No Debate

I have noticed that writers sometimes believe they fall into one of two camps: those who feel they are writing for themselves, and those who feel they are writing for their readers. Those who believe they are writing for themselves say: I can only write what I like to read. I am the only one present at the desk while I write. In this way, I please myself, and then hope there are readers out there somewhere who will be pleased as well.

But those who feel they are writing for their readers point out that without the readers, writing would be a wholly different experience. We aren’t professional diary writers. We write to get paid and to be read by other people. If you are only writing for yourself, why bother submitting for publication?

I have come to understand recently that all writers exist in both camps. In fact, all humans exist in both camps. We are all of us living and writing for ourselves, doing what we can to create what pleases us. Yet without those other people, the readers and the friends and family and co-workers and strangers, not only would creation be impossible, it would be meaningless.

There are two moments within the creative process where I most clearly understand the value of what I have done. The first is when I find that which I was trying to share, that moment that feels both like discovery and remembering, a satisfying return to something I had forgotten I misplaced. The other is when I learn that another person feels similarly about what I had found and shared. How much harder at that moment to maintain the illusion that I was ever alone at the desk, or that any one thing actually belongs to any one of us.

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

Nameless

I have heard of certain spiritual teachers who will sit their students down and ask only one question: “Who are you?” No matter how many times the student answers – Bill, writer, husband father, American, human – the teacher keeps asking, “Who are you?”

There are days it seems I am none of the above but only the thoughts I think. I think a lot of them, and those thoughts can send me into the pit of apathy or to the height of anticipation. There are new thoughts and old thoughts, naughty thoughts and practical thoughts, and all of them streaming through me so ceaselessly that my life is surely nothing but an interior monologue occasionally interrupted by the knocking of the world at my mental door. That’s who I am: the thoughts I think.

Yet look how those thoughts change as the light beam of my attention shifts. Here I am focused on a story I am telling, and all my thoughts have been marshaled for that sole purpose. But now the phone rings and it is my brother and my thoughts have moved to our plans for October. Our conversation over, my eyes stray to my bulletin board where I notice a note about local teachers, and now my thoughts are planning a school visit. So I am not my thoughts after all. I am my attention – that which summons and directs my thoughts.

Except the light beam of my attention, while pulled and startled by the colors and noises of the world, does not move by chance. There remains still that which chooses where it shines, that which is neither my attention nor my thoughts nor the body through which both must pass. He is the answer to the teacher’s question, but what to call him? He is not Bill, but the one who sees Bill in the mirror, a foreigner at home in any land, all that is left when you have stripped away everything we can name.

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

Worth Sharing

How easy it is to forget why you’re doing what you’re doing even while you’re doing it. To write is to collaborate with your imagination to share something wonderful or lovely or funny or scary or profound with other people. The sharing with other people is important because without them there would only be you and your diary, which is fine also, but aren’t we all glad for those people who shared what they had written with us? Indeed we are. And aren’t we happy, more or less, to pay a few bucks to read or watch or listen to what those people have shared. Why, yes we are.

It’s the dreary business of staying alive that can gum-up the creative life. There are artists out there who find a paycheck ample motivation, but I count myself among the many others who do not. The moment my attention wanders from the sharing of something lovely with other people to simply building my career, or growing my readership, or padding my savings, I soon wake up to discover that I loath the whole writing business. In fact, I can’t remember ever liking it.

Now I am a hero whose only purpose is to stay alive until the final meaningless word has been writ. I begin complaining. I complain first about other people, and then about myself, and then about life in general, that which summoned me forth for no apparent purpose. The complaining does not help, but perhaps I haven’t done enough of it. No, that doesn’t help either.

Somewhere at the end of all this unhappiness exhaustion gives way to memory. At first it as if I am recalling a story I once heard, until I meet the protagonist and recognize his days as mine. I am glad to find his story is not through, and that he finds it worth telling beyond reasons he can count. Nothing in the world worth knowing can be counted, just as nothing in the world worth dreaming is worth keeping.

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

Nothing For Me

For many years I lived in a familiar pattern. I would look at my life and see reasons for my happiness. Sometimes the reasons would be as significant as an acceptance letter or a new relationship; sometimes as small and distant as my favorite football team winning one Sunday or the discovery of an inexpensive but delicious table wine. Because I am human and I always want to feel good, I would spend my days mentally counting my happiness cards – as long as I had a full deck, as it were, life had meaning, and I was happy.

Inevitably, no matter how many cards I accumulated, a day would come when I would look at my hand and see nothing. Some days I would see no cards at all. Other days, I would see the same cards I’d held the day before, and the cards I had felt happy looking at the day before now meant nothing to me. And so I would despair. Life was a great empty string of meaningless events I had fooled myself into caring about to alleviate the repetitive misery that was life.

The odd thing about this kind of misery is you have to be disciplined about it. It’s very easy as you go about your day to stumble and become interested in something and forget to be unhappy. You have to be stern with yourself in such instances: Don’t let yourself be fooled again. You know how this always ends up.

I eventually began training myself out of the deck of happiness cards habit. And it was training. My attention was always on, always searching for something to light upon that would bring me pleasure. By and by I taught my attention to direct itself toward that which always brought me pleasure, regardless of what I drank, with whom I related, and who won on Sunday.

Still, habits stay with you long after you think you’ve broken yourself of them. From time to time I still feel a familiar hollowness and realize it’s because I spent the last day or two coveting my precious cards. I turn toward my old friend despair. But as my attention swings toward the emptiness where for so many years this friend waited, I find it is pointed exactly where I trained it to go since putting down the cards. The nothing I ran from once is now calling me back to myself.

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

Time For A Party

My friend Will was a waiter who had, over the years, transformed the yard around his one bedroom house into something of a floral wonderland, a lush little forest of flowers and bushes and vines and terraces. To tend a yard or garden is to bring something to life and then sustain it for as long as time will permit. Unlike a carpenter, the gardener produces no final product. Instead, he oversees a bell curve of life, whose peak is achieved through strategic cooperation with nature.

Will celebrated that peak with a once-a-year garden party. This was a major event, a dinner party with two-dozen tables, a bartender, and colored lamps. The garden itself was extraordinary. Everywhere your eye landed was life at its greenest, reddest, bluest, and purple-est. If this garden were a woman she was perfectly dressed. Will was her tailor, his hand evident in the checkerboard lawn of grass and granite, the trellises, the paths, the trimmed curve of the bush, but not so evident as to claim the beauty for his own. He merely helped reveal the beauty belonging to the flowers themselves.

It was an easy party to enjoy. Everyone had decided ahead of time they were going to have fun, and the garden would not permit disappointment. It was summer, and it was warm, and we were outside, and there was wine, and we were celebrating nothing more specific than the beauty of life. This was easier than celebrating New Year’s, or Christmas, or birthdays, wed as they are to the artifice of time. There was nothing artificial about the garden, it was just life being life, and we were not required to pretend that this moment was more important than any other moment.

Because no sooner had the wine glasses been cleared than the garden began her gradual retirement. Tired from her long summer, she undressed leaf by leaf through the autumn, requiring less of Will’s attention every day, until Will himself awoke one cool morning to find that beauty had silently entered into the long white dream of winter.

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

Our Only Currency

Writers traffic in the most universal of all human currency: feelings. The question every writer must ask about every scene or sonnet is, What does this moment or idea feel like? Does it feel happy or tense or funny or sad or boring? What is happening is largely irrelevant. Events are merely vessels for the feeling contained within them.

But this is true of everyone, writers and non-writers alike. I have heard it said that everyone is selling something, and isn’t that something happiness? Isn’t the job of the advertiser to convince us that this chewing gum or hybrid car or life insurance will somehow make us happier? There is no other reason we would want it.

Sometimes, however, we sell unhappiness. We do this for the good of our fellow man, who have been lulled – largely by all those people running around selling happiness – into believing the world is in far better shape than it actually is. We might say, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” Or, “Silence equals death!” Though the world will sometimes shoot the messenger, the message must be delivered all the same, lest the happiness we all crave remain nothing but an illusion peddled by hucksters.

I would love nothing more than for all my readers to feel happier when they have finished one of my stories than when they began, but there are days I feel like a huckster myself. Happiness is something I invented to relieve the boredom and terror of life, a snake oil for the gullible and lonely. Trust me, is all I can offer. Yet what else can I offer? Happiness, the gold that would fill the purse of every soul on earth, remains forever a thing unseen and untouched. Instead, it can only be known as the imagination knows itself, and then shared with a world made richer by gaining what it cannot count.

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

Big Endings

If ever you’re going to employ that old Creative Writing 101 saw Show Don’t Tell, apply at the end of your story. Here is where you give your reader your greatest gift. Here is also where you story is most like a joke. A comedian’s joke does not end with a punch line, it ends with the audience’s laughter. The laughter is where the audience thinks what the comedian did not say but suggested.

So, when the comedian tells the joke: “A priest, a rabbi, and a mullah walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this, some kind of joke?’” the audience thinks, “Oh, because that’s just how most jokes start and this is a joke.” And then the laughter. Only the laughter happens faster than all of that could be thought word-for-word.

Suppose you are writing a love story. Suppose you want the story to say, in one way or another: “Yes we all die, yes people cheat on one another and are mean to one another, but in the end love matters because we cannot live with out it.” You would not end your story with this statement. To do so would be telling. Instead, you would want your story to point the reader toward this idea and let that idea come to them through their own imagination.

For just as the comedian’s audience laughs faster than the thought compelling the laughter can be spoken, so too your reader will feel something bigger than you could compose in one statement. If you could help your reader feel why love matters by pointing to it within them, they will, in an instant, know more than you could ever say. Now that ending is belongs to them, now you have allowed them to connect to life for themselves. All you did was show them the door, and they walked through it.

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

Ten Percent

Most of you are probably familiar with the adage, “Writing is 10 percent inspiration and 90 percent perspiration.” Fair enough. You’ve got to put your butt in the seat, as the other saying goes, and many a book sits half-finished on laptops and in bottom drawers because the writer was unwilling to return to the desk on a day he or she didn’t feel like it.

Of course, how often—if you aren’t working in, say, Tijuana or Biloxi—do you actually perspire while writing? Oddly enough, it happens to me fairly regularly, but only when I am inspired. Or, to put it in my own vernacular, when I have found my way to the center of the story’s current. When I am in the center of the current, everything moves quickly, including my blood apparently, and if I can get out of the way and not fear the speed of the current, I might be lucky enough to require a shirt change when the workday is through.

On the other hand, when I am trying to work even though I am nowhere near the current, I am cold.  If I make the mistake of trying to grind out words, to write my way back to the current, an exercise that can easily consume my entire workday, I come away from the desk feeling disinterested in life, a slave to a house that needs heating and mouths that need feeding. On these days, writing feels like any other job, only without security.

The perspiration in this truism reflects the absolute necessity to return to the desk regardless of your state of mind at the time you have set aside to work. What it should not reflect is your attitude toward the work. I believe you must seek inspiration every single workday. View yourself as a mule dragging your plow through some field, and the work will reflect it. Expect inspiration, and many days you will get it.

Obviously, no two workdays are ever the same, but I have come to understand that the balance and patience required to let through the most inspired work is, in the loosest definition of the word, a muscle. That is, with practice, what had once seemed a gift of fate becomes a feat of discipline. And not surprisingly, I have also found that in both quality and quantity ten minutes of inspired writing are usually more productive than ninety minutes of uninspired laboring.

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

Bound To Change

I have written here from time to time about raising our son, who was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum when he was eight. Last year, we began working with Anat Baniel and one of her local colleagues after I interviewed Anat for Author. This was the same year we began homeschooling Sawyer, it having become unavoidably clear that the public schools could simply not accommodate his particular needs.

It was a year of dramatic growth for our son. The combination of the Anat Baniel Method and the calm of homeschooling saw many old and useless habits fall away. Both the homeschooling and the Anat Baniel Method shared precisely the same goal: to free up what we had all long believed was waiting expression. So it indeed began.

Yet even as we watched this tree of a person bloom, there was the great temptation, a temptation to which we frequently yielded, to comment to one another, “Look. Look. He’s actually changing. This is not the same boy who we knew six months or a year ago.” We could hardly be blamed for this. Changes within humans usually occur steadily and minutely, like the growing of hair, and so you look up one day and need your bangs trimmed.

But I came to understand that we were never talking about Sawyer; we were always talking about ourselves. If he failed to grow, to change, to adapt, to expand, to evolve – why would this not be so for us as well? When Sawyer changed, when Sawyer dropped a habit, we were all heaving sigh of relief for collective future, for maybe we too could change what we had long felt unable to change.

Because no matter how much you love your life, you want it to change. No matter how rich you are, in love you are, slim and fit and happy you are, you still want change. You crave it and seek it even as you fear it like death itself. This is how we are literally bound to change, as a snowflake is bound within the earth for the gravity.

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 Known Path

The more choices I make, the more I understand that the best ones cannot be made intellectually. Take the choice of what kind of story you would like to write. Let us assume your goal in making this choice is to arrive at a place where the stories you write will find the agent, editor, publisher, and readership that will allow you to flourish creatively and financially. There are many paths to this destination: literary fiction, women’s fiction, thrillers, YA paranormal, and on and on.

Perhaps you think, “I know there is a path called YA paranormal that leads to this place called a flourishing writing career. I know it because I have seen the books in the bookstores, and I have watched interviews with these authors on Author magazine.” What’s more, you have heard this path described to you in writing magazines and at writing conference. As you take notes on the sorts of protagonists and antagonists, the types of conflicts and settings and so on that work best in YA paranormal, you believe you are learning how to follow this path toward a flourishing writing career.

And yet in my own life it has never been enough to know intellectually that a path exists, nor has it been enough to have this path described to me—nor, for that matter, to have followed that path once in the past. To follow a path successfully, I must see it for myself at the moment of choice, and the only way to see it, is to feel it. The moment I feel it, the path opens before me, and it does not matter if no one has ever walked it before, or if I have only heard rumors that it exists. If I feel it, I can see it, and so it is clear, and so it exists.

What’s more, until I see a path in this way, I never understand why I am on it, nor do I truly understand why this path will take me somewhere I want to go. No matter how beautiful a destination is made to sound, I know too well that beauty must be seen to be known – and even then, in a crowd of ten thousand surrounding the same statue, there will exist ten thousand beauties. All eyes pointed in the same direction; all eyes on a different path.

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