Good Enough

If you are like me, you have spent a certain amount of your life waiting. Perhaps you were waiting for that first published story, or that first publishing contract, or that first award. Or maybe you have been waiting for your first true love, or first great job, or simply your first big break. The waiting can take so many forms. There’s your life as you live it every day, and then there’s the life you can see all around you – the published books, the people in love, the cool jobs. If you are like me you have always been able to feel the difference between what you are living, and what you believe you could be living.

I lived this way for so long I grew accustomed to a nameless anticipation and dissatisfaction. If you had asked me, I would have said it had something to do with publishing a book, but it went beyond that. It permeated my entire life. I woke up with it and I went to bed with it. It followed me to work and joined me in all my conversations. On most days, I felt like a prisoner who had grown accustomed to prison, who would make the best of it, but who dreamed still of life beyond the walls.

The question I never seriously asked myself during that time was, “What do I think will be different when I stop waiting?” Had I asked it honestly, I believe my answer would have been everyone’s answer: “I’ll know I’m good enough.” Somehow the publishing contract, or the lover, or the job will answer that insidious question. Unless, of course, we decide the publishing contract isn’t enough; it needs to be a three-book deal, or it needs to be a six-figure deal. Enough can keep changing.

I would like to report that I was able to answer that question definitively for myself once and for all, but I have learned I must answer it every day. When I remember that I am already good enough, something does indeed change. I see opportunity I did not perceive before. When I was waiting for the answer, I believed that only someone who knows he’s good enough could go down certain roads. On the days I answer that question for myself, the only question is which roads I wish to travel, just as I ask myself which stories I wish to tell.

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

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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

A Common Mistake

I have always written, but for many years I also wanted to be a Writer. It was as important to me as the writing itself. The writing, after all, took place in private, but the Writer was the one who had to get about the world. If I could be a Writer, I believed, then I could feel as free in public as I sometimes felt in private.

I desperately wanted to be free. As a Writer, I would have no job. A job was something I had to do to feed and clothe and house myself. This wasn’t freedom. This was paid slavery. No, to be free I had to be paid for something I would have gladly done whether I was paid for it not. Being free meant no one could tell me what to do or when to do it. Being free meant I would listen only to that same voice that guided me through what I wrote.

What’s more, I only wanted to think and talk and do what mattered. To write a story or a poem or an essay is to focus on what matters most about life. In the solitude of writing, I was free to look beneath the dull surface of things, to see clearly what was so often obscured to me in the bright lights and hubbub of the world away from my desk. If I were a Writer, somehow such stuff would be left to other people. If I were a Writer, people would only turn to me for Very Important Things.

I never spoke of this to anyone, including myself. It seemed too narcissistic. Yet even such fantasies, summoned by the ego in moments when it was uncertain of its worth, have served as some kind of beacon for my life. I still want nothing more than to be free, to live my life as I want to live it, and I still seek to turn my attention to what I believe matters most. I had just mistaken being a Writer for being me.

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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 William at: williamkenower.com

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Free Time

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. 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.

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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 William at: williamkenower.com

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You Are Not What You Write

I realized recently that whether I’m writing, teaching, or even interviewing, I’m only interested in communicating one idea: Everything is okay, even though it looks like everything is not okay. As much I love this idea, I spend most of my days remembering that it is true. After all, everything often looks like it’s not okay. Which is why I love to write, teach, and talk to people about it. Nothing connects me to this idea more immediately than finding a way to share it with other people. The experience is a win-win, you might say: If things go according to plan, I get paid to find what I spend all my time looking for anyway.

I am not any different than any other writer. Romance writers love romance novels. Whether they are writing or reading romance, they love the feeling of a woman and a man finding one another against uncertain odds. So too science fiction writers and fantasy writers and suspense writers and literary writers. Each genre provides its own specific emotional experience, whether it’s the experience of finding the killer, or good conquering evil, or a son forgiving his father. In this way, the first benefit of writing a novel in your favorite genre is that you get to spend a couple of hours a day resting in the emotional climate of what you love most.

This is most important for me to remember when I share my work with other people. I admit that I prefer when people like what I’ve written to when they don’t, exactly as I prefer when people laugh at my jokes to when they don’t laugh at my jokes. I like it when people buy my books, share my blogs, write me letters, and attend my classes. But as much as I like these experiences, and as relevant as they are to my financial well-being, I mustn’t invert my true priorities. I cannot love those things I’ve created more than the feeling from which they were created.

As soon as I commit this simple error I become very confused and irritable. Now I don’t know where to look for what I seek. The work does not please me in the way it did while I was writing it. It can’t. The true pleasure I knew was from connecting to that which wanted expression. If I try to squeeze that same pleasure from rereading it or from dwelling on someone else’s praise of it, it is as if I am hoping for a burst of sweetness from gum that has been chewed beyond flavor. And worse still, if I dwell on other people’s criticism of the work, I feel as if I never loved what I was trying to offer in the first place. I had been wrong to think that I loved what I loved because someone else didn’t love it too.

In truth, once I’m done writing something, I’m on to the next thing. I hope other people gain something from reading it, the way I gained something from writing it, but as a writer I’m on to the next thing. I have to be. The next story, the next essay, the next class is the only place to find what I am looking for. I don’t have to look very far or long, of course. It’s always right there, as close as my own heart, reminding me that everything is still okay.

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

Unknown

In the middle of the Dark Years, when nothing I was writing was being read, I would occasionally threaten to quit writing altogether. “I will just quit it if things don’t turn around,” I told my wife.

“Really?” she asked. “And then what would you do?”

“I don’t know, but this ridiculous. I mean what’s the fricking point?”

“I get it, but what else would you do?”

It was a maddeningly unanswerable question. I was suffering. I knew this as certainly as I knew I was tired at the end of my day or thirsty after a run. But while I could sleep when tired or drink when thirsty, the power to end this suffering appeared to rest in other people’s hands. It was an unacceptable arrangement, a slave and slave master arrangement. More than to have my work read, I wanted to be free. I wanted my life to be my own.

Which is why I would threaten to quit from time to time. It was a suicidal choice, but sometimes it’s necessary to march yourself to that cliff if only ask, “Who’s making you do anything? Who’s making you breath and eat?” To take that leap is to remember the truth at last, as you fall freely into the unknown.

I’ll never be free from the unknown anymore than I can be free from blank pages. Those blank pages are my dependably unwritten future. They were also the answer to my wife’s question. When I wondered what else I would do, I perceived only a blank page, an unknown awaiting my attention, and the moment I stepped willingly into it, my life was my own again.

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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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Freedom

We show rather than tell because we cannot expect our readers to take our word for it. For instance, if I begin a story declaring, “Springfield, WA was a terrible town to grow up in,” I’m going to have to back this up with some evidence. Was it terrible because it was poor or because it was dull? Was it terrible because it was very conservative or because it lacked a sense of community? And who thought it was terrible? Surely not everyone. In this way, the adjective “terrible” is the accusation, and the details are the evidence offered for our reader-jury to pass their judgment.

I find this often comes up when I’m teaching memoir. It is not unusual for a student to write that the church in which she was married was ugly and that her father was distant. When I ask the student what specifically made the church ugly and her father distant, she often can’t say at first. She can remember only the feeling of being in the church, and the feeling of missing her father, which is why she told us, her readers, what she perceived as a fact. But to her readers, the church’s ugliness and her father’s distance remain unsubstantiated rumors.

In this way, the reading and writing of stories is wholly democratic. The writer must trust and allow the reader to draw his own conclusions. This democratic awareness of the reader can be very liberating to the writer. It necessarily loosens our grip on the stories we tell. The stories don’t really belong to us. All that belongs to us is our feelings about the story.

Which is what we must remember to prevent the awareness of the reader from putting us back in a cage. The moment I begin to believe that every reader must understand my story exactly as I intend, I have thrown myself into a maze without an exit. A reader’s understanding does not belong to me, and I will never find it in all my writing and writing and writing. All that I can find is the understanding for which I am searching, a search that sets me free not upon its conclusion, but at its beginning.

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

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A Necessary Mystery

Perhaps because the nature of my work is inspirational, and because as of this writing I am far from being a household name, nearly all the responses I receive to my blogs and Write Within Yourself are positive. And, whether from someone I meet at a writer’s conference or a comment posted online, I am always glad to learn when something I’ve written has reached and been of use to someone else.

Yet the more I hear from readers, the more I am reminded that my experience of writing something is always different than their experience of reading it. This seems obvious enough intellectually, yet this difference in our experiences, no matter how positive for both parties, often leaves me feeling as though somehow I have been misunderstood. If I wrote it and loved it, and they read it and loved it, how can there be any difference? Was I not clear enough?

Clarity rarely has anything to do with this difference. Two friends can sit side by side in the same theater watching the same movie and leave feeling equally delighted or moved, but both will have in fact watched slightly different movies. Both will have felt the story within themselves, both will have longed for loved ones to be reunited or feared the killer’s wrath within their own sovereign heart. Once they have taken that story’s journey from beginning to end, its unique emotional form belongs to the individual and the individual alone.

Or in other words, once I have finished a piece, what anyone else thinks of it is really none of my business. Am I tempted to believe otherwise? Most definitely. The lure of the fresh Amazon review is mighty. But my job is not to be understood; my job is to understand what I wish share and then share it as authentically as possible. What is actually understood by others after this translation remains a necessary mystery to retain the freedom that remains at the heart of 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.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Where I Am

I have dedicated my last two blogs in Author (February 2 and February 3) and yesterday’s blog on No One Is Broken to the concept of unconditional love. And by love I don’t mean only one person’s love for another person, I mean love in all its manifestations – passion, curiosity, peace, forgiveness, joy, enthusiasm, humor, confidence, calm. In short, every good feeling we would ever want to experience.

If anyone ought to know that love – or, more simply, what we feel – is unconditional, it is a writer. When I write I sit at my desk where, except for the sweep of the clock’s hand or the sound of traffic on the street outside my window, the conditions of my world remain essentially unchanged. And yet I can feel anything. I can feel excited or I can feel frightened; I can feel abandoned or supported; I can feel tragic or elated. I can feel the entire spectrum of human emotions, and all that changes is what I think, where I direct the light beam of my attention.

But oh, the rejection letters! Oh, the sales! Oh, my bank account! It’s all very well and good to sit alone at your desk, away from the bright lights and noises and opinions of the world and feel whatever you want to feel, but reality and all its jostling and requirements and disappointments is out there waiting. Writing happens in the sovereign kingdom of the imagination. Meanwhile, the sun will rise and set, markets will climb and fall, people will live and die no matter where we point our attention.

So true. But even though I prefer to write in the peace and stability of my office, I could write at a café, or a train station, or even the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. It wouldn’t be as easy as at my desk, but I could still do it. I could still pull my attention from two strangers’ conversation, from the train’s piercing whistle, from the shouts and urgency of commerce, and direct it toward the story I wish to tell. And once I had, I wouldn’t be at home, or in a café, or a train station or stock exchange, I would feel where the story was taking me, and that’s where I would be.

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

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The Organizing Principle

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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