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

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Authority

I don’t like to deal with words in this way often, but I will today, and the word of choice is author. You may not ever think about it, but author is, obviously, the root word for authority. That is one powerful word, authority, no matter how you define it. Either you are the one making and enforcing the rules, or you are a respected expert whose opinion on any matter is tantamount to law. If you are an authority, ideas may begin and end with you.

I don’t think most writers, especially fiction writers, feel as though they have much authority. Writers work alone. Writers must submit their work for approval and acceptance. Writers frequently have no idea how the stories they are starting will end, merely following, child-like, Doctorow’s headlights on the road.

And yet a writer wishes to become an author. When you publish a book, or a poem, or a blog, you are not just its writer, you are also its author. And I know for myself that I moved from being a writer to an author when I granted myself authority within the realm of my work.

It wasn’t easy. I was waiting, unbeknownst to myself, to be given this authority from the publishing world. I was waiting for some agent or editor to crown me king of my writing world. But no matter how many agents represented me, no matter how may editors said, “Yes,” the authority seemed to elude me. Maybe if I was praised a little more, paid a little more, read a little more . . .

And then one day, before I had ever thought of starting Author, I wrote a blog. It was the first blog I had ever written. In it I wrote what I had longed for all my writing life to hear from some God-like publishing or writing authority. Not about me, but just about writing. I’m sure someone somewhere had written this, but I had never read it until I wrote it myself. It was like writing my own acceptance letter.

And when I was done I sat back and looked at what I had written, what I had self-published, and I thought, “It can’t be as easy as that.”

But it was.

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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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Valuable Advice

Imagine you travel back in time to 1994 England. You stumble on a young woman scribbling away in a notebook in a pub. She looks familiar somehow, and so you say hello, introducing yourself as a writer. “I’m a writer, too,” she says.

“What are you working on? You look very engrossed.”

“Oh, I am. I just love this story. It came to me in a flash. It’s about this boy wizard who has to go to this wizarding school. Only it’s not set in a magical kingdom. It’s set in modern-day England.”

Not wanting to create a time paradox, you limit your response to: “Wow. Sounds great.”

“I know,” she says, but begins chewing on a fingernail. “The thing is, it’s a children’s book – which, of course, never make money, my agent said so – and I’m dead broke. On the dole, as a matter of fact. And it’s long. It’s as long as an adult novel, and children’s books should be shorter. So I’m wondering if I should switch it around. Make it shorter, and also maybe set it in a proper magical kingdom, and maybe even take out the school part, because that’s not how fantasy books are written. I love the story, but I really want some kind of success. I’m a broke, single mum who failed at journalism. I just don’t know what to do.”

What would you tell her? Would you tell her she is at this moment sitting on a treasure beyond her gaudiest dreams of avarice? Would you tell her that all she needs to do is render as accurately as possible what she sees within herself and the results will astound her? Or would you tell her to look outside herself, at the market and what other writers have written?

It’s an easy answer in hindsight. It’s easy to name something’s value once a price tag has been put on it. It is not so easy maybe when you are alone at your desk, and a story has come to you, and it is similar to other stories but also different enough to both truly interest you and leave you worried that no one else will recognize its value. Yet I would never curse a writer with a time traveling advisor. Why deprive her of the chance to learn who really decides what something is worth?

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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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A Love Story

Before an author can find her readers, she must first find her story. She finds her story by asking herself, “What is the best story I can tell? What is so interesting to me that I cannot take my attention from it? What killer must I see brought to justice, or what woman must find love with what man?” The writer asks and answers these questions, and asks and answers these questions, until the story is told.

Now the author the needs an audience. She wrote this story to satisfy her own curiosity and then share what she found with others. The story is really not complete until someone else has read it, has filled in the blank spaces between the author’s brush strokes with their own imagination. So the author tweets about her story, blogs her story, Instagrams about her story, and travels from bookstore to bookstore talking about her story. By and by she discovers she has a readership.

And perhaps she does a little market research and asks those readers, “How did you find my story?” Some report stumbling over her book in a bookstore, others heard about it from a friend, still others from Facebook or Twitter or The New York Times. Yet all these answers are misleading. These answers say little more about how the reader really found a story than a wedding says about a marriage.

The way the reader really found the story was by asking, “What do I most want to read? What kind of story would be so interesting to me that I couldn’t put it down?” As she asks and answers this question, the reader by and by finds the story, and finishes in her own imagination what the author began in hers. The author-audience connection is in this way a love relationship, two strangers guided together by the single organizing principal of the universe.

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 William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

All Writers are Optimists

I am a glass is half-full kind of guy. I always have been, though for a while I found it difficult to maintain this optimistic outlook. This was at a time when what I was writing wasn’t being published. I really wanted to publish what I wrote. Nearly every day I thought about how much I wanted my work to be published and how it wasn’t. On most days, my publishing glass did not appear half-empty – it looked completely empty.

I was not happy with my empty glass, but I believed I was being practical. After all, I wanted that glass to be full. How was I going to fill it unless I remembered it wasn’t full? That emptiness was the hole in my happiness, and all my energy was devoted to filling it. And yet the more I stared and stared at what I didn’t have, the more it seemed I had nothing.

What a strange way for a writer to think. Every story is begun with an empty page. It is the perfect vessel for any story, poem, essay, or novel. Yet I when I look at the blank page, I do not see my story glass as completely empty or even half-empty. That’s because, though my eyes are resting on the page, my attention is focused where the story actually exists, in my imagination, that unseen realm where all stories begin. The only way for the story to move from my imagination to the page is give it my full attention. Only then will I be able to extend that story to the page in the form of my first sentence. And then extend it further with my second sentence. And then my third sentence . . .

What a miracle. Where there was nothing, there is now something. Except there is always something. Publishing is merely another extension of the story we have told, the next sentence, so to speak, in the story of how I shared something I loved with other people. That was the great secret to publishing success: giving what I’ve written my full attention, whether I’d just begun it or had finished it. The truth is, I am not even a glass half-full kind of guy. I’m a glass is always full kind of guy. That glass, like the story I’m still writing, just gets bigger and bigger and bigger.

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 William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Accepting Your Role

The author appears to be seeking acceptance from others. It is, in fact, our business model. Until we have received acceptance from others in the form of a publishing contract or book sales, we earn no money, nor can the story we told live in the imagination of others at it was meant to live. In this way, the author is not merely seeking acceptance but actually requires it to be an author. Without this acceptance, the author is nothing but a diarist.

For years I resented this requirement. It meant I had no power. What I thought of what I’d written seemed to mean nothing at all until someone else approved of it. During these bitter years I dreamed of my freedom, a day when I had received enough acceptance that I was no longer required to seek it. These dreams were often filled with the brief and shallow pleasure of praise and applause that was like the pleasure of drugs.

Yet even within these dreams I would also conjure an image of myself that felt both familiar and foreign. Here was a man who was done worrying about what other people thought him. If I were an actor I could have played him convincingly, could have found within myself the knowledge from which this stranger lived. But like an actor, what I had come to call reality waited for me beyond the curtain, a story of pure improvisation in which I’d taken a minor role.

I suppose I am still an actor today, except I have decided to play the role in which my dreams had cast me. If you do so long enough, it doesn’t feel like acting anymore. There are still days in which my life feels more like a performance than I would like, but this is a natural consequence of peeking at the audience. For a moment, my wandering attention disrupts the dream we had all come to the theater to believe, until I call it back, and return to the role I was born to play.

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 William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Gift and Challenge of Writers’ Conferences

In a couple weeks I’ll be teaching at the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Conference. If you write and you live in the Northwest, I highly recommend it. If you write and you live elsewhere, I recommend you find a conference near you and attend it. Though be warned: the very thing that makes writers’ conferences so inspiring, grounding, and rewarding is also what makes them so very terrifying to most of the writers I meet there – namely, other people.

First, it’s great to learn or remember that there are other people like you, other writers who must find time between work and children and husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends to write; other writers who would rather write than market what they’ve written; other writers who feel blocked sometimes; other writers who feel strangely alone when they try to talk to non-writers about the characters who talk to them when they’re alone at their desk.

And you’ll meet writers who are maybe more established than you, who have seen their books climb to the tippy-top of bestseller lists, or have won prestigious awards, and you will discover you have more in common with these writers than you imagined. They too worry that no one will be interested in what they’ve written; they too find themselves in the middle of a story with no idea how to reach its end; they too freak out when a manuscript comes back from their editor slashed with red ink.

And you’ll meet editors and agents, those otherwise faceless gatekeepers, and you will learn that they are more like you than you imagined. If you listen closely, you will notice that the publishing world, the world of acceptance and rejection, of advances and sales, is a world run on preference and intuition and hunches. You will learn that an agent or editor can’t predict the future (though they might claim they can), and that their choices are guided by taste and desire the same as your book was written through the pursuit of your taste and desire.

All of which will be tremendously helpful in putting this writing business into its proper human perspective, if you can resist the temptation to compare yourself to any of those people. In my experience, the temptation to do so is immense. The writing world is filled with comparison. We compare ourselves when we give awards, when we glance at our Amazon ranking, when we learn what another writer received as an advance. We compare ourselves when we edit other writers in our imaginations, thinking what we would have done and wondering why they did what they did.

This comparison is always as frightful as it is useless. Everything wonderful you have ever written or created or thought or loved or hoped for has flowed from a place within you, where the only comparison that occurs is the understanding of the difference between that which is in service to your story and that which is not. Writing’s dreamlike pleasure is freedom from that other comparison, within which lurks the quiet thought that when your score is tallied, you’ll come up short. This is the assassin of fears: What if I’m not good enough? To even ask the question is to kill your desire to create anything.

Fortunately, the question is unanswerable, so it need never have been asked. In fact, you can stop asking it anytime you want, and you’ll find its death grip on your imagination is instantly loosed. I know it is less dramatic to have always been good enough, to see victory and loss as just scenes in a drama of our invention, but it remains the only understanding from which you can create. And in truth, it is not so hard to look around a writers’ conference at all the other people worrying and rejoicing, arguing and agreeing, and see writers whose stories are varied, but whose love of storytelling shines equally bright.

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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

Follow wdbk on Twitter

A Generous Reminder

I was not an industrious teenager. I considered work a joyless requirement to provide this strange stuff called money of which I never seemed to have enough. Periodically I would get some of this money and I would wonder what I should do with it. When I discovered the wicked addiction of video games, I would sometimes go down to Charlie’s Hot Weiner’s and blow the entire $10 I had just earned mowing Mrs. Allen’s lawn in a thirty minute, quarter-by-quarter, alien-killing frenzy. On such days, I would walk home from Charlie’s having gained nothing in exchange for my $10 except a vague itch to play again.

But sometimes I would take this money to a bookstore or a record store. The exchange of money for music or stories was more than fair. In fact, if it was a book or song I truly desired, I couldn’t give the cashier my money fast enough. Take it, take it, I would think. It’s nothing, and yet what you’ve given me is something, for it feels like happiness.

I know the saying about what money can buy you, and it’s true happiness was not what I had actually bought. What I had bought was a reminder for which I will always pay gladly. I think of this exchange when I am the one selling. If what I am offering is any kind of a reminder, our exchange is always a fair one. After all, I have lost nothing. Within me still burns that feeling of which I was reminded when writing. Meanwhile, with luck my customer will be reminded of something more valuable than $9.95. With luck, they will be reminded of themselves.

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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

Getting Published, Or How To Remember What You Already Have

Publishing, whether we are paid for it or not, is always an act of sharing. I have a story, and I’d like to share it with other people. It is not accurate to say I am giving the story away. It is not as if the story is a single copy of a book and I am giving that book to someone else – once I had it, now I don’t. I still have that story, as I will always have that story, even as readers make that story their own in their imaginations.

But for the writer, publication and its many consequences can often turn into wanting to acquire what we believe we don’t have. If I do not have an agent, then I will want an agent. If I have never been published, then I will want an acceptance letter when all I have are rejection letters. If I have never been on a bestseller list, or won an award, or been reviewed in the New York Times, I might want those things too.

And by want, I mean that I believe my life will be better when I have one of those things. If only I had an agent, then it would be easier to sell my books and I would be happier; if only I had a publishing contract, I would be happier; if only I had won the National Book Award, hit #1 on the list, talked to Oprah . . . on and on it goes. Why, it’s almost as if the very decision to share my stories with other people merely brings my attention to how little I actually have and how much happier I could be.

This can turn publishing into a quietly miserable pursuit, and success is impossible within this environment. I can’t create what I don’t have; I can only grow more of what I do have. When I am unhappy, all I can share is my unhappiness, for that is what I have. On the other hand, if I love science fiction, I focus on how much I love it and write a story from that place. It is not true that this story came from nowhere; it came from my love of science fiction, which exists before and after the story is written. Whether that story is published or not, I still have my love of science fiction, and I still have what I discovered in writing my story.

As you send out your query letters, as you wait to hear from your agent, as you check your ranking on Amazon, remember where the stories you are sharing came from. Whether you sell a hundred copies or a million copies, the source of those stories will not change or move or dim. You will always have it. You couldn’t get rid of it if you tried.

I say this, having known the misery of believing I have nothing. I have stared and stared and stared at what I don’t have until my world looked empty. What a strange trick to play on myself. It’s like looking at a garden ripe with planted seeds and calling it a desert because nothing has bloomed. When the flowers finally come – and they always do – the relief I feel is like waking from a nightmare. The order of creation is still intact, and I need only choose which seed of a story I will water with my attention.

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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

Adventures in Marketing

I was twenty-two and had written a batch of poems in a brief creative dash. It had been years since I had finished so much as a short story, and the satisfaction of having something completed, even if it was only eight lines, was addictive. Plus most of my poems were like little monologues, and I loved the theater, so it was a happy discovery that I could marry these art forms.

My mother’s friend Tina also loved poetry, so much so that she had started her own literary journal. Word trickled down to me that Tina would be hosting a poetry reading at the University of Rhode Island, and if I wanted to I could read as well. I was quite nervous waiting my turn there in the classroom with all the other poets, but when the moment arrived, and I laid my poems on the lectern and started reading, it was just more theater, and it was great fun sharing these little pieces that had so pleased me with other people and seeing that these people seemed to be pleased as well.

A week after the poetry reading I got a call from Tina. What a success the reading had been! You were a hit, she said. The actor in me enjoyed that. I would do another poetry reading shortly thereafter and I enjoyed it every bit as much as the first. Then I got another call from Tina. She wanted to publish some of my poems in the upcoming edition of her journal. Would that be okay? I said it most certainly would be okay. And that was how my work was published for the first time.

Here is what I knew back then: I knew that I loved to read certain poets, and that I loved to write poetry. I loved both the freedom poetry afforded me, as well as the economy it required, and I loved the energy of performing. What I did not know was that those poetry readings were my first adventures in marketing. My poems were published because I had found a means to expose my work to other people such that opportunities that had not previously been available were now available.

Except it didn’t feel like marketing because I wasn’t trying to sell anything, or get published, or get exposure. I wasn’t trying to get anything. I just wanted to share something that felt good to share. That is all “marketing” needs to be. In fact, to call it anything else is a lie. To call it anything else is to say that I do not love what I love, and that I do not believe the world will be better off with more of what I love in it – which, though I have spent many years doubting this is so, remains the only truth to which I can reliably return.

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