Writing as Love Letters to Your Readers

The summer after I turned eighteen, the girl I had fallen in love with six months earlier moved with her family from Providence, RI to Seattle, WA. In 1983, before Skype and text messages and emails, that might as well have been the other side of the planet. I was devastated. I dreamed about her night after night, and spent my muggy, Providence afternoons wondering what exactly the point to life was if circumstance could arbitrarily pluck someone you loved from your world.

I went to college on Long Island while she went to school in Olympia. We started writing long letters. I wanted to feel close to her. I wanted to feel the immediacy of her company as I had known it while talking to her on her couch in her living room or when I’d walked her home after we’d gone to see The Graduate. I already knew I wanted to be a writer. Perhaps I could close that 3,000-mile gap through the power of the written word.

Being a young writer, I was also an impatient writer. I wanted my letters to travel what seemed like the fastest and easiest route between my heart and hers. To do this I would need to feel something immediately and acutely. And so I complained. I complained about how few friends I had, about how flat the stories I was writing seemed to me, about the weather on Long Island. Yet no matter how many adjectives I poured onto the page, no matter how detailed I was in chronicling my misery, I could not find again what lit in me every time she answered my knock on her front door.

Twenty-five years later I found myself writing letters of a different kind. These were called blogs, but they really were love letters to strangers. By this time, that girl and I had found each other again and married and had two boys. Circumstance, I began to understand, could not actually pluck anything of value from my world. I just needed to learn where to look for it.

I wanted the little essays and stories I wrote in my blog to inspire writers, to remind them why the very act of writing was always worthy of their time and attention regardless of rejection letters or the market or advances. I knew how easy it was for writers to bond with one other through complaint. We all dislike rejection, and we’d all like to sell more, and we’d all like the stories to come easier.

But I also knew how it felt to open the door to my imagination and find a story I loved to tell waiting for me. I knew how good it felt to spend time in the company of that story, to hear what it had to say and learn where it wanted to go. I decided to write as a kind of invitation to other writers to join me in a place where the enduring value of having a story we loved to tell was more important than the passing disappointment of rejection letters or sagging sales.

There is a kind of vulnerability and naïveté to optimism; it is not interested in fixing problems. I know how easy it is to see problems all around me, to believe that what I desire most has left my world. What a strange thing for a writer to believe. I can find what I love most while alone at my desk facing a perfectly blank page. There I remember again where to look for what I want, and remember what it feels like to find it, and that the bond of friendship is always love and never fear.

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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Why Every Writer is a Visionary

I have a friend who was deeply involved in education in the early ‘70s. He had started two alternative high schools, and he described to me how, in the months leading up to the first school’s opening, he would lay in bed and picture how the school would look, and which classes would go where, and where the kids would eat lunch and where they’d hang out. He could see it all, he said, as if it were already finished and he was merely retracing in his imagination steps he’d already taken in the physical world.

My friend is what I would call a visionary, meaning he had a vision for schools and for education that was different than what a person could see with their eyes at that time. He had been able to see the school long before it existed. In fact, without his vision, the schools would never have been. Yet, as with all new projects, once the schools were created – once the first draft had been written, so to speak – there remained the long journey of seeing them through to their full potential. This required the help of other people, other teachers and bureaucrats and politicians, and this where the trouble started.

Those other people couldn’t yet see what he could see. All they could see was what their eyes showed them, which was something very different than what they were used to seeing and which was not yet expressing its full potential. These other people were dubious and critical and my friend became frustrated and soon left the schools to those other people.

I think of my friend often when I listen to writers talk about their latest idea for a new book. Every writer is a visionary in their own way. Our stories, like my friend’s schools, begin in a place where only we can see them. It is so exciting, it is so life-affirming, to perceive something tangibly before it exists. At such times we are in touch with life’s complete creative potential. It is as if we can perceive, not just the apple tree, but also all the apples it will produce.

The problem are all those other people who can’t yet see the apples we can see, those other people with whom we would very much like to share the fruits of our vision. It is easy to become frustrated and depressed when those other people say, whether in critique groups or rejection letters, that they cannot see what we can see. In fact, some of them might even suggest that what we see does not actually exist, that our story’s value isn’t real, that it’s “all in our imagination.”

How right they are. The profound frustration I often felt when people could not see what I believed I was showing them was merely my own fear that what I had believed was real, was not. If I could not believe in what my imagination showed me, how could I do what I loved to do? It took me a very long time, but I eventually learned that writing’s true pleasure was not just the vision, but the practice of translating that vision so other people could perceive it. That translation required my complete belief despite other people’s doubt, which was just their way of saying, “I can’t see it . . . I can’t see it . . . Now I can see it!”

I still feel a little sigh of relief when readers tell me they can see what I was trying to show them. This relief passes quickly, however. Soon enough, I return to my natural state, the constant in and out of imagining and translating. To doubt my own imagination is to doubt life’s full creative potential, to doubt the summer’s harvest, simply because my eyes behold an apple tree’s barren limbs in winter.

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

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Making Time

I have always made time to write. Whether I was working as a waiter or a sales clerk, whether I was designing roleplaying adventures or booking and conducting interviews, I have always made time to write. This was not so difficult because I considered writing a pleasure and what I wanted most in the world was to do only things that pleased me. Making time to write often meant choosing writing over something that did not please me at all.

Yet I imposed a cost on myself for this choice. I called myself lazy. I believed I wasn’t responsible enough. I felt I should do a few more things that didn’t please me, which seemed like a more grown-up way to live. Children just did whatever they felt like, until they grew up and learned the unavoidable truth of surviving. There’s only so much time in the day, after all. If you spend it all just doing whatever you felt like, houses would never get built and groceries would never get bought.

Time’s a strange commodity. It expands and compresses with my attention. When I become happily lost within the dream of writing, the past and future loose their hold on my imagination, trained as it is in the present moment where creation can occur. When I awaken from this dream, it is like waking from a night’s sleep; it is as if I’d traveled five miles of time in a few steps.

When I am doing things that do not please me, I feel every second. I travel each one, step-by-step, measuring my way toward the end of this chore. Time is a measure, not in where I am, but only in my position relative to the end. I live in the future, in that imagined time when I might be happy again.

Time has never actually existed, but happiness and unhappiness have. In fact, they are all we really know. No one actually needs to find time to write. We need only answer this question: Is my life about doing what pleases me, or doing what I must? Which is actually more important? How I answer that question creates or destroys all time.

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

Follow wdbk on Twitter