The Big Time

December 18th, 2014

I was twenty-four and in the middle of writing my first screenplay with my brother. We were writing it as quickly as we could so that when we arrived in Los Angeles, we’d have something to show to the agents and producers we were hoping to somehow manage to meet. I wanted to write it in the same way I’d written the sketch comedy show he and I had been performing for the last few years, which was to tap into the funny, tap into the cool, tap into the interesting I felt within me and let the funny, cool, and interesting find its way onto the page.

But I couldn’t write this screenplay like that. It had to be able to impress agents and producers who, as I understood it, thought in terms millions of viewers and tens of millions of dollars, whereas my sketch comedy show on a good night performed to around 80 people and earned us slightly more than nothing. I had to write for The Big Time, and I wasn’t sure what that meant. I was not sure if my funny, cool and interesting was funny, cool, and interesting enough. So I smoked a lot of cigarettes plus a few other things, and didn’t sleep much, and caught a cold, and began to hear a great clock in the sky ticking its way down to the end of my creatively viable youth.

Then one evening my brother was at work and I wasn’t, and instead of writing more of the screenplay, I decided to describe what it felt like to catch a pass from my father. In one longish paragraph I wrote about the pleasure of running flat out down an open field, tracing the path of the ball in the sky and timing my run and my extended arms so that the ball and I would meet. I wrote about how I couldn’t do this often enough, and that even though I was technically practicing for our Sunday touch football games, was technically getting better so our team could win, the pleasure was all in the running and finding how my father and I were connected through that ball.

I spent an hour writing that paragraph, and when I’d finished, I sat back in my chair and felt something I hadn’t in quite some time. I didn’t want to leave the chair, in fact, because as soon as I did, I knew I’d be caught up once again in the momentum of my day, of which that screenplay was now a part. I wished for a moment that that this was the momentum of my day – the quiet, profitless knowing after writing something just to write it, of catching a ball just to catch it, of living a life just to live 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
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The Organizing Principle

December 16th, 2014

Think about all that you love. Think about the people you’ve loved. Think about the books you’ve loved to read and the stories you’ve loved to write. Think about the games you’ve loved play, the meals you’ve loved to cook, the jokes you’ve loved to share.

Who chose these thing for you to love? It wasn’t you, was it? Did you choose to love the people you love, or did you observe that you love them and then choose to follow that love? Did you choose to love the movies you’ve seen or the books you’ve read? Indeed you have not. The power of love comes from its guiding impulse, offering us its effortless path, along which we may surrender the illusion that we must build our world and find the place for every stick and stone along the way.

For writers, love is our first and best teacher. We say, “Write what you love,” meaning, give over to the Organizing Principle of Love. There are limitless stories that could be told, all of them worth telling by someone. Love provides the focus for your work, and teaches us to find its current in ourselves. Within the current is effortlessness; outside of it, we feel the dizzying struggle of trying to make what was never ours to make.

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 Balancing Act

December 15th, 2014

Writing can happen in one place and one place only: The Present Moment. It cannot happen in the past, though we might – while in the present moment – focus our attention upon some past event for inspiration or material. But the writing itself happens in the present moment. And of course it can’t happen in the future, that sometimes near, sometimes very distant land where the story we’re writing will live when it’s finished. All creation happens in the present moment, because that is all that actually exists.

I have to remind myself of this every time I sit down to write. How easy to let my attention drift into the past, where I believe all my failures reside. Failure always lives in the past, in whose shadows, like a moss, it can thrive. In the bright hot light of the present moment – in which life is only potential, in which life is only forgiving, in which life is only curious – the concept of failure has no purchase for its hopeless roots.

And how equally easy to let my attention drift into the future, where I believe the value of what I am creating in the present moment will be revealed. I don’t want to waste my time, after all. Why write something that no one wants to read? To ask such a question is to hold my stories hostage until such time as the ransom of other people’s approval has been paid.

Which is why I have learned to ask myself two questions while I write: What do I want to say? And, Have I said it? Only the present moment can answer these questions. But keeping my attention where it needs and actually wants to be is a kind of balancing act, pulled as I am to the past and future. Drift too far either way and I will fall. No matter. The support of present moment remains ever true, and I need only return to standing to find myself where I have always been.

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

Your Job

December 11th, 2014

If I was only allowed to give my writing students one piece of advice, it would this: Pay attention to how you feel. Not sure whether you should write fiction or non-fiction, romance or thrillers, literary fiction or memoir? Pay attention to how you feel when you consider each possibility. Which feels the most exciting to begin, and which feel the most effortless to return to?

Not sure if a scene is working? Pay attention to how you feel as you write and reread it. Do you feel interested as you write it, or are you just trying to get your character to the next scene? Do you actually care about this scene, or is it merely something you’ve intellectually decided belongs? It always feels better to be interested than disinterested, and your writing improves the instant you give your attention to something in which you’re authentically interested.

Not sure which word to use? Pay attention to how you feel as you choose it. Your story isn’t a jigsaw puzzle. In a jigsaw puzzle you see the piece snap into place. In a story, you either feel the word being received into the sentence, or feel yourself forcing it there. Learn the difference, honor the difference, and have the patience to wait until the right one comes along.

What a fantastic tool is our felt understanding of life. Every time we focus on something interesting and exciting we feel good, and every time we force ourselves to focus on something less interesting we feel less good. And every time we devote ourselves to what most interests us success flows to us with less and less effort, and every time we devote ourselves to what does not interest success comes slowly if at all. It is completely predictable and dependable. So that is your main job, you writers you: feel good. The rest will just 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

An Authentic Reward

December 9th, 2014

I don’t tend to use a lot of adjectives when I write, though this was entirely an evolution rather than a conscious choice. I say this because low-adjective writing is very much the way in MFA programs, in part because of fashion, but also for very good reasons as well.

One problem with adjectives: they often pass judgment. I might write, “It was a sunny morning,” which is a fact. If I write, “It was a glorious sunny morning,” I am now telling a story, as it were, about that morning, telling you it is glorious. Its gloriousness is entirely subjective. There’s nothing wrong with subjectivity when it is used deliberately. For instance, in the case of this aforementioned morning, I, the writer, might understand the morning is not factually glorious, but I want the reader to understand the narrator perceives it as glorious. That is a fact.

The second problem with adjectives: they are often used in place of authentic feeling. Perhaps I would like to write about that same morning. Perhaps it was a morning I had lived, and which I had found glorious. By inserting glorious I am simply remembering the fact that I once found this morning wonderful, the way I remember that 2+2=4. On the other hand, if I return to that morning in my imagination, and if I feel again what I felt then, I can share how I loved that morning, such as, “It was the first morning in months that I could recall caring that it was sunny rather than rainy, the first morning in months I stepped out my front door and wanted to thank whoever was in charge for the day.”

Writing for me is about sharing something that I feel, and the only way to share that feeling is to actually feel it, to return again and again to what I wish to share. Eventually, I dropped adjectives because I found I was using them when I didn’t trust myself. After all, feelings, unlike fact, can’t be seen or touched or measured or compared; only their expression can be observed. Their source, meanwhile, is known only to me. And so I must trust every time I write that I can find the way back to that source, a journey that remains writing’s first and only real reward.

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

Music Lessons

December 8th, 2014

For years my wife, herself a writer, was my first and only beta reader. Every draft of every novel went under her nose, and she’d return with her likes and dislikes. It was not a peaceful arrangement. Often her dislikes outnumbered her likes. I came to hate this process. I didn’t really want her feedback; I just wanted her to love it so I could send it to agents or editors with some confidence. Eventually, I relieved her of her duty as beta reader, and there was peace in the kingdom.

About the same time I stopped showing my wife my books, I started writing music. I discovered that using Garage Band I could compose anything from a pop tune to a piano sonata to a symphony. I was thrilled. I’d wanted to compose music my entire life but I hadn’t the time nor discipline to learn to play the piano well enough to write what I heard in my mind. Now I could put little black dots into the program, press play, and hear what I’d written. Sometimes what I’d written sounded like what I heard in my mind, and sometimes it didn’t. And sometimes I liked what I’d written more than what I’d imagined and sometimes I did not. I was my own beta listener.

I was so excited when I finished a song or a little symphony. Even though I had chosen every little black dot, the song still felt a bit like something I’d discovered on the radio. I was the beta listener, after all. And since I always liked the songs, and since whenever you find a song you like you share it with someone you love, I’d play it for my wife.

At first, she was as delighted as I was. “You wrote that?” she’d ask. “Yes!” I’d say. “Isn’t that cool?” Once she’d gotten over the shock that her husband of fifteen years was now writing music, she began to listen with a more critical ear, commenting, “Oh, that beginning’s really dynamic.” Or, “The middle kind of bogs down, don’t you think?” And then one day, after listening to my latest piece: “That just doesn’t work for me. It has no center.”

And that was when a miracle occurred. I didn’t care. To my own amazement, I did not care one speck that she thought it had no center. What she or anyone thought of this or any piece could not change my relationship to it, could not change why I’d written it, or what I’d learned writing it, or what I thought of it. The two experiences were totally separate. And I thought to myself, “If I learned to write music for this lesson alone, it will have been worth 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

Nothing Lost

December 4th, 2014

The stories we write are not unlike children we raise. We grow them with love and attention in our home and then send them out into the world where they will grow yet again. What becomes of your child will always be rooted in how that child’s life began in your care. So too with the stories you write. The relationship your stories eventually form with your reads began in your heart and your mind. But that relationship, strangely, has very little to do with you.

Imagine you had a child who became very famous. Once you said, “Sing Mommy another song. You sing just like a angel.” Once you argued with her, and laughed with her, and asked her what kind of cereal she wanted for breakfast. Now she stands on a stage and sings for ten thousand people. Those people might dress like her, might read about her life in magazines or fantasize of meeting her someday. To those people, she is like a dream, and at times it feels as if she is singing just for them, her songs speaking so directly to the longing and loss in their very distant lives.

And perhaps the story you write will becomes famous. Perhaps ten million people will read it, will give over hours and hours of their life to this story, will suffer and rejoice with your characters and see the worlds you wrote in their own unique imagination. If these people love that story, they will feel as if you’ve written it just for them, as if they had summoned it in answer to some question. To them, it will be their story, for it was their life it altered in some small way.

Or perhaps only a few people will read it. How many people read your book will affect certain experiences you have after you finished the story, but it will not change your relationship to that story. That is as intimate and personal as your readers’ relationship to your story. What changed in you in the writing of the story cannot be undone by sales or awards or reviews any more than a young woman could lose her adulthood when her mother tells her again how she sings like an angel.

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

Creators

December 2nd, 2014

You’ve heard the argument, I’m sure, regardless of where you stand on the subject. “If there is a divine and loving creator, then how the hell do you explain this mess?”

It’s an odd question, however, for a writer or even devoted reader to ask. Can you imagine writing a story or reading a story without any suffering? Can you imagine a story without cruelty, or loss, or death, or disease, or corruption? In fact, it wouldn’t be a story at all. It would be one of those sterile holiday letters from a polite relative.

We love the characters we write, and yet we absolutely require them to suffer. Without the suffering, how would they learn? Without loss, how would they know love? Without slavery, how would they understand freedom? If our characters already understood freedom, love, compassion, surrender, charity, honor, and humility completely and without error, their story, for our purposes, would already be over. After all, we read these stories because we are all still seeking to learn these things.

And if we are seeking to learn them, why then should we not expect to experience what we call suffering? Why then should we expect not to know the emptiness of loneliness when we have lost sight of love? Why should we expect not to feel the cage of slavery when we have forgotten that we are already free? And if it is so for us, why not for everyone the world over?

I would not wish suffering on anyone, I would not cheer and celebrate their suffering, but I will not mourn it either, any more than I would ask someone to mourn mine. To mourn it would be to call life cruel and random and indifferent, when in fact the exact opposite appears true. Life only wants for me what I want for myself, and so it speaks in the only language available, a language I have learned slowly over the years to translate into the story of my life.

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 Different Story

December 1st, 2014

I used to think stories were those tales I told my friends about that interesting thing that happened to me the day before, or those adventures I read in books, or those love affairs I saw in movies, or the crimes I watched being solved on television. Those were stories, and then there was life. Life, that Ocean of Now through which I swam, was reality. I often preferred stories.

But as a storyteller I am aware that my job is to select those details that provide the most vivid view of a perspective of the world I want to share. If I am introducing a character, I cannot describe every single detail about that character, from exactly how many hairs are on his head to the color of his underwear. All those details exist; they are real. Nonetheless, they must be omitted because they do not serve my story. I must choose to focus on a tiny fraction of the whole of reality to share the truth my story seeks to convey.

The details I choose to include and the details I choose to omit determine the story I tell. So too those details I choose to focus upon and those details I choose to ignore while I swim through the Ocean of Now called Life. It is physically and perceptually impossible for me to focus on all the details that make up the whole of reality. I can only face in one direction at one time; I can only be in one country, in one city, and in one room at one time. I can only have one conversation at one time. I can only read one book at one time or listen to one song at one time.

And I can only think one thought at one time. This is where the real storytelling occurs. How easy, when I poor my coffee in the morning and head to my desk, to think, “What’s the point?” I am a gardener who can perceive his seeds and the soil, but not the fruit of the coming tree. In that three-word instant I am living the story of a barren world where nothing I plant will grow. Who would choose to live in such a world? I just did. And I will continue to live in it, to call that story reality, until I choose a different story—and just like that, as if I’d picked a different book from the shelf, my world is fertile with possibility 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

Useful Villains

November 28th, 2014

Every story, like every life, requires contrast. If you want to write about love, you must write about loneliness. If you want to write about triumph, you must write about defeat. Everything is always seen more clearly against its opposite. A flashlight’s beam does not register in the middle of a sunny day, but it is a swath of clarity at midnight.

This is useful in a very practical, crafty kind of way. If you know the gift your story is trying to give in its end, then you also know the suffering through which you must first take the reader so that this gift will mean something. You must remind the reader of suffering so she can appreciate and celebrate the relief that comes when the suffering ends. In this way, the darkness of our stories is as much a gift as the light, and most writers learn to relish their stories’ darkness, as an actor often relishes playing a villain.

We do not always apply this reality to our own lives. Darkness is darkness, and in it we cannot see and are lost. Villains are villains, and their villainy is expressed in their desire to harm or obstruct us, not help us. But who better to teach you what you know than someone who disagrees with you and who requires your greatest clarity to bridge the gap of misunderstanding? And where better to perceive your own light than in your own darkness? It was there, after all, you first recognized that which you had always been shining.

And who better than a villain to teach us that we are safe? To perceive a threat where none exists and then to find the truth is to awaken to your inherent safety. It is not always so simple. After all, it is our belief in our frailty that summons a villain to us, and their arrival feels like proof of the nightmare we are dreaming. But with this villain, there is no victory or defeat; there is only the contrast between a dream and reality.

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