A Single Idea

One upon a time you were nothing but an idea. Perhaps your mother turned to your father and said, “Honey, I have an idea, and I think you’re going to like it!” You might say it was an inspired idea, being a mixture of love and desire and curiosity of how these two might combine. When your mother had this idea she did not know that you would be conceived, of if you would be a boy or a girl, or if you would be tall or short, quiet or talkative, artistic or analytical. All she had was one single idea that was of interest to her at that moment, and she acted on it.

Every single book ever written begins in such a fashion. The seed of an idea arrives one day in your mind and you say to yourself, “I like it.” This idea gestates in your subconscious for a time, then grows in your imagination, is formed gradually with thought upon thought upon thought, until a book is born. That book will now go wherever it must, meet its own friends, make its own way in the world. You can no more predict nor control its future than could a parent a child.

In fact, your only hope to truly influence this child called a book, your only power over the course of its destiny, is the love with which it was created. That love will be invisible to the human eye. No reader will be able to point directly to it on the page the way they could its title or your name upon the cover. No literature professor will dissect it, analyze it or critique it. And yet love is both the glue that holds these collection of sentences together into something called a story, and the energy that moves it forward into the world the same as it moved you forward toward the idea of a book.

For all of its acknowledged power, for all the songs and books and sermons we have written about it, love remains easily taken for granted. It is easier sometimes to treasure what we can hold. But you cannot hold your published book as you once held the love that bore it, the same as you cannot hold your child as you hold your love for that child. Everything will leave us someday but love, which is never further from us than a single thought.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite 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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Your Inner Publisher

Go to any writer’s conference and you will likely find yourself in a debate about the value of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. On a mechanical level, the biggest difference between these two is that the self-published author must be a writer and a businessperson, while the traditionally published author is mostly a writer and just a little bit a of businessperson.

But in another way, every writer is self-published. Whether Createspace or Random House publishes your book, every writer must decide, alone and in his own heart, that what he has written is worthy and ready to be shared. Whether you have an editor or an agent or a writing group advising you along the way does not change this requirement. You must find your inner editor, your inner publisher, and learn what it means to listen to him or her, learn that his or her opinion is to be valued and trusted above all others.

On the other hand, the idea that anyone is completely self­-published is a misnomer. If you use Createspace, for instance, you will probably hire a cover designer and an editor and a proofreader. Furthermore, Createspace itself is the invention of a whole host of people who aren’t you. If not for all these Other People dreaming up Createspace there would not now be so many people running around claiming they are self-published.

We are never, ever, ever alone, and yet all decisions must be made within the sanctity and sovereignty of our mind. But you already know this. You know this when you sit down to that empty page. You know that each word is a choice you make in conference with your imagination and conscience and desire. And you already know that the success of a piece of work depends on readers – who aren’t you – deciding in the sanctity and sovereignty of their minds to buy your book.

This is called life on planet earth, where writers and readers and presidents and principals are in control of absolutely nothing except their own freewill.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite 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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For the Townspeople and the Pigeons

There is a popular quote circulating about how fear is merely the absence of God the same dark is merely the absence of light. This quote is frequently attributed to Albert Einstein, and with good reason. He was a physicist and philosopher and this is the exactly the sort of big view for which he became famous. Unfortunately there is, at least to my knowledge, no record of Einstein ever having said this.

This is too bad because it’s fun to start a point in conversation with: “Well, like Einstein said . . .” This automatically makes whatever you’re about to say true. The fact that Einstein did not actually draw this exact comparison between darkness and fear doesn’t make it any less true, however. Its truth now is simply rooted in its own self-evidence, rather than its association with the theory of relativity.

And anyway, we rarely quote anyone exactly. Instead, we prefer to rewrite. I recently watched a video by John Green in which the YA author and Youtube personality listed history’s top 50 misquotes. Some were misattributed but many were simply altered from their original. In most cases, I found the altered versions better. Which is not surprising. That our collective mind could improve upon one soul’s first draft is the story of human invention and reinvention.

Which is why I don’t really care exactly who said exactly what. Quotes serve me – and you, and John Green – not the one who may or may not have first said them. At best, they are quick reminders of where our attention belongs, of what is true and what is fantasy. The rest is just us believing the statues of ourselves we might leave behind in the town square mean something. No matter how beautiful that statue, looking at it you would know it is only a thought held in marble, there to serve the townspeople and the pigeons long after you are gone.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Formless

If I am honest and not feeling quarrelsome, I understand that writing is an opportunity for me to travel into my most authentic self. Here I find that which cannot be broken; here I find that which cannot be measured; here I find that which is without fear. It is a lovely place to be. It is the seat of true security and also creativity, an unlikely but powerful combination.

Yet this authentic self is also in rather stark contrast to the rest of my life, that part of my day consumed with the world of form. I must get about this world, a world where everything can break, where we measure everything from our weight to our Amazon ranking, and where fear is everywhere. It is easy to romanticize writing for this reason, as I have trained myself in the quiet and solitude of my desk to find this authentic self more easily.

During my work the page becomes a hypnotist’s watch fob, a perfectly blank non-place through which to enter the world within my world. Here is where true reality crackles, but I cannot live at my desk, nor can I take it with me. It is all right that I must rejoin that world of form, however, for that is where all those things born from our authentic selves are shared. If a book were to remain within my authentic self, no one would ever read it, and if a kiss were to remain dreamed of it would never be shared.

For this reason the world of form can be a pleasant playground, but try not to let it hypnotize you into believing it is real. You have already glimpsed reality in the dream we call writing. You have glimpsed it and known it for what it was, and then perhaps disregarded it because there was stuff you had to do and get and repair and measure and criticize. Until you grew tired of all that stuff and what you had to do with and to it, and returned to the other dream you had forgotten and understood that you were home again.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Nobody Cares

A few years ago I had the pleasure to interview Dennis Lehane, who told the story of how, in his early years of writing, he posted a note to himself above his desk where he worked that read, “Nobody Cares.” This meant both the hard-boiled truth that the world was largely indifferent to his little joys and struggles, but also the emancipating understanding that whether he failed or succeeded would not actually affect anyone else. Since nobody cared, he needn’t waste any energy worrying about what anyone thought about what he was doing.

I thought of this when my creative work began to draw exclusively from my own life, whether in memoir or in this space. I could be a slippery and uncooperative protagonist, stiffening suddenly as the Bill on the page seemed to become aware the literary camera. Ironically, this only made Protagonist Bill less sympathetic, an outcome that only further heightened his awareness of my narrative eye.

Until, that is, I remembered that nobody cared – or more specifically, nobody cared about me. If I have done my job as a writer correctly, the reader will care about my story’s protagonist – me, in this case – but not the me I am so often trying to protect. This is the me to whom I was referring when, as a young man, I sometimes complained, “Nobody cares about me.” Meaning, nobody cared that I was sad; nobody cared that I was frightened. And it was true. To care about my sadness in the way I believed others should would be to ask another to care about an illusion I had believed. To care about this illusion would only strengthen my belief in it, which in turn would only strengthen my sadness.

The opposite of an illusion is the truth, and this is what readers really care about. Stories, at their best, are dreams through which a reader can awaken from an illusion into the truth. Nothing matters but that awakening. The moment I believe that I matter more than the awakening, I begin protecting myself, and the story disappears into the nightmare I have spent my life trying to disbelieve.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Jester Appears

Write Within Yourself was officially launched this past Monday at Third Place Books in Lake Forest Park (WA). It was a lovely evening – lovely to see so many friends and family, lovely to meet new friends who had come out for the event, and lovely to reacquaint myself with a character who had lay largely dormant for the last twenty years or so: The Jester.

An author event is theater. Authors may not like to see themselves as actors or performers, but if one person is standing up and talking to a group of people sitting quietly and listening, then that is theater. And theater brings out a bit of the court jester in me. I spend much of my days wishing I were The King. The King proclaims and is the voice of earthly law and justice. The King also speaks to the multitudes. It is his duty. How else will the multitudes know the law and feel secure that justice shall prevail?

And yet, give me an audience, and The Jester appears. The Jester makes no laws, and has no power other than his observations, offered from a vantage devoid of earthly influence. The Jester is the King’s foil and confidant, reminding His Majesty that the crown and throne are inventions doomed to rust and rot. From such a vantage the world and all the scrambling about humans do in it for their wasting and temporary things certainly is a funny place, if and only if The Jester resists the dark temptation to call death tragedy.

Death, to my memory, did not come up at my book launch – not by name anyhow. With humans, it always lingers in the shadows anytime we stand up and say, “Look what I made!” This too shall pass. Who better than The Jester to speak at such a moment? Worry not; we are not made of these things we make. We are always more the laughter released from the bonds of solid stuff, a sound untouched but touching, home to the lightness required to dwell where the heavy and hopeless song of death is too often sung.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Writing My Way Home

Some days I sit down to write filled with enthusiasm and certainty. I have observed the fruits of my labor hanging from the Tree of Life, and I am enjoying the harvest and want nothing more than to share this pleasure with everyone I know or don’t know. To write from such a place is to report back on a truth I have already learned; I am a journalist with only good news to share.

More often, however, I find myself at the desk with two thoughts competing in my mind. One is a hopeful thought. Perhaps I remember my last harvest, or can see the fruits beginning to bud. Such thoughts are all optimism and generosity and compassion. Within such thoughts I have nothing to prove, and the world is filled with only friends, and not a single enemy.

Yet there also dwells in me a hopeless thought. I have named the growing of all fruit pointless or impossible. I have endowed myself with premonitory powers, and believe that if any fruit comes it will be bitter and unsatisfying or somehow stolen by one of my many enemies. Here I create only architectural nothingness, hoping to draw comfort from the knowledge I alone can name the void.

On such days I write myself into the truth of hopefulness, following a path of thought laid out for me again as it was the day before until I am home where the lie of hopelessness is dispelled. Though I would not ask for hopelessness, I must acknowledge its value in my work. A thing is always seen more clearly against its opposite. Perhaps someday the hopeless thoughts will no longer hold the power to attract my attention, and they will wither to death like a garden untended. Strange that it is so hard for us to let such a thing die, even when the whole of creation blooms in its extinction.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Forgotten World

What it takes to write the book you most want to write is also what it takes to lead the life you most want to lead. Perhaps you’ve heard me mention this before. It’s true, you know. If you know how to write a book, you know how to market a book, or start a business, or find a lover, or buy house. If you know how to write a book, you already know how to do everything, and if you know how to do anything, you already know how to write a book.

That is because the process of creation, from books to businesses to marriages is always precisely the same. The mechanics vary from task to task, but the mechanics are of little consequence. Mechanics can be learned the same as multiplication tables can be learned, and once learned, the mechanics are rarely forgotten. But the actual physics of creation can be forgotten. In fact, humans forget it constantly, ceaselessly, and within that forgetting dwells all of our pain.

I frequently forget. When I write, I enter the terrarium of my desk, ask myself what looks interesting that day, quiet my busy, furtive, worried mind, receive something to write about, and then awaken my busy mind in which the mechanics of language are stored and translate what I have been given. That is creation, the entirety of it. Then I get up from my desk, and ask, “How do I create the rest of this life?”

As if the imagination that offered me my ideas to write was not present away from the desk. As if my busy mind is somehow the source of all my creative answers everywhere but at the desk. As if the only ideas I have ever received were those to write. What an unfriendly world that would be. When I remember the truth of it, I remember to write not just my stories but my day, and quiet my mind the same as I would at my desk to receive a plan for marketing a book, or teaching my son, or cooking dinner.

There is no difference from one creation to the next. Our job remains forever the same, regardless of the task before us. Forgetting, meanwhile, is only painful when we call our amnesia the truth, when instead of finding our way back to what we have always known, we mourn the impossibility of creating anything meaningful within a tiny world we invented in haste to replace the one we love.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Creating Opportunities

You may have heard the expression, “create your own opportunities.” To me, this sort of tidy aphorism sometimes feels lovely in its can-doism, but dubious in its application. An opportunity is something that comes to you and upon which you act; how can you create something that comes to you? Here’s how.

Last week I was interviewed on The Back Porch Writer, a Blogtalk Radio show hosted Kori Miller (the show will air on June 11). This opportunity came about after Kori wrote me to thank me for one of my recent episodes of Author2Author. After a friendly back-and-forth I mentioned I had a book out and would she like me be a guest on her show. She said yes, and we scheduled our interview.

But that was not how I actually created this opportunity. I had actually created this opportunity, unbeknownst to me, about a year earlier. Kori began our conversation by asking me what had motivated me to start Author2Author, and I explained about wanting to expand the format of my interviews and so on. Then Kori told me that she had stumbled on Author2Author one day, liked what she heard, and thought, “I want to do what he’s doing!” And so she started Back Porch Writer. This was how I “created my own opportunity.” I did what I loved and offered it to people through the means available to me, and acted in a timely fashion when that love was returned to me.

After hearing Kori’s story, I was reminded again of what I can do and what I can’t do. Madness waits for anyone certain he must build his every opportunity board-by-board. Creation is always a group effort, a fact I frequently ignore. I awake from uneasy dreams full of doubt and pessimism, the field of possibility an inscrutable and unfriendly bog. Oh, the misery of forgetting. To stand in loneliness, convinced I must make the world alone, while feeling an emptiness that is actually other people’s efforts and then calling myself incomplete.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter

Shared Value

What do you value? If you’re a writer, it’s a question worth asking every time you sit down at your desk. It’s best to be honest. Perhaps you believe you should answer, “Love, friendship, and integrity,” but you most want to answer, “A big house, a new dress, and endless compliments.” Begin where you are. If you continue to be honest, you will find that it is not the big house you value, but the feeling of being in a big house; so too the new dress, and the endless compliments.

Or perhaps it is not even the feeling of being in a big house, but the fantasy of what being in that big house will feel like. Perhaps it is only the fantasy of the freedom spaciousness can bring, and the fantasy of comfort it’s gates will provide. Perhaps also, you entertain the fantasy that every day you open its front door you will at last feel as valuable as you secretly believe you are but for which you have no proof.

What do you value? Is feeling not the only thing we humans actually value? Are not all the things we own and crave owned and craved for the feelings we hope they will excite within us? In this way, let writing teach you what you must surely already know. There at your desk you have nothing but your own thoughts and imagination. There at your desk you can crave nothing or no writing will occur. And yet there at your desk you have available to you the entire spectrum of human feeling. You summon each feeling within yourself and translate those feelings into scenes, characters, and words.

You know this is true. You know you needed nothing but yourself to feel everything. Writing has taught us this, and yet still we will forget when we leave the desk. What do you value? You are sharing that answer in your work every day. What do you value? That is what you buy and sell. What do you value? Answer it honestly and it is yours, instantly and completely, without the obstruction of time and distance, it is yours in a thought, ready to be shared in these gifts we call stories.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!
You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com
Follow wdbk on Twitter