time. Free time is always great in theory, but not always in practice. It is every bit the blank page of my day, except that I have far less practice filling it.

I remember the summer conversation I would have with my younger brother more or less every morning. “What do you want to do?” I’d ask. “I don’t know,” he’d reply. “What do you want to do?” “I don’t know,” I’d say. We’d spent our school year waiting for this, talking about this, filling this in our imaginations, only to be confronted with the long, muggy emptiness of it. This was our emptiness, of course, which made it better than school, but sometimes only a little.

Time has a way filling itself if you let it, which is what I usually did as a boy. I am a man now, and I have trained myself to place different expectations on my time. This is one of the great reliefs of writing. When it’s going well, I forget all about time. While I am writing, I am as unaware of time as I am the chair in which I sit. But then I am done writing, and I hear again the wall clock announcing every new second, and the chair tilts as I lean back from the desk, and I have free time to fill.

My brother has a full-time job now, so I can’t bother him. I wander to the window, and notice that the bush by the gate is looking mangy, and the clovers have begun their yearly creep. I am uninspired. Not surprising. I am looking in the wrong place for inspiration. The blank page offers no advice or direction, only an invitation. That the world looks like a page already written is a trick of memory, mistaking what has already been for what is possible, mistaking time for measurement rather than an invitation.

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

Guided By No

June 18th, 2015

Most writers will have their work rejected. Sometimes this rejection is a product of work being submitted prematurely, but usually it is a consequence of being human. To be sane, a human must be able to say No. And although I love it when people say Yes to me, writing has taught me that my freedom and security are in direct proportion to my willingness to let people say No to me.

My goal is to write stories that I love to write, teach classes that I love to teach, share perspectives that I love to share. No one in the world can tell me what to love, and no in the world can tell me that I don’t love something. No one in the world can tell me what to teach or write or what to focus my attention upon. I am necessarily alone in that decision, for that decision is the most important decision I will ever make.

I tried for a very long time to write stories that I did not love to write. I did not understand at the time that I did not love to write them. I was like a man who had lived in a loveless marriage for years and did not understand there was any other kind of marriage in which one could live. Fortunately, the agents and editors to whom I sent these stores said No. I was a very determined fellow, and so I got to hear a lot of No’s, and I was not happy about any of them.

Eventually, all the No’s guided me back to the Yes I had been looking for. Now there is no longer the question of whether I am good enough, or talented enough, or smart enough; now there is only the question of how I will share what I had found. Now I am free to say No to all the stories I had once believed I had to tell, which freed me to say Yes to the ones I do want to tell.

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

Hard Work

June 16th, 2015

I used to believe in hard work. Hard work was the means by which I would beat a path through life’s thickets and thorns toward success, that clear place where I could rest and know peace. If it was easy to get this place everyone would be there, and I could see in the faces in the crowd, and I could hear in all the stories I was told that most were trying, or wishing, or turning back. If the difference between finding this place or not was hard work, then a little sweat and struggle seemed like a small price to pay. I’d heard that nothing in life is free; apparently this was so.

Writing could be hard work. I didn’t always feel like doing it, but oh how I hated myself when I didn’t. So I’d write no matter my mood. If I wasn’t interested in my story, or nothing was coming, I’d write anyway. If I thought I had no talent, I’d write anyway. If I thought no one would like what I liked, I’d write anyway. It was hard, and I didn’t look forward to it, but such is the price of success.

Sometimes, of course, it went differently. Sometimes I wasn’t in the mood, but after a paragraph or two I found that I was in the mood. And after another paragraph I was interested in my story, and then I didn’t care about talent or what anyone thought, then I only cared about the story and what was going to happen next and then next and then next.

And then I’d be done, and I wasn’t tired, and as I sat back from my computer I couldn’t for one moment call what had just happened hard. In fact, I couldn’t even call it work. What was most disorienting of all was the calm I felt alone in my chair not writing. Something within me had come to rest – had actually been at rest even while I wrote. What was I now to believe in? The peace I felt in that small and inglorious moment, or the peace I believed I would know if I only worked a little harder?

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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

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Meeting

June 15th, 2015

Children can get tired of being told what to do pretty quickly. The novelty of being human wears off, and while there’s still a lot they don’t know about the world that all of the adults around them know, they’d rather learn about it in their own time and by the route of their own curiosity. This is why a parent’s jokes can often fall flat. It is easy as a parent to become so preoccupied with your child’s wellbeing that even jokes become a form of caretaking, delivered like chicken soup to raise their poor little spirits.

I am happy to report that my boys laugh at a lot (though by no means all) of my jokes, and I believe this is because I never try to make them laugh. Instead, I make myself laugh and look for crossover. It’s an important distinction. I know my boys are fierce about wanting to make up their own minds, which means they must be given full permission not to laugh. The only way to give that permission is to not care whether they find it funny, only whether I find it funny.

Of course I do want them to laugh, and so this is why I look for crossover. I notice the type of humor we both find funny and aim for it. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. Either way I’m still laughing, sometimes to their annoyance. I married my wife because there was so much crossover. That crossover is where we really meet, usually in love, sometimes in frustration.

I’m looking for this same meeting with my readers, but I do not have the luxury of observing their reactions. Moreover, I do not want to. The page must be as open to my full curiosity as my own mind. It is the only way to meet myself, without any requirements or expectations, and when that meeting occurs I believe I have given my readers the best opportunity to find themselves.

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

Leaving Room

June 12th, 2015

The suspense novelist G. M. Ford is an outliner. He’s a practical man, and he believes in plotting a journey before you begin. However, during our conversation several years ago, he described his process this way: “Yeah, you got to plot it out. You got to know where you’re going, and what your beginning and end are. But you don’t want to plot too much. You want to leave room for the magic!”

The magic is the only real reason I write. Even in these little essays, which are always about one small idea and often an idea I’ve thought about and talked about and thought about some more, I leave room for the magic. And leaving room is exactly what I must do. The magic – the unplanned, inspired, original, alive thought – needs space. It cannot coexist with my old thoughts, no matter how inspired they were once upon a time.

But leaving room requires trust. The empty space I clear in my imagination, which is the invitation to the new and inspired thought, cannot be perceived as a threat my self-worth. I’m a man of action, after all. I like to do stuff and get stuff done and then do some more. Oh, the satisfaction I feel after a productive day, and how grumpy I can become after a day spent drifting and not creating, my mind sent spinning into circular stories of the nothing my life is in danger of becoming.

So the empty space I must allow to invite the magic is not the natural impulse for a fellow like me. Yet it is as essential to creation as the blank page is to writing. What’s more, it is the true peace for which I am searching in all my doing. There is no anxiety in the room I leave for the magic, nor is there doubt or indecision or comparison. There is only love and the asking for more love, a garden that will grow itself as long as there is room to grow.

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

A Writer’s Inspiration

June 11th, 2015

What is a writer’s inspiration? Here is what all creative people value: to find oneself fueled as if by command from within to put into the world that which can only be seen by the imagination’s vivid eye. We value that fuel as it propels us past logic and doubt, past reason and comparison. The writer’s inspiration does not share the writer’s fear of failure and judgment. The writer’s inspiration says simply, Create this, and you will know in the creating why you must.

The writer’s inspiration asks only that the writer does not doubt its reality. Doubt its reality and you have lost all sight of it, and so you say, “Look! It was never real. Doubt has shown me the truth. I have cast the light of skepticism upon this thing I could never see, and now it is gone. I am alone, as I have always suspected.” Do not make doubt your friend. It is crafty in its insidious logic. It asks of the writer’s inspiration what it cannot possibly produce: proof of the value of what has not yet been made so that it knows it is worth making.

Doubt is no friend to creation. Love is creation’s only companion. The writer knows his inspiration’s value only has he knows what he loves. Nowhere can your love be proven. In no court could your love stand the withering eye of reason. All that we can say of love is that we know it.

You love your inspiration as you love your friends. You trust your inspiration as you trust your friends. You may believe on some dark night that you trust a friend because he has proven himself through deeds to be worth trusting – but you know this is not so. You know that only in trusting does a friend become a friend; only in trusting do you allow a person to reveal himself to you. So too is it with the writer’s inspiration. Your trust is inspiration’s invitation, the open door of your heart through which love seeks its voice.

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