We Are All Authors Now

July 22nd, 2014

I spent this past weekend at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference. As is custom, on Friday night there was a book-signing event for all the authors, both those invited to teach and speak as well as attendees whose work had been published. This was a tipping point year. For the first time, the number of authors sitting behind a pile of their books outnumbered the number of people looking to have those books signed.

Such is the inevitable consequence of holding a book-signing at a writer’s conference in the age of self-publishing. It would be tempting to lament this imbalance, except that this imbalance is anything but. Rather, it is the recognition of what has always been the truth – that everyone has a story they want to tell and share with other people. With the rise of self-publishing, and blogs, and YouTube, and programs like Garage Band, we’re all authors and filmmakers and musicians now.

Fortunately, we are all readers as well. My boys often claim they aren’t interested in reading, though they spend most of their days doing just that, only on blogs and forums and wikis. The books I sold at the reading were sold to other writers who took a moment to climb out from behind their own stack. YouTube celebrities watch YouTube. Musicians listen to music. Entertainers, it turns out, want to be entertained.

I do not know how all this will shake down. Amazon currently boasts two million titles for sale, with more being added every day. With everyone promoting their latest $.99 title, social media can seem cacophonous with self-promotion. But I cannot believe that anything but good will come of people understanding that they have a voice and that it is worth using, that there is no true barrier to expression but the willingness to express. The gatekeepers were never real. They were servants of our own self-imposed silence, boogiemen born out of the secret hope and secret terror that one story or one life could ever matter more than another.

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

True Equality

July 21st, 2014

I was talking the other evening to a young woman about the concept of talent. She had heard me say that I didn’t really believe in it, that talent was just another word for love. This woman had just begun playing an organized sport for the first time in her life. It seemed quite clear to her that some people were conspicuously more talented than others. She loved to play this sport, and yet no matter how hard she worked she could not play it as well as certain women on her team.

Such is the trap we can fall into when we pit ourselves against one another on the field – a field we ourselves invented, a field that would have been nothing but a featureless expanse until we drew lines on it and said you must get here before everyone else. There is no doubt that if you tell a crowd of people to run, someone will run the fastest, and so we will call that person more talented than the others, and maybe – just maybe – infer that such talent raises that person’s value above the others.

But now imagine these people running were simply characters in a story you were writing. In the world of fiction, a loss is as valuable as a win, narratively speaking. Does the character need to learn humility? Perhaps a loss is just the thing, or maybe a close second. The outcome means nothing; the story means everything.

Why do we think life is any different? Do we really think true equality means lining up everyone, young and old, at some arbitrary starting line and then having everyone reach some arbitrary finish line at precisely the same time? Life cares nothing for your wins and losses; it cares only for you. How you will savor the story of your defeats when the time comes, relish in the meaninglessness of what you once called loss, for here you are still standing, having found more in defeat than you might have gained in victory.

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 Invitation

July 17th, 2014

Know your value. Know your job.

If you look for your value, you will not find it. If you look for your value, and if you believe you have found it, you will soon feel betrayed and valueless. You cannot find your value, you can only know it, the same as you must know the value of the story you will tell before you have told it. To seek your value is to question its immovable and immeasurable permanence, and this mere questioning is an intolerable grief against what you are, and your searching will be filled with anxiety and despair.

You are not some statue of gold, nor of stone, nor of assembled dust. You are not a thing separate from others, cluttering the way for those of greater value, in whom you have bestowed the treasure of perfection you now seek. You are an equal part of the whole, neither separate from, nor greater than, nor lesser than. You are not in anyone’s way, for no one could do anything without you, and you could do nothing without them. The world would collapse in an instant if the bond that connected us could ever be severed.

Your only job is to know your value. It is from this knowing that the stories you wish to tell will spring. It is in this knowing that you will draw readers to you, for as you know your value, so do they. Your value is their value, there is no difference, and so you can teach others what you know, which is what they already are.

Life simplifies immensely the instant you know your value and your job. Know your value, and you will not have to spend your days arranging proof of what cannot be proven. Know your value, and life will come to you, for you will have removed the obstacles to its arrival, the evidence you assembled to protect that which needed no protecting. This moment where you ask nothing of anyone is what you once mistook for loneliness. And yet it is the very opposite. This is an invitation to the whole of life, an invitation life can but accept, for accepting is all life ever does.

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

No Modifiers

July 15th, 2014

Writing is built on nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs color, pass judgment on, and celebrate those nouns and verbs, but left on their own, adjectives and adverbs would be nothing but a collection of opinions about nothing. You could write an entire book without a single adjective and adverb, and probably someone already has.

Maybe this is why love is my favorite word. It is both a noun and a verb. Love is both an experience and expression. You can be aware of love as a feeling within you, and you can actively love someone or something. In this way, it is both things at once. It is both some thing and something you do. It is really a sentence all by itself.

Which is exactly like every living thing. Every living thing is a complete sentence. Every living thing is both a noun and a verb, for everything is doing something, even if that something is growing or dying, even if that something is nothing, for not acting is still a choice, which means it is an action. Nouns and verbs, I think, belong to God, while adjectives and adverbs belong to people. We invented every one of them and can become enormously attached to them.

It is hard to see the world without adjectives or adverbs. I’m not really used to it. Things are good or bad, ugly or beautiful, or done perfectly or imperfectly. Everything seems to require my modification, my stamp upon it. The stamp is in my mind alone. What I call beautiful another calls ugly. The stamp does not exist, only the thing it would pretend to label, which I can see truly only when I call it love.

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

The Truth

July 14th, 2014

I love to teach as much as I love to write, and I teach and write for precisely the same reason. The reason I teach is not to share secrets of craft, though I am a bit of craft geek and I enjoy talking to people about narrative arcs, and showing and not telling, without watching their eyes roll up into the back of their heads. Nor is the reason I teach to offer insider information on the publishing world, though I am happy to do so, if only to eradicate the idea of insiders and outsiders.

In fact, I am not really interested in teaching writing, though it serves as a handy excuse to do what I love to do, which is tell the truth. That’s why I teach and that’s why I write. To tell the truth, my words must match my feelings. If I say I am happy but I feel worried, I am not telling the truth. If I say writing is at its core effortless, but I believe and feel that it is like working in a salt mine, I am not telling the truth. To tell the truth, whether in the class or on the page, I must first feel what I wish to say.

Fortunately, most of what I teach and most of what I write boils down to this: Everything is okay. That’s it. You can all go home now. Everything is okay. Everything is okay and always has been okay. You would think that three words would not be enough to inspire the 1,000-plus blogs I’ve written nor fill a four-hour master class, but they most certainly can and have. Everything, you see, does not appear to be okay. Quite the opposite, really. And so I need constant reminding.

And what better way to remember than to tell someone else that everything is okay. To tell someone else the truth I must first find that place within me where I know that everything is okay. I lose track of it constantly. And then I find it again. And then I lose it. And then I find it again. Every time I find it, whether on the page or in the class or even watering my lawn, the world tells me the truth right back. Every time I find it, what I feel, and then what I say, and finally what I see are the same. To find that balance is the only reason I do anything.

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

The Saint Within

July 11th, 2014

Every writer I know began as a young reader. Most read hungrily once they’d discovered the intimate pleasure of the written word. It feels like escape, this travelling through imaginary worlds. It does not matter what world you are reading about – whether it is the once-real world of Czarist Russia or the unreal world of Narnia – it is all imaginary, for your body is one place while your mind is in another.

But reading is actually the opposite of escape. No story can live without the reader’s emotional participation. The writer’s words are but directions to a place within the reader where sadness and joy and grief and curiosity and boredom and hope and despair reside. The words alone are a skeleton; the reader’s felt responses to those words are the flesh and blood of every story ever told.

What’s more, every story ever told grows from the same fertile thought: Life matters. It matters that someone fell in love or someone was crowned queen. It matters that a father and son were reunited. It matters that the killer was caught. Life is not just a bunch of meaningless crap that happens to us between birth and death. The story guides us to that place within us where we know life matters, where we know that we are interested for a reason, where we know that we matter and are living on purpose.

This is why stories and poems and songs were my church and my state growing up. I turned to them to remind me of what I so often forgot, what I so often lost track of in the hurly-burly of life’s circus. I had thought that I would need to make these heroes who’d saved me from myself less saintly, so that I could take my place beside them on the shelf. Instead, I found again the saint within me, the unblemished self who remains unaffected by my woeful stories of meaninglessness, who finishes the stories others had started, and who now begins my stories that others might finish.

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

Other People

July 9th, 2014

When I waited tables I dreaded the Customers From Hell. The CFH did not believe the world would bring them what they wanted. They placed their order, and as soon as I left the table the confidence I would return with their drink, their salad, their dinner, declined with every passing moment. I would see them craning their necks as I kicked the kitchen door open, and every drink and dinner was received with tepid thanks, my momentary timeliness merely delaying their inevitable disappointment.

Oh, the agony of waiting: To give your order and then rely on other people to bring it to you. Other people. The world is filled with other people, and how we need them to do anything, and yet how little control you have over them. Servers, husbands, wives, agents, editors, readers – all these other people, these souls who are not you and without whom you cannot be happy, without whom you cannot create a single thing of meaning. You give your order and you wait, and any dream of control you ever believed you possessed leaves with that sovereign servant.

For years I hated and feared the CFH. Why visit your misery here? Stay home where you can cook your every meal, clear your every dish, and be freed from the torture of trusting another human being. For ten years, for fifteen years I tried to soothe them with competence, but to no avail. No drink could be brought fast enough, no steak could be cooked Medium-Rare enough. There was always another opportunity to screw up, and so their fears confirmed, and so their unhappiness complete.

Until one evening a CFH sat in my station, and I stepped to the table, and looked into his fearful eyes and thought, “Be not afraid.” I was thinking it for myself so that I need not be afraid of him, but as I thought it, I saw something melt behind his eyes as well. For that moment the illusion called other people dissolved, and he and I were not in hell any longer.

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

It’s Happening

July 8th, 2014

Something is always happening.

How much time does a writer spend in a day where nothing appears to be happening? How many cumulative hours idle and un-writing before the keyboard? How many days with no word from editors or agents or contest judges? Nothing is happening. We wander our homes and apartments, surrounded by the exact same books and furniture as the day before. We turn on the TV, and isn’t that another rerun of Law and Order? Why isn’t anything happening? What must I do to get things to finally start happening?

Nothing. Because something is always happening. Movement is the only constant of the universe. You were not idle at the computer, you were waiting. Waiting is the silent awareness of movement and change. You cannot make anything happen, because something is always happening. You can only choose what happening you will join.

Life in this way is one endless playground, but how often has the writer wandered its periphery? How often has he stood by the fence watching the games in progress? Something is happening for them, he thinks, but not for me. Lonely me. Now an idea comes to the writer, as ideas do, and he wanders with it along the fence, and it is an interesting idea, and for a time he has forgotten to tell the story of how nothing is happening and he is not wanted.

And as the writer wanders, some player spies him by the fence. What is happening there? the player wonders. Why does it look like he’s doing something when he’s doing nothing? How wonderful that must be to live without the knowledge that this game must end, and then begins the dull, uncertain nothingness between games. How nice it would be if the game never ended, if something were always happening.

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

Just People

July 7th, 2014

Here’s why I was glad I went to my first writer’s conference: I learned that professional writers, agents, and editors were real people. Because I met them in person, instead of reading their names and bios on dust jackets or websites or catalogues, I began to understand these people as I understood myself.

That this, the agents and editors were just people who loved books but who had certain books they liked and didn’t like. The agents and editors disagreed about which books were good and which were not, and sometimes those agents and editors got snippy with one another about why a book was good or why a book was bad exactly as if they were just two people sitting at bar arguing about books and movies.

And I learned that professional writers, whose work I had often turned to as the faithful turn to ministers and prophets, were only people as well. Meeting them in person I could feel both their uncertainty and that very human resolve to find balance in the face of criticism and praise. That their criticism and praise might take place in the New York Times was simply a matter of degrees. In the end, praise is praise, criticism is criticism, and balance is balance.

I was grateful because I knew that I wrote books for people. Now I understood that I was sending my manuscript off to someone like myself, to a potential friend, not a soulless gatekeeper. And I was grateful because I was not a god or a prophet, I was a man who worried and rejoiced, who forgot and remembered. If that’s all writers actually were, maybe I was one them too.

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

The Resurrection

July 3rd, 2014

It was another in a series of hot summers, and nothing I was writing was selling, and Seattle’s dependable rain had ended weeks ago and now my lawn was dry. I didn’t like to sit on my back steps and look at a brown lawn rather than a green lawn. A brown lawn felt like a failed experiment, whereas a green lawn felt like a natural success. But the rain had stopped and there was nothing I could do. The sky giveth and then doesn’t giveth.

Then my sister arrived. She had come to Seattle for the first time in years so that her young family could meet my young family. My sister always had something to do. I cannot remember a time from our childhood to our adulthood when she didn’t have something to do. She had recognized at an early age that she was happiest when she was doing something. Her idle time, as far as I could tell, was spent mostly figuring out what she should do next.

She arrived at my house full of the exact same energy with which she used to go sledding as a girl. She was always the last in our family to leave the slopes. She was doing something and didn’t want to stop doing it. She strode – that is really the only word to describe how she usually walked – into my back yard, and stopped. She looked disapprovingly at my lawn.

“What’s with the grass, Bill?”

I shrugged. “It’s July. It just stops raining for like two months every year. What can you do?”

“Well, you could water it.”

Water it. I looked at my abandoned hose and the spigot to which it was attached. I knew scientifically speaking that there was no difference between the water that came from that spigot and the water that fell from the sky except that I could summon water from the spigot whenever I wished. Yet rain seemed nourishing to me at that time, and the hose’s water seemed desperate and futile. Still, it was worth an experiment.

I ran the sprinkler every night for the remainder of her visit, sitting on my back steps overseeing what I summoned. By the time she left, my brown lawn had grown green highlights. I had disbelieved this resurrection long enough that its appearance was miraculous to me. But only for a moment. I went on to water all the things I wished to grow, and what I had once called miraculous I now called 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