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.

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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.

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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Guided By No

Most writers will have their work rejected. Sometimes this rejection is a product of work being submitted prematurely, but usually it is a consequence of being human. To be sane, a human must be able to say No. And although I love it when people say Yes to me, writing has taught me that my freedom and security are in direct proportion to my willingness to let people say No to me.

My goal is to write stories that I love to write, teach classes that I love to teach, share perspectives that I love to share. No one in the world can tell me what to love, and no in the world can tell me that I don’t love something. No one in the world can tell me what to teach or write or what to focus my attention upon. I am necessarily alone in that decision, for that decision is the most important decision I will ever make.

I tried for a very long time to write stories that I did not love to write. I did not understand at the time that I did not love to write them. I was like a man who had lived in a loveless marriage for years and did not understand there was any other kind of marriage in which one could live. Fortunately, the agents and editors to whom I sent these stores said No. I was a very determined fellow, and so I got to hear a lot of No’s, and I was not happy about any of them.

Eventually, all the No’s guided me back to the Yes I had been looking for. Now there is no longer the question of whether I am good enough, or talented enough, or smart enough; now there is only the question of how I will share what I had found. Now I am free to say No to all the stories I had once believed I had to tell, and now I can finally grant that freedom to everyone 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.

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 Tormentor Retires

Most people I know feel they have known a tormentor in their life. The tormentor might be a parent, or a boss, or a coworker, or a neighbor, or a classmate, or a spouse. Sometimes the tormentor is even a friend. I certainly gave a few people that name. I felt singled out by these brutes, as if they had determined there was something irreparably wrong with me, and while it was clear I was incapable of correcting this problem, they could at least remind me of it as often as possible to keep the record straight.

Oh, the Hollywood fantasies of revenge and lethal retorts I played over and over in mind at the end of a tormented day. Let the knife of indignant truth cut out their tongues. I was no good with that blade. When my turn came I felt shocked and exposed. I didn’t want to hurt anybody; I just wanted to be left alone.

But I also wanted to talk to people, and tell the stories and jokes, and maybe sometimes be the center of attention because someone has to be if only for a little and why not Bill? Those were the moments for which it seemed my tormentor waited. Put yourself in the spotlight and all the tomato-throwers in the world start warming up their arms. Why, it’s enough to keep you silent.

Which it almost did. I can’t remember precisely when the torment stopped. I eventually learned to laugh at my own mistakes along with those who pointed them out, but that was only the beginning of it. Somewhere in the torment itself laid my freedom. I will never know, for instance, my own intelligence so purely as when I was called stupid and had to choose for myself. In that moment, the tormentor’s job was done, for he no longer had to name the lie I had believed.

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.

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

Not Viable

The difference between writing a story I love, and writing a story I think might sell, is like the difference between being in an intimate relationship with someone I love, and being in an intimate relationship with someone I merely like and enjoy. That difference is effortlessness. To write a story I love or to be in a relationship with someone I love, I do not first have to overcome my own disinterest nor divert the river of my passion so it flows more conveniently where I need it to flow.

To write a story I love to write, or work a job I love to work, or be with a person I love, is to find the current of my passion and follow it where it is already running. But to do so, I must first believe in effortlessness. Following the river of my own passion feels like so much less work than the engineering required to bend that river to my own will that it is sometime difficult to recognize the following of my passion as a creative and productive endeavor. Mostly it just feels like Bill being Bill.

That hardly seems productive. Bill is Bill watching sports, and eating cereal, and taking a nap. On very good days what I call “working” feels deceptively similar to those idle activities. The difference is that when I am idle, I have said to myself, “No more effort! Let’s watch the World Cup.” While I am writing, however, I must choose effortlessness again and again and again.

Because within my creative field swirl a myriad of choices, each as viable as the next, just as every person I pass on the street is as lovable as the next. Some of those viable ideas are quite attractive, exotically ripe with the potential for worldly success. Why, I wonder, can’t I be the sort of fellow who pursues such exotic ideas? Why must I just be Bill? The effort is my answer. The struggle to not be me is a struggle against life itself, a struggle I endure and endure and endure until at last I surrender to the current where work and rest are one and the same.

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.

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

Belief

Whether you are writing a book, or starting a business, or attempting a seven-foot high jump, you must first believe that it is possible to do what you are about to do. Belief is more than a self-help buzzword; it is the starting place for nearly everything humans have ever attempted and accomplished. If I believe it is impossible to do something, I will not attempt it; if I believe it is possible, I might.

In this way, belief is more important than evidence. Someone might show me evidence that it is possible to become, say, a successful writer. They might show me hundreds video interviews with writers who were themselves once upon a time nothing but young men and women who thought it would be cool to tell stories for a living. No matter how many videos I was shown, I could still choose to believe it impossible.

Likewise, someone could show me evidence that it is impossible to become a successful writer. They could quote statistics of how many writers try and fail, how many manuscripts are rejected by agents and publishers. They could tell me I have a better chance of winning the lottery and that to succeed I must be both lucky and talented. They could tell me all of this, and I could still choose to ignore that evidence and believe it possible.

I have lived most of my life taking my own belief and disbelief for granted. I had allowed the concept of belief to drift into the airy realm of superstition and desperation. Yet it is nothing less the foundation of my entire life, the only springboard from which any idea can launch. It has never been my job to accept reality, only to believe in the reality I wish to enjoy.

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.

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

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.indd

Write 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

What Has No Opposite

The focus I need to tell the story I most want to tell is like the balance necessary to walk across a narrow beam. As my attention strays, as I begin to wonder what others will think about it, or what others have thought about what I have written in the past, I experience a discomfort to which I have given many names over the years. I have called it writer’s block, or lack of talent, or hard, or bad luck.

Or sometimes I even call it failure. I had come to believe failure is the opposite of success, which is where I have always aimed my writing arrow: the bull’s-eye of success. How good it feels, how successful I feel when I am flowing along, when each sentence feels like its own little bull’s-eye. Success! Success! Success! Why, when all these little successful sentences are strung together there can be but one final destination for their sum: success!

Until I feel the discomfort, which feels like the opposite of comfort, which feels like the opposite of success, which must then be failure. Except let us think again of that balance beam. Balance actually has no opposite. Imbalance and balance are but different expressions of the same desire. There is only balance and that which guides me back to balance. Imbalance is not punishment, it is not failure, it is only information about where my attention is currently directed.

And even if I ignore this information and let my attention wander and wander and wander out in the void of other people’s opinion, all that will happen is that I will fall. Now I am completely balanced on my back. Now, I needn’t concern myself with the fine direction of my attention. Now I can rest. Until I feel myself restless to get back on my feet, and restless for that pleasure that is focusing my attention to maintain my balance, the only means by which I can ever get from here to there.

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.

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

Doing Nothing

Writing is not thinking, it is active listening. When we are actively listening to another person, we are not just hearing their words. That is, I am not actively listening merely because I could recite back verbatim what someone else just said. Rather, just as a reader is not really reading unless he is bringing that book to life in his imagination, so too I am not actively listening unless I am brining the words of my conversational partner to life in my imagination – seeing in my mind the story he is telling and, most importantly, feeling the fear, joy, relief, or hope the story is trying to convey.

Writing is this same process in reverse. Whereas in conversation I focus on my partner’s words to allow the feelings they are trying to convey to bloom in my imagination, while writing I focus on the feeling I want to convey and allow my imagination to provide the scenes, sentences, and words that match those feelings. I am focused because the longer I keep my attention on the feeling, the easier it is for the imagination to provide what I am asking for.

Yet I am listening because I am not trying to provide the words myself. I am listening because I have asked a question: “How can I best describe that moment when I first saw Jen?” When I ask a guest on my show a question, I do not then answer it myself. So too with my writing. If I want to know how to describe that moment when I first saw Jen, I remember that moment, remember what it felt like, remember exactly what it felt like, and stay there within that feeling until the words arrive.

If I move my attention away from the feeling, the words will not come. If I doubt they will come, they will not come. If I am impatient, they will not come. If I believe a better writer would find better words, they will not come. They will only come when I stop thinking, and stop worrying, and stop doubting, and starting feeling and waiting and feeling and waiting. What a strange way to make a living. On my best days, it is as if I am being paid for doing nothing, which I suppose in a way is true.

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.

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

New Thought

When I am nervous I find that my mind is preoccupied with old thoughts. These thoughts have served their purpose, have, like the coals in a steamship’s belly, burned and moved me forward through time. If a particular thought burned very hot and took me very far it can be difficult to see it as an old thought. I feel an allegiance to it, wishing to enshrine this thought against evolution, viewing it through the fearful lens of my own mortality where I pity all things that must one day pass away.

But it is uncomfortable to sit idle in the ocean when you can feel life calling you forward. I descend into the furnace room and fan those old thoughts, enamored for a moment with the brute usefulness of action, as if I had succumbed through distraction to laziness. When my efforts yield no movement, I despair. What use is my knowledge of the seas and my skill behind the wheel? The ocean is my new master, and I am its slave.

I had forgotten in my discomfort that idleness is invention’s friend. So much easier to scan the horizon when I am not busy being enthralled by my own speed. And there it is, some spot out beyond the waves that looks interesting. Do you see it? I ask a friend. No, he does not. How strange. Still, there it is again. But how, I wonder, might I get there?

Now my boat is moving once again. I do not even notice its advancement, as my eyes are still trained on what I see. Until at last I feel the movement, and now I am behind the wheel, and I have forgotten my despair as one would a dream, and I love the ocean for all its possibilities. And in the ship’s belly, these new thoughts have caught their fire from the old, their heat requiring no fan but the wind of my curiosity.

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.

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

My New Best Friend

I have never seen much value in this mantra: I don’t like to write, but I like having written. If you don’t like to write, you should probably find something do you like to do. While it’s true that I too like having written, and I too have slogged through some profitless sessions, have trashed tens of thousands of words, have spent days feeling utterly disconnected from everything I have ever written, in the end I like to write. Eventually I get connected, and something begins to flow, and I find myself lost in the dream of whatever I’m writing and I can’t imagine giving up that experience anytime between now and the day I die.

Recently, however, I had begun to view exercise as something I simply liked having done. I had stopped running because my knees had become cranky, and the little regimen of pushups and chin-ups and sit-ups I was doing was boring. I began to skip it more and more. I put on weight. Then I came across something called T25, a series of DVDs featuring the happily fit Sean T., who is my new best friend. Sean T. tells me I must focus, and I do. Sean T. runs me through a rapid series of exercises for exactly 25 minutes and shouts encouraging aphorisms. Sometimes I shout back.

I love it. I love it for much the same reason I love writing – because I must focus on the moment. In fact, Sean T. gives me this very advice. “Focus on the moment!” he calls from T25 Land, and I do. If I do not remain focused on the moment I will lose track of where Sean T. is telling me to go, and he and I will be in very different places, and he is my new best friend and I want to lunge, squat, sprint, and burpee right along with him.

And when I am done focusing on the moment for 25 minutes I am tired and I am sweaty, but I have that lovely cleaned-out feeling that comes from intense exercise—and, now that I think of it, intense writing, too. It’s as if I’ve cleaned out the past with the present. There I am, having exercised or written, feeling finished and empty and ready for something new to focus on.

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.

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