Writing Ideas

Nearly every writer hates to be asked, “Where do your ideas come from?” Here the author is confronted squarely by the ephemeral nature of her work. Where presumes a place that exists on a map or biology textbook. Where presumes a there. Of course, there is no there. One moment there was no writing idea, the next moment there was.

The author might answer that she saw something interesting or unusual – like two lovers arguing on a street corner – and from this began the “what ifs” from which so many stories are born. But the writing idea did not come from the two lovers arguing, it came from the mysterious intersection of that scene and the author’s unique curiosity. Why that scene and why not another nearly like it she had glimpsed before? Within that unanswerable question beats the unseen heart of all creation.

Which is why when an audience member asks an author where her writing ideas come from, the author might as well be asked why the universe exists. The author may not want to see herself as a microcosm of the universe and its infinite creativity. She’s just an honest gal trying to tell an honest story and make an honest living. And yet the author silently faces the uneasy truth that she sits down at her desk everyday and asks that which cannot be seen to provide for her that which does not yet exist. This is where writing ideas come from.

It’s okay if you don’t want to think about it. In fact, creation is beyond the comprehension of our thinking mind. Know only that writing ideas come in answer to the question of your desire. The stronger the desire, the faster and brighter they come. This is the unerring formula.

I know this formula as I know my own reflection, and yet not a day goes by when I do not doubt it. Not a day goes by when I do not feel abandoned and astray. Such is the suffering impatience brings. To hear the beating of your own heart and call it the ticking of a clock, as if time could run out on creation, when it was creation that invented time.

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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Unbroken

Writers will likely encounter rejection all along their writing journey. I would encourage you, when you encounter it, to never name this experience failure. If failure is a possibility, however remote, you will eventually select it, and often at precisely the moment when failure’s exact opposite is calling to you.

To believe in failure is to believe that anyone or anything can be broken. To believe in failure is to believe that the experiment called you did not work. This is a thought that ends thought. This is extinction within life. But thought cannot actually end, and so to believe in failure is simply to keep yourself suspended in an endless loop of death, as if somehow going extinct again, and again, and again.

If we remove the thought of failure from our quiver we open ourselves to new thoughts. We encounter rejection, or suffering, or despair having followed thoughts that do not serve us. Our suffering tells so. And so when we cannot publish, or cannot lose weight, or cannot quit smoking, or cannot sustain a relationship, instead of calling ourselves broken, by removing broken as an option, we ask instead for a new thought, a thought that will lead us away from the path we are currently following.

So it was for me. I looked up one day and said aloud to myself: This isn’t working. I meant my idea of success and failure. I had followed this one idea for many years. It had brought me skill ambition, and kept me moving at all times. But it led inevitably to a suffering I had but glimpsed when I began following this unworkable thought. And so I asked for something different, and by and by it came, as it must.

So are you not broken. You cannot be. You are at worst uncertain of what to do next. But this is creativity. Just as you have sat at your desk and wondered what next for your hero, sat there in stillness not knowing at all what should happen but knowing somehow that the stillness in which you rest shall provide it, so too can you embrace your uncertainty. It is your invitation forward into the life you have not yet lived but which you have begun imagining.

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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Realists

When I was younger and of the opinion that love was something one could find in the same manner in which a food enthusiast discovers new delights at exotic banquets, I dated an artist named Fishy. This was not her real name, but one she had adopted herself. This was a clue I ignored because I was in the habit of ignoring clues back then as they consistently interfered with my sampling of the female buffet.

Fishy was like a reverse superhero. By day she was an artist and an intellectual, who wore John Lennon glasses, spoke with a dry affect, and divided the world into those things worthy of her approval and those things that were not. By night she became just Lilly, a very wounded young woman, who was so fragile I thought she would crack in my arms. I had dated her because I was drawn to Fishy’s intellectual strength, only to discover I was actually dating Lilly’s frailty.

Before it ended, she asked me if I was an optimist or a pessimist. I told her I was an optimist, an identity a young intellectual like Fishy was not allowed to embrace, but which Lilly secretly yearned for. In retrospect, however, I was neither. I am actually a realist. I believe in reality, which in its fullness is better than the optimist’s best-case scenario. Reality, which is the whole of life, is beyond judgment, beyond suffering, beyond tragedy.

But it is also beyond my ability to perceive. Had I been able to, I would have seen past Fishy to Lilly, and would have seen past Lilly to that part of her that was incapable of being wounded. I came to understand that Lilly perceived me as someone immune to hurt. I wasn’t, of course; the little me stumbling around the world could feel just as wounded as Fishy. But Lilly must have sensed in me that which runs through all of us, that which perceives the pain but does not live it. She wanted to draw it from me for herself, but I could not give her what she already had.

Which is why I encourage writers to go toward their pain in their work, but not to write about their pain. Rather, learn in your work to see through your pain, to see beyond the veil of suffering, for it is in that space you will meet yourself, the reality you have always been seeking.

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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Natural Balance

In the excellent documentary Man on a Wire, the French tightrope walker Philippe Petit describes stepping out onto a wire strung between the top floors of the Twin Towers (this was in 1974). Petit had done similar stunts before, but nothing nearly this daring nor so absolutely certain to end his life death should he fail. Apparently, every tight rope has its own unique balance, and the artist must find that balance to travel effortlessly from one end to the other. Within a few strides, Petit knew he’d found that balance. He then spent two hours on the wire.

I think of that metaphor sometimes as I write. There comes a moment when a writer knows he’s found his story. Finding a story is not unlike finding the balance on a wire or ledge. Drift even a bit to the left or right, and you lose the balance that is your story. Find the perfect balance, and you can travel effortlessly to the end.

It is not unusual to have other people help you find that balance. Other people will be quick to remind you of what you probably already know: that your story is not yet working as effortlessly as it can. This is always how it works for me. I show my work to people mostly so that they can confirm what I was too unwilling to admit to myself.

Eventually, however, I find it. When I find it, just like Petit, I know I can make it to the other side. When I’ve found it, I know what belongs in the story and what does not. This is all I really need to know. Without that knowing, the story can be cluttered with a lot of well written but unnecessary filler. Once I’ve found the story’s balance, I know when something belongs in it, and when something does not.

What a relief this always is. Now, I can at last let my story be the simple thing it was always meant to be. Now I can end the guessing and hoping, and remember that balance is the natural state once a thing knows what it is.

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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My Enemy

I used to tell a sad story about my love life. I was a kind of tragic hero, who sought love, who knew its value, but who was doomed by the uncaring hand fate to be denied its enduring company. Case in point: When I was seventeen I saw a girl in a play and thought, “She’s the one.” And she was. I knew this from our first date. Six months later her family moved 3,000 miles away, and she was gone, Seattle as distant as the afterlife if you’re a teenager living in Providence.

For seven years I told the sad tragic story of love and fate. I had been telling it casually before, but I told it now in earnest, for life had revealed herself to me. She giveth and taketh without regard. Let the dust called humans blow about in the desert; they’re all headed to the same grave anyhow.

Until Jen and I found ourselves together again. Until I moved across the country and called her, and I was single and she was single, and wasn’t it strange that just a week before I called she had told her best friend, “I think I should date someone like this guy Bill Kenower I used to know.” Yes, how strange. And wasn’t it strange how we both agreed that it was best we had been apart seven years. Wasn’t it strange that we needed to date other people and do other things apart from one another, and wasn’t it stranger still how ready we were to be together when I made that call.

To call our time apart and eventual reuniting chance is to lose the gift that story offered me. To call life tragic, unkind, unfair and indifferent even as it arranged itself for me. I had no other words for what I was seeing. I was a character in a story, and the author loved me and sought the best for me for I was her hero, but I wanted her to hurry up and get to the end already, which she most compassionately would not.

I remain in that same story even now. I still find my author’s pacing irritatingly slow, find her obstacles and antagonists uncalled for, and yet have come to love her endings, where Time, my greatest enemy, collapses into the moment and becomes my friend 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

Answered

It was one of those days where I was feeling a wee bit less than. I had been on a panel with some other women whose blogs were positively exploding and I let myself play the comparison game and of course I lost. This was a part of something called Bookfest, and after the panel I wandered over to the PNWA’s booth where I sat in a rather vacant corner of the fest and saw my life for the small and meager thing it apparently was. Why am I here? I wondered. What exactly is the point?

I was getting ready to leave in a huff when The Writer appeared. She emerged out of the crowd and asked me about writing for Author. This sounds like a simple sort of question for the Editor-in-Chief of Author answer, but neither of us could figure out what she would write for me. Soon, however, she was telling me about her life, about her career at the Post Intelligencer that ended when that paper folded; about how she had hoped to start her real writing career once she was free from the shackles of that tired job; about her husband’s sudden illness, about her mother’s sudden illness; about how just as she was getting ready start something new there were more people to take care of.

“I keep wondering when it’s going to be my turn,” she told me.

Sometimes, just as when you’re writing, if you tune into a person you feel as if they’re a character in one of your stories, and then you become like a character in your stories, and you can feel as if you’re talking from that same place where all your best stories come from that is both you and not you.

“It’s always been your turn,” I heard myself say.

“Thank you,” she said, and started to cry and laughed at herself. “I guess that’s just what I needed to hear.”

We hugged and I wished her luck and I left the fest full of optimism and enthusiasm for life’s bounty. Give me more of that, I said to no one in particular. That’s why I’m here.

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

Bulletproof

In my conversation with Benjamin Percy on Tuesday’s Author2Author, we found ourselves talking about the distasteful inevitability of ongoing rejection in a writer’s life. Sometimes that rejection takes the form of letters from agents or editors, and sometimes that rejection takes the form reviews on Amazon or newspapers. Percy described needing to develop “a skin as thick as a catcher’s mitt” around your heart.

Which reminded me of something I heard the comedian Craig Ferguson say in a documentary about hecklers. “Do what you love,” he said, “and you’re bulletproof.” Perhaps this is the true source of the thick skin Percy advised writers grow. What could possibly pierce love? Love offers no resistance for there is nothing for it to resist. There is only love within the house of love, and you are bulletproof because the bullets do not exist.

You know this as you know yourself. You know there is no greater certainty than love. What can you say you have ever known with greater depth than what you love? And when have you felt more surefooted in your days than when you felt love passing through you for no reason at all, without a song in your ear or friend at your side, just love by itself, within you simply because that is where it has always dwelt?

Your only task is to remember where you live. If you write toward what you love you cannot be harmed unless you question what you love. You might as well look in the mirror and question your own existence, but we do this anyway because we cannot look in the mirror and see love the way we see ourselves. But if we could see it, then it would be outside of us, fruit we would wait to harvest, rather than the stream of life that brings the fruit to ripeness.

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

Life’s Only Answer

Stories about human beings are never about what happens to those human beings but what it feels like when something happens to those human beings. The fact that your hero has a gun in his face means less to other human beings than what it feels like to have a gun in his face. If he were happy to have a gun in his face, for instance, that would be very different than if he were terrified to have that gun in his face. In this way, stories are not so much a series of events but a movement of feeling.

I have found this to be so in my life as well. I have been guided through my life by feeling, and rarely by evidence or reason. In fact, I don’t really know how to be guided by reason or evidence. All I want is to feel good, and what felt good yesterday – or ten minutes ago – may not feel good at this moment. A life is like a story in this way also. You job as a writer is to write the scene that belongs in that moment in that story. You cannot use a scene from another story.

So too with your life. Your job, if you can even call it that, is to know what a given moment asks of you. Because a moment is too big to know intellectually, because life happens too fast for our turtle brains, the only way to know what is best for that moment and for you is to feel what is best – the very same as you feel what is best for a moment in a story.

The past is in fact over and cannot repeat itself precisely. But it has certainly taught me. It has taught me that if I feel what a moment requires and ignore that feeling, I suffer; if I surrender to that feeling, life becomes effortless. Why would I ever not surrender to that feeling? Because what if this time Life, that which is guiding me, is wrong? What if the final answer life always provides is not Yes? And in that very moment I create the void I most fear, open a hole into which I will inevitably fall, only to be caught once again by Life and its only answer.

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

A Writer’s Inspiration

What is a writer’s inspiration? Here is what all creative people value: to find oneself fueled as if by command from within to put into the world that which can only be seen by the imagination’s vivid eye. We value that fuel as it propels us past logic and doubt, past reason and comparison. The writer’s inspiration does not share the writer’s fear of failure and judgment. The writer’s inspiration says simply, Create this, and you will know in the creating why you must.

The writer’s inspiration asks only that the writer does not doubt its reality. Doubt its reality and you have lost all sight of it, and so you say, “Look! It was never real. Doubt has shown me the truth. I have cast the light of skepticism upon this thing I could never see, and now it is gone. I am alone, as I have always suspected.” Do not make doubt your friend. It is crafty in its insidious logic. It asks of the writer’s inspiration what it cannot possibly produce: proof of the value of what has not yet been made so that it knows it is worth making.

Doubt is no friend to creation. Love is creation’s only companion. The writer knows his inspiration’s value only has he knows what he loves. Nowhere can your love be proven. In no court could your love stand the withering eye of reason. All that we can say of love is that we know it.

You love your inspiration as you love your friends. You trust your inspiration as you trust your friends. You may believe on some dark night that you trust a friend because he has proven himself through deeds to be worth trusting – but you know this is not so. You know that only in trusting does a friend become a friend; only in trusting do you allow a person to reveal himself to you. So too is it with the writer’s inspiration. Your trust is inspiration’s invitation, the open door of your heart through which love seeks its voice.

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

Mi Casa es Su Casa

Every time I write it is a journey home. It is easy to leave home without trying. It is easy to look at what other people are doing and follow the lights of their homes only to find their door locked to my envy and my own house lost in shadows. It is also easy to call my own home unsatisfactory, having come to believe that dissatisfaction is the only inspiration for growth, as if the flower blooms because it is weary of its seed. But to be dissatisfied with this house is to leave it, and I soon find myself in search of what I have left.

Fortunately, my home is always in precisely the same place. My address remains the same no matter how far I wander. Sometimes I can walk home, other times I must drive, still others only a plane can carry me across the oceans I have put between me and my front door. It does not matter. I am never lost because I have travelled too far but only because I have forgotten where I live.

I love to return home, but it is easy to see it as a sanctuary from the rest of the world in which I have felt lost. Tempting to close up the shutters and dim the lights lest the chaos I perceived come knocking on my door. Yet to close my door is to lose my home once again. It ceases to be mine when I call it mine alone.

The light that is home was lit for me, it shown where only I could see it, and yet to touch it is to know instantly that it belongs to everyone. How could this be? How could that which was made for me not be mine alone? Because to possess something is to become tied to the frailty of its passing, and in this home I call The End I give back to the world what was given to me, having found again that point where all our doors meet.

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