The Storyteller

Sometimes I wander about the world as a storyteller, and sometimes as someone having a story told to him by the world. I look to the world for the story it is telling me only when I forget I am a storyteller, but this forgetting happens quietly, quickly, and frequently. I do not always mind the story I believe the world is telling me. It can be funny or exciting or even flattering. I particularly enjoy the flattering stories the world is telling about me. How nice that the entire world holds me in such high regard!

But I just as often do not like the story the world is telling me at all. It is such a depressing story, a story of happiness being something known only when the pieces of the world arrange themselves for brief trembling moments that can be enjoyed until chance, or inertia, or gravity, or evolution pull them apart. It is a story of greed, and violence, and lust, and vengeance. I must grab and cling to all the happiness I can before my time runs out.

I soon become a critic. If the world is bent on telling me these crappy stories, and if I am forced to listen to these stories—and how can I not be, since I am only one man and the world is huge and loud, and while I must rest, it talks on and on and on?—then by God I will do what I can to change that story. So I criticize and reject and complain. Then I do it some more. Yet still the world tells its depressing story, and I can but listen and watch.

It is nice at such times to retreat to my desk where the page is blank and I can ask, “What is the best story I can tell myself today?” How quickly my mood changes with that simple question. How optimistic and curious I become. And how I love that blank page, how it erases all the stories I told myself about the world and returns me to my natural state—a storyteller choosing a happy ending for the world he makes.

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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In My Life

When you are pursuing a dream, such as publishing a book, it is very easy to believe that success, however you describe it, will change something about you and your life. I certainly believed it. Actually, I didn’t believe that success would change something about my life, I needed it to change something about my life. I needed it to change not just how I made money, and how I spent so many of my waking hours, but the quality of those hours, whether I was working or not.

The quality of those hours, in my opinion, was not ideal. A quiet and steady despair had settled over me, one that had begun, as all despair does, in the soil of my childhood, but which had spread like a tangle of vines in the busy garden of adulthood. I experienced it so often, there were days I wondered if this was simply what it felt like to be alive. I was an optimist at heart, however, and just as I could dream stories to write, I could also dream a life free of despair. Dreaming that better life was easy. It was so easy I escaped there as often as I could.

There came a day, when I had begun to experience the smallest glimmers of what I considered to be success, that I thought, “I want to be in my life.” I had lived so long swinging from despair to escape that I had lost track of the resting comfort of existence. Strangely, I was not entirely clear what was keeping me out of my life. My life seemed like something I ought to be able to step into as easily as those dreams I summoned for escape. And yet here I was, circling around the center of where I wanted to be, like a player unready to join the game.

Which was exactly the problem. The moment I truly understood success was the moment I stopped asking the question, “What if I’m not good enough?” The instant I stopped asking that useless, brutal, suffocating question, the despair lifted as effortlessly as dreams ended. That is the question that will keep the player from playing, the writer from writing. It is a question that can’t actually be answered by acceptance letters or reviews. It is a question that cannot be answered, because it never should have been asked. It can only be released, and what remains in its absence is life as you know it can be lived.

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

Out of the Shadows

When an artist draws an image on a blank canvas, she is interested in the negative space – the shadow – as much the positive space – the object. Negative space gives objects definition and depth and dimension. More importantly, in an image composed of many objects, shadows allow the eye to differentiate between one flower and another, to understand where the sky ends and the horizon begins.

For many years I spent much of my time fixated on negative space, which in my life of romance and writing was called rejection – rejection from prospective partners and rejection from publishers. It was immensely confusing and uncomfortable. I could feel every “no” before it came. Sometimes, I wondered: if I were a better person, a better writer, would the no’s become yes’s? It was an impossible question, because I didn’t know how to be a better person, nor, in truth, a better writer. Some days I seemed to write brilliantly; the next, it was if I’d forgotten the English language.

Then one day I met a girl who seemed different to me than other girls I had met. I had no apprehension the first time I asked her out, because I knew she wouldn’t – no, couldn’t – reject me. She couldn’t, because she was interesting to me for reasons beyond gaining the approval of a yes. She was interesting to me the way a song I heard on the radio started me dancing, the way a joke made me laugh, the way a story excited my imagination. I was only seventeen, but I had stepped out of the shadows, and the difference was unmistakable.

I would be much, much older before I learned to apply this way of living to writing. I continued to fear rejection the way I feared death. Rejection, for me as a writer, seemed like death: an end with no more beginnings. I was not surprised that the first time I chose to tell a story only because it was interesting to me and not because I hoped it would be accepted, that I had the same feeling as I did the first time I asked out that girl who is now my wife. I was just surprised at how long it took me to step into that creative light. I knew, as surely as I knew I would now seek it every time I sat at my desk, that it had been shining and shining all those years, waiting for nothing but my acceptance.

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

Forgetting Stories

Starting stories is usually a lot of fun, but finishing one can be a little disorienting. And I don’t mean the process of finding the story’s best ending. The story and I are still in active conversation while I’m finding its ending. While we may be looking for the perfect moment to say goodbye, we are still talking to one another, and there is more I have to learn about the story, and there is still more the story has to teach me.

But then the day, the hour, the moment comes when there is no more for us to say to one another. That story, hopefully, is going to go have other conversations with other people called readers, but those conversations are by and large none of my business. They will happen in other homes and other cities and in the sanctity of other minds, and to wonder about those conversations is to burden my imagination with an unsolvable mystery.

In this way, I must forget about the story. This is not easy, maybe, since I loved the story. That’s why I wrote it. I loved meeting it at my desk and seeing where we went that day. Forgetting can feel like rejection. Writers don’t like rejection. It lives as a shadowy enemy for much of our life. I want that story to find acceptance somewhere. I want everything I love to be accepted.

This forgetting is not rejection, but rather making room for another story. I can only have one conversation at a time if I want to give that conversation my full attention. I never feel better than when I am giving life my full attention. To do so, I must temporarily forget everything else: other stories, other obligations, even my loved ones. I’ll remember everything by and by, but in the meantime, like a reader picking up a new book, I must clear my mind of memories and what might or might not happen in the shadowed future. For now, I must accept that this next story is as important as the last story, is as important as any story, and so a new conversation begins.

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

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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The Demolition Critic

A friend of mine published her eleventh novel last year, and in so doing, surrendered her work to the critics, both professional and casual. One of those casual critics did not care for her book. In lieu of a written review on Amazon, he simply posted a video of him blowing up the book.

I have not seen the video, and I have no idea if the author saw it either. A mutual friend brought it to my attention. Whether she sees the video or not, I am sure she will be okay. The fellow who blew up her book, however, has a longer road to travel back to okay. I fully understand the temptation to blow up a book. When I was nineteen I read a 700-page novel whose ending I found so profoundly unsatisfying – the author left me wondering whether the man and the woman would get together, and the last sentence was an untranslated Latin phrase – that I threw it across the room.

The book did not care that I threw it. It wouldn’t have cared if I had burned it. A book is just a giant thought, and you cannot kill a thought. A thought cannot be sent to the electric chair or develop cancer. You can march and march against a thought until your feet are swollen, you can shout until your voice is gone, but the thought will live on. A thought is a road, and you either travel it or not. If you don’t like where it’s going, then turn around and find another one.

It is both that simple and that complicated. My friend loved her book, and love has no opposite, not even a bomb. What the Demolition Critic wanted would not appear magically out of the ashes of my friend’s book. The Demolition Critic would have to look in precisely the same place my friend looked when she found her book. In this place, nothing burns and nothing is rejected. It is all acceptance until the moment you wonder what anyone else would think of what you’ve found. That is the moment you understand the true meaning of rejection: that listening too closely to your critics is suicide, and forgetting them is 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.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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Lessons in Disappointment

Mrs. Katzman was renowned throughout Summit Elementary School for her strict rules and her impatient old-lady temper. I had come to believe that the student’s first job was to please the teacher, but I did not always understand the rules of Mrs. Katzman’s temper, and so pleasing her seemed like a game of chance.

For instance, my classmates and I were each assigned a different country for which we were to write a report. As a part of this report, we were to draw a picture of its flag on a large piece of construction paper. I drew a black bar down one side of the page (the pole) from which extended a perfect rectangle in which I drew Canada’s (my country) maple leaf and colors. I showed my masterpiece to Mrs. Katzman.

She took one short, shocked look and declared, “This isn’t a flag. A flag has waves. Where are the waves?” She turned and held the drawing up to the class. “Class, look at this. Where are the waves? Why didn’t he draw any waves?”

I returned to my desk and drew a flag with waves.

So it went with Mrs. Katzman. I wanted to be liked, but I gave up trying to solve the riddle of being liked by this woman. And though it was agreed on the playground she was nothing but a mean old teacher, a part of me felt responsible for her meanness, as if my un-waving flag was the final piece of evidence needed to condemn her world to a place guaranteed to disappoint. After my parents divorced and my father moved to Florida, I did not wish to contribute to anyone’s disappointment.

Then the evening came that I accompanied my mother to Parent Teacher Night. I had decided it would be acceptable to endure Mrs. Katzman’s capricious temper from behind the shelter of my mother’s unconditional acceptance. But when we marched into the room together – my mother having been fully prepared for what was to come – Mrs. Katzman turned from her desk, saw me, and her face broke into a grandmother’s joyous smile.

“He’s so wonderful!” she cooed. “He’s just a delight to have in class.” She was beaming down at me as if I were the hero of her favorite story. All my offenses flashed through my mind, and yet I could not find them in her eyes. How mysterious. You might even say disappointing. I returned home that night with the strangest feeling that she’d been smiling at me thus the entire year, and now I would never be able to tell tale of the cruel schoolmarm unless I was willing to lie about the end.

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

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That Gift

Lingering in the back of everyone’s mind is the sometimes quiet, sometimes very loud question, “Am I good enough?” We spend so much time grading, comparing, judging and ranking ourselves that I don’t know how a person could avoid asking this question at least once, if only to test how it feels. It feels lousy, if you haven’t noticed, even just to ask it. Unfortunately, it also smells like the sort of question one must be able to answer “Yes!” to, because if we’re not good enough . . . well, that would be a problem, wouldn’t it?

Writers decide to write for many reasons. Usually, they love to write. Also, they would like to make money doing what they love. But these are not always the only reasons. Sometimes writers write and submit the stories and poems they’ve written so that these stories and poems will be rejected.

Yes, to be rejected. The more often you ask if you are good enough—and it matters not what you are pretending to wonder you are good enough at, that question only ever refers to us as a whole—the more likely the answer will be no. But we can answer no so quietly, so habitually, that we will soon grow accustomed to the sustained discomfort it provides.

You will not have that luxury as the rejection letters come in. Likely as not that quiet voice that whispered no sabotaged your story for this very purpose. Now, you will have to feel self-rejection acutely, and you will feel it again and again and again until you decide you are worthy of a life free from this suffering.

Such a gift, writing. Oh, I know, this is a gift you’d like to give back. Except that you crave, beyond any agent, publishing contract or Amazon ranking, the unequivocal yes you already are. Our lives are led to hold this permanently in our hearts, though it has never been anywhere else.

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

How To Accept Rejection

Most writers view rejection as their professional enemy. A writing career requires acceptance, after all. If a writer received nothing but rejection, that writer wouldn’t have a career at all. Except writers cannot hate rejection. And no, not just because it is often a part of the submission cycle. Rejection is actually a crucial aspect the writing process itself.

For instance, here’s a typical storyteller’s brainstorming session: What should my hero do for a living? A lawyer? No, he’s not that successful. But he is in front of people. How about a teacher? No, too altruistic. Also, he enjoys the spotlight. Ah, he’s an actor! An unemployed actor. No – not totally unemployed. He got one gig in a commercial playing a guy with hemorrhoids. Perfect.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. This is how writers find their stories. And it really doesn’t matter whether we are writing fiction or non-fiction. Even the memoirist sifts through the past and decides what to put in and what to leave out. And yet, if you look again you will notice that the above example is filled with rejection. Our author could not arrive at his final Yes without the guidance of a great many No’s.

Writing is all about learning to say, “Yes.” Every word on the page is a word to which I’ve said, “Yes.” But I cannot find the words and sentences and scenes and stories I wish to share unless I also know what I do not wish to share. It would be impossible to say yes if I couldn’t say no. No is like the feeling of imbalance the gymnast experiences as she seeks the Yes of balance. These opposites are actually the allied yin and yang of my creative life.

It just never felt that way to me when the rejection letters came in. Whereas I called the comfort and discomfort that guides me in the choice of words and sentences and so on information, those rejections letters felt every bit like unwanted, unhelpful, discouraging, depressing closed and barred doors to what I wanted most. What’s so useful about that?

Everything, if I listen to what those rejections are telling me. When I write, the worst thing I can try to do is force a word or sentence in where it’s not wanted. The best thing to do when I feel this resistance is pull back and try something else. This is what the resistance is telling me. Many times, however, I felt this resistance and soldiered on. Yet what I thought of as writing by force of will was actually self-rejection. It was uncomfortable, but such is adulthood – or so I’d heard. The sting I felt when the stories I’d written in this fashion were rejected was merely an echo of the pain of self-rejection I’d inflicted on myself by ignoring my own inherent guidance.

That’s right, to find acceptance in the publishing world you must first accept yourself. I take that back – you need only practice accepting yourself. You practice this every single time you sit down to write, every single time you choose a word that feels right or wrong for no other reason than you like it or don’t like it. That’s self-acceptance. You don’t need to climb a mountain and meditate for the rest your life to find it. You find it as you find your balance, with every step and every choice.

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

The Day I Stopped Reading Reviews

One morning a year ago I received a Google alert that someone had written a blog about a book I’d recently published. Because I’d gotten the alert just as I was sitting down to work, I decided not to read it until I was done writing. Though I doubted someone would take the time to write an entire blog about how much they hated the book, anything was possible, and I wasn’t about to spend the entire morning working against the current of self-doubt that often gets stirred up after I read a bad review.

Soon enough I was into the story I was telling, and I forgot about the blog, and also that I had to drop my car at the mechanics, and that I needed peanut butter when I went shopping, and that there was turmoil in the Middle East, and that I was forty-nine. In fact, it went well enough that day that I forgot about time itself and didn’t remember until I came out of the story-dream that I had other things to do that day.

Such as read a blog someone had written about my book. I knew within the first sentence that the blog’s author had liked the book and wanted to share her enthusiasm for it with her readers. Oh good, I thought, and settled in for a little praise. As I read further, however, I noticed something unusual. The more the author complimented what I’d written, the more I experienced something I had once called excitement, but which I now thought was perhaps something else. By the time I was done reading the blog I realized it wasn’t excitement at all – it was fear.

In fact, what I felt reading this good review was hardly any different than what I felt when I read a bad review. Either way, I was letting what someone else thought of what I’d written determine how I should feel about what I’d written, and this is an untenable position for a writer. The only way to enter that story-dream I so wanted to enter was to forget completely about all the other people and all their opinions. To enter that dream, I must forget about everything but the dream.

That was the day I decided I was done reading reviews – and not just my reviews, but all reviews. I understand reviews serve many purposes, including promoting the books we’ve written, as well helping readers choose which books they want to read. Also, some of my best friends write book reviews and love doing so. I am not advocating an end to book reviews. But I can’t read them anymore. The more I read them the more I believe that it actually matters what one person thinks about what another person has written.

If I’m going to live by that sword, then I will surely die by it, and have many times. I have staggered about like the walking dead after receiving a bad review. What I thought was good was bad. As a writer, I might as well mistake night for day. I am left to roam the countryside, feasting on praise wherever I can find it. That is a hunger that cannot be satisfied. No matter how many times I let someone else tell me how I should feel about who I am or what I’ve done, at the end of the day I am left only with myself and my imagination and my curiosity – my only true company when I write my books and live my life.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.indd

Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter