A Friendly World

My son, whom my wife and I have homeschooled for the last five years, turned eighteen this winter and now talks frequently about how worried he is about his future. We – my wife, my son, and I – would all have preferred it if he could have graduated from public high school this spring. The known, after all, is always less unsettling than the unknown. But that was not our path. It became clear that he could no more have stayed in traditional schools than I could enjoy the life of a door-to-door salesman. So here we are.

Fortunately, I’m a writer who dropped out of college, which means I too have taken a somewhat less traditional path. I have had to make peace with the uncertainty of writing so that I could enjoy the freedom it affords me. This is not always so easy. There are times I envy my friends with careers that bring them into an office every day and for which they receive a weekly paycheck. I don’t envy them for long, however. I can’t pretend I could live any life other than the one I am living now. So here I am.

The biggest obstacle my son faces, however, has less to do with having been homeschooled than with his belief that the world is an unfriendly place. It is an odd perception, since for years I have watched the world of strangers treat him with staggering kindness. No matter. His experiences in school, where he was asked, for perfectly understandable reasons, to do things he wasn’t interested in doing, left him with the idea that to grow up and get a job and live an adult life would be school ten-fold – endless days of doing what he has to rather than doing what he wants to. As is always the case with these nightmare ideas, it is other people who will require him to live this life he doesn’t want to lead.

And so, as our academic schooling winds down, I have come to understand that my job as his father is to help him see the world as the friendly place it has always been. It is a good lesson for a writer to learn again and again. I cannot write for an unfriendly world of strangers whose reading desires I must somehow guess correctly in the privacy of my workroom. All I can know for sure are my creative desires, the guidance of my imagination and curiosity, whom I have followed faithfully now for these many years. How certain the future becomes the moment I remember that this is all I have ever needed to know.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Never Despair

I have to come think of my confidence as a kind of inner balance. It is natural, always available, but, just like my physical balance, requires my deliberate attention to maintain. It is easy to maintain my balance on a smooth and level surface, but it is more challenging, and requires greater attention, on a balance beam or a tightrope. So too my confidence: it is rather easy to maintain that inner balance doing something I love and surrounded by people I love, but it requires greater attention when the news is troubling or the rejection letters come.

If you’ve ever had a good day of writing, you’ve found this inherent confidence. You simply cannot have a happy, creative day of work if you have completely lost your balance. Writing that is alive and natural, that surprises and excites you, is a living, active expression of your confidence. That’s what your confidence sounds like. It will sound both new and familiar. It’s you, after all, but if you are like me, you spend a lot of time wobbling around the world, speaking in a voice not quite yours.

Life’s a bit of a balance beam. We prefer it that way, I think. We are never so alive as when we are giving life our full attention. But we will wobble. We will feel the pull of discontent as our attention strays to the unwritten future, to other people’s opinions, to judgment. Discontent, like the experience of imbalance, is only there to alert us that our attention has strayed. It is not punishment or proof of our inadequacy or life’s inadequacy. It is guidance back to ourselves.

Which is why I must remind myself daily to never despair. It is one thing to recognize discontent; it is another thing to pursue it. The gymnast never pursues imbalance; she adjusts. I have pursued discontent with savage determination. I have pursued it in the hope of destroying it, of wiping it from the earth. Noble of me, I know, but I always fail to eliminate what never existed. Our discontent is not a villain, it is not a problem, it is not a threat – it is the language of life, calling to us in a voice we all can hear.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Balanced Life

I love to celebrate happy events. I love celebrating when my favorite teams win a game, or when a friend comes to visit, or even when the news I watch and read is what I call good and not I call worrisome. And, of course, I love celebrating the sort of events all writers celebrate – the acceptance letter, the contract, the praise from my editor. I have a book coming out in about a month (Fearless Writing), and I’ll certainly be celebrating its release.

It can get a little addictive, all this celebrating. It feels so good to be happy, and sharing that happiness with other people; and it feels so awful to worry, and complain, and correct, and fix. How easy it is to let life become a seesaw between celebration and despair, as if all our days are merely sporting events we witness, whose outcomes, over which we have no control, determine our well-being.

Writing is such a calming antidote to this addiction. Every morning I bless the utterly uneventful blank page. There is nothing to celebrate or mourn on that page, just the question of what I would like to see there. The answer to that question resides in a realm where, I have come to understand, nothing ever happens by our definition of that word. It is a kingdom forever in balance, and it is my goal every morning to write something that is a true reflection of the balance I always find there.

And when I feel I have succeeded in that, even if only for a sentence, I celebrate a little. It is so nice when the outside and the inside align. That is balance. I can’t celebrate for long, however, as I’m usually already onto the next sentence. To fully maintain my balance, I have to keep moving, I have to keep growing, for every question answered on the outside sparks another question on the inside. To live is to learn to love the question as much as the answer; to understand that finding balance is as satisfying as having it.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Cooperative Nature

If I had never published a single word, the experience of choosing word after word and sentence after sentence would remain invaluable to me. To find a way forward with no path other than my awareness of the difference between effort and effortlessness, between the swift current of my inherent curiosity and the urgent paddling of my ego, remains an irreplaceable practice in how to live.

But I do not think I would have spent so much time finding word after word and sentence after sentence if it weren’t for the goal of someday publishing some of these words and sentences. If I weren’t interested even slightly in publishing what I’d written, I believe I would have found something else to do that I wanted to share with other people. As private as writing may be, as intimate as my relationship to my imagination will forever remain, I do not really understand the creative process without at least the concept of other people enjoying what I enjoy.

Not the money, mind you, nor the attention, nor the approval – just other people’s pleasure in what pleases me. I cannot extricate the creative process from this awareness any more than I can live my day-to-day life without other people’s cooperation, without other people stopping at stop lights, and stocking shelves in grocery stores, and writing books for me to read. Life is cooperative – it cooperates in sun, rain, soil, and flowers, and in writers, agents, publishers, and readers.

There is a reason solitary confinement is our most severe punishment besides execution. It is our attempt to deprive the flower of sun and rain. But even in this environment, the soil of consciousness remains. You can try to confine yourself in a silent cell, safe from winds of other people’s pleasure, but you cannot keep yourself from growing. You will either suffer in your resistance, or flourish in your cooperation – either way, you will grow and grow, from word to word and sentence to sentence.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Finding Stillness

If you’ve ever had a very good day of writing, a day where you found your story or poem or essay quickly, where you discovered something unexpected and exciting early on and spent the rest of your session pursuing it, because suddenly and quite completely, nothing else seemed as interesting and important – if you’ve ever had a day of writing like this, then you are familiar with the experience of being carried by a momentum for which you are not wholly responsible but of which you are wholly a part.

It is as a good feeling as you’ll ever know. You are both entirely free and entirely focused. Gone for the moment are thoughts of your value or mortality; now there is only this very interesting thing and your pursuit of it. It is such a good feeling, and can feel like such a relief, that it is easy to develop a drug-like relationship to it.

I have certainly made that mistake. I became so fixated on the momentum I forgot its source. I believed momentum alone was the answer to the question, “How shall I fill my days?” When I am caught in the momentum of a story I am telling, time disappears; when I am staring down a day with nothing interesting in my sights, time becomes a burden. Give me some momentum, I think. Give me anything – an argument, a game, a movie – anything to get me moving again.

In my desperation to feel better, I forgot that all momentum begins in stillness. It is in stillness that I find the seed of an idea worthy of my full attention. It is in stillness that I find again the balance necessary to move at full speed. It is for this reason that writing remains my greatest practice. To sit quietly in a chair, looking at a blank page, and find that life-giving creative momentum is to be reminded again and again of what is always available for me if I look in the right place.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Fearless Marketing

I have a book coming out in a month (Fearless Writing, May 12, Writer’s Digest Books), and in preparation I’ve been doing a bit of marketing. I’ve been guest blogging on Writer’s Digest’s website, I’ve been talking about the book on my Author2Author podcast, I’ve updated my website, I’m running a Fearless Writing Workshop, I’ve been arranging bookstore appearances and interviews, I’ve tweeted about it, posted on Facebook about it, and generally mentioned it whenever I could.

This, I’m told, is what a writer is supposed to do. This is how you’re supposed to drive preorders and prepare the reading public for the event that is the publication your new book. I certainly want people to know my book exists, and I would love as many people as possible to preorder it – but that’s not actually why I do all this stuff. I do it because I loved writing the book. I loved where I had to go to within myself to write it. I loved thinking about fearlessness and unconditional love and our inherent creativity. To write the book, I had to dive deeply into all of this, and I loved it.

But I’m done writing it. I can still think about what it means to write fearlessly, and I do, but there is nothing like focusing on something with the intention sharing it with other people to deepen my understanding of it. Which is why I keep looking for ways to “market” it. What is called marketing, for me, is just another excuse to focus on this idea I value, so that other people might share in its value.

I have absolutely no idea what the results of all my marketing will be sales-wise. Commerce remains a mysterious engine to me. No one can make anyone buy anything. Fortunately, the true payoff is immediate: I’m focused on what interests me most. That’s really all I ever want. Yes, I want to make money and keep a roof over my head and all that, but really I just want to focus on what Interests me. This is what makes me happy, and when I’m happy it doesn’t matter if I’m writing or marketing or teaching or just sitting and thinking – when I’m happy I know I’m doing what I’m supposed to do.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Not Normal

I was watching a Ken Burns documentary last night about a special school in Vermont designed for children who, for a number of reasons, could not flourish is a typical public school. At one point, the school’s therapist talked about the parents’ desire for their children to be “normal.” He would remind the parents that it wasn’t their child’s job to be normal; it was their child’s job to be themselves.

Of course, what the parents really meant was that they wanted to know that their child would succeed in some recognizable way, whether socially or professionally or romantically. It is easy to imagine how something will thrive if we feel we have seen that thing before. As writers, our success often depends upon our willingness to create something that hasn’t been seen before. While some of our stories will look and sound and walk like other stories, a piece of work’s true value always lies in the qualities that seem to belong to it alone.

And what is true of our work is always true of ourselves. You would be hard pressed to find a more normal-looking fellow than myself. If you passed me on the street you might mistake me for a TV news anchor. Yet I can feel out of place in my own living room. When I am out of sorts with myself, the world appears hostile and un-accepting, a symphony where nothing I can sing or say belongs.

It is not my job, nor anyone’s job, to belong anywhere. It is only my job to speak for myself. Oddly, every time I permit myself to do so, every time I ask what is the most honest thing I can say and then say it, every time I speak from the most personal truth I know, I find myself belonging where I had previously felt unwanted. There is nothing in the world more normal, more universal, than acceptance of oneself. What else is there for anyone? There is only the choice between a lifetime failing to be someone you are not, or succeeding in being someone you are.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

One Enemy

Writing your first story could be disorienting if you came to it a little later in life. After all, much of the stuff that concerns or alarms or annoys us seems to be outside of us. Sometimes a politician we don’t like is in power, or a war we disagree with is being fought, or a stock we own is going down, or a friend won’t call back, or a child won’t behave. If only all these things would work themselves out we might be happy.

Then you sit down to write a story, to create something that has never existed before, to say, “This is what I think is exciting, or funny, or profound, or clever.” Now the world is yours. Now there are no other people to clutter things up with their misguided plans and wrong politics and greed and selfishness. Now there is only you and your world.

How disorienting when you find yourself just as concerned and alarmed and annoyed as if there were a whole crowd of people in your office offering you lousy story advice. There is no one to point to or to blame. There is only what you believe is lovely and valuable and interesting and your willingness to share it. Who could have predicted that this simple transference from thought to page would have the power to summon the same host of woes as the front page of any newspaper?

I can blame with the best of them. At least once a day I feel certain that I would be ceaselessly happy if only other people weren’t so ceaselessly unhappy. Then I sit down to write and I quickly run out of excuses for my mood. Doubt is the only enemy standing at the gates of my imagination. Doubt can see the end of everything before it has begun, and has come to warn me of what I might have overlooked. He’s right in a way—every story is written by looking past what could be and toward what we still believe is possible.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Show Must Go On

Many years ago, I wrote a sketch comedy show with my brother, John, and my pianist friend, Dale. It was always a lot of fun creating the show. John and I would write the sketches and then share the drafts with one another, and we’d make them funnier together. Then we’d bring in Dale and he’d add music and we’d rehearse the pieces and they’d change again, altered organically as they moved from the two-dimensional page to the three-dimensional stage.

I was a bit surprised how much I enjoyed putting the show together. I was a writer first and an actor second, so I was used to creating things alone. As a fiction writer, I was every actor, director, lighting man, and choreographer. Yet I loved working with other people, loved watching how ideas I had had in the supreme privacy of my desk took on new shape in John and Dale’s imaginations, and I loved how their ideas inspired new ideas in me, and then my new ideas inspired ideas in them.

But plays are meant to be performed, so I had my artist friend Gorham make up some posters for us that John and I tacked up all over town. Eventually the night would come, and we three would be waiting back stage, listening to the building murmur of the arriving crowd. There was always a moment, shortly before the show began, when I would think, “What have I done?” I could feel the energy of the crowd, could feel how this night I had asked for and planned for was about to be turned over to something bigger than John, Dale, and me.

And then the curtain would rise, and we’d be in the lights, and there was the audience, the final ingredient in this creative stew. The show we rehearsed was never the show we performed. It was always different, because every crowd was different. The crowd was not aware of their role in the show, but I came to understand that the separation between actor and audience was an illusion. They finished what we had started, and every night we gave away what we had called ours, gave it to them, who gave us their attention and created something new.

 

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Still Free

Writers may ply their craft from the comfort of their favorite chair, but do not mistake what we do for sedentary work. Writing is all about movement, though it is the mysterious and limitless movement of thought. Every scene, every sentence, every word is a movement in a specific direction. Because thought can travel in literally any direction, we writers spend much of our time seeking the right direction. That direction is always the effortless direction, the path that the story, poem, or essay wishes to travel.

There is no better feeling than when I have found that path and am travelling it quickly. Now, choices seem to make themselves, though in truth I am still making them, only so rapidly and so certainly that they don’t feel like choices, just the next step on a clear and interesting path. Gone is that life-draining uncertainty from which all movement seems perilous, where every step might lead to some cliff of failure obscured by the shadow of time. I am free.

It feels so good to move in this way – to be caught and running in a fast-flowing stream of thought – that I can mistake all other experiences for compromises, a life settled for rather than a life explored. Worst of all is stillness, which can feel like the end of movement, the end of choices, the end of joy; the last, dull destination on a path to nowhere.

Except stillness is like the blank page itself, the source and fertile ground for all movement. Just as it is easier to find my balance standing still than walking a balance beam, so too it is easier to find that first effortless thought from a still mind rather than a mind racing to find some movement it can call success. To sit in my chair, to face that blank page, is to reacquaint myself with effortlessness in its simplest state. Once I remember what it feels like, I can proceed with my first step, and before long I am off and running.

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

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter