Creative Energy

I was teaching at the Pacific Northwest Writers Conference recently. I love teaching, particularly at conferences, where I get to meet so many new writers, and there’s such a condensed, creative energy in one place. But I’m a man of routines, and those routines involve a lot of solitude. All those people, and all that teaching, and all the hustling from one session to another, and all the late-night gatherings with wine and earnest conversation can wear a fellow out.

It was 2:00 in the afternoon on day three and I was slotted to moderate a session on making picture book dummies. I asked the Powers That Be if I could get out of it. I could not. I considered pouring a fourth of cup of coffee but decided against it. I knew the author teaching the class, and it was nice to say hello and learn how busy she’d been recently, but once I’d passed out her materials to the students, and told everyone to silence their cell phones, I felt like curling up in my chair and taking a nap.

My friend began explaining how one makes a dummy. It was sort of interesting, but I don’t write picture books. My mind wandered and I felt more tired still. The students were folding paper into book-shaped stacks, when my friend turned to me. “Bill, you want to make one?” I chuckled and shook my head. “No, I don’t think so.”

The class booed me. I was going to explain how tired I was, but I decided to make a book dummy instead. The point of the exercise was to learn how to lay out a picture book, to understand which pages a story can start on, and how one decides how much text to put on a given page. The other students had come with stories they’d already written and were busy choosing what text should go where. Once I’d folded and stapled and numbered my pages I wondered if I should copy off someone else. “Nah,” I thought. “I’ll just make something up.”

So I heard the first line of a story and wrote it down. It was pretty good. Then I heard a second line and it was even better, because it told me something about my protagonist and what his challenge was going to be. Now a third line came, which I quickly rewrote, and then a fourth and fifth line, and then nothing. But not nothing, of course. I was just waiting. I was interested now and I could feel another line coming and I was curious to learn what it would be when it did. Then I had it and I felt good writing it down.

As I raised my hand to call my friend over to show her what I’d written, I realized something had changed. It had changed without me noticing or caring, without coffee or naps or television.

I wasn’t tired anymore.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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No Illusions

A writer must have no illusions.

A writing life cannot be supported by fantasies of genius. Our little fantasies are at best shadows of our actual genius, which, when freed from doubt, feels as normal to us as breathing. Our fantasies, meanwhile, are like the dreams of breathing that a man has while he is drowning.

A writer must have no illusions about talent. The illusion that some are talented and some are not, that some have it what takes and some do not, turns the page into an unfriendly proving ground where the writer must inevitably fail. The writer must accept that talent is an expression of our curiosity unfettered by judgment, not the result of some cosmic game of genetic roulette.

A writer must have no illusions about the value of what’s been written. Any number we assign, high or low, is a fantasy of speculation, a long, hard look in a fun house mirror. What number would we assign to that holy instant a reader becomes lost in the same dream we dreamed while writing?

For what is a writer but a hypnotist, and what is the reader but a willing subject? Both surrender to a reality beyond the world they can see and touch, a reality given life in a realm as limitless as it is private. The more complete the surrender, the more satisfying the journey. It is a journey where author and reader meet regardless of the dull and tiny specifics of time and space. It is a journey where we forget our name, and we forget our past, and we forget all the stories we tell ourselves as we tramp around the world we can see and touch.

It is a journey, finally, to a life without end. We close the book, we finish the story, but nothing is over. Reader and writer are always left with something both complete and still growing. To see it otherwise is to believe too fully in the world we can see and touch, a world where things fall apart, and have price tags, and are argued over. The writer must have no illusions about that world. It is no more real than the words on the page, empty marks brought to life where all reality is born.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Waiting For Life

I was twenty-four and had recently relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a career in screenwriting. I didn’t have an idea for a movie I wanted to write, nor was I much interested in the screenplay format, but I wanted to be successful, and Hollywood seemed like the success Mecca. One of the many benefits I believed success granted was plentiful money. I was not the sort of fellow who wanted many things, but I knew didn’t want to worry about money. I hated worrying about money. It drained all the fun out of life.

So I answered a want ad for waiters for a new restaurant opening in Torrance. I drove the hour from Venice where I was crashing with a friend. My commute in Providence, where I’d grown up, had been a ten-minute walk; in LA, an hour was the norm. I found the restaurant in a pleasant, shady outdoor mall, and sat for the initial interview with the head chef at a patio table on the sidewalk beneath an awning. He told me he liked me and that he would hire me on the spot, but that I needed to interview with the owner first, who would be back from lunch soon. Could I hang around for an hour? I told him I could.

I went for a walk. Torrance, which I had never heard of until that afternoon, was a clean, orderly, coastal suburb. Though the mall was somewhat inland, as I strolled the tree-lined streets I could smell the ocean’s salty tang when a breeze stirred. I found a park and wandered along past benches and picnic tables. I was working up a little sweat, and so I found a tall tree across from a playground and lay down in its shade.

I closed my eyes, but I wasn’t remotely tired. I opened them again and stared up through the branches and leaves at the perfectly blue California sky. I could hear the children calling to one another in the playground, and the surrounding white hum of traffic, and the singular, nearing roar of a jet, and even, when I closed my eyes once more, the ocean’s empty, endless hush.

“When will I be able to enjoy this again?” I wondered. I knew the correct answer was Right Now, but Right Now was just a place where I waited until my real, successful, happy, worry-free life arrived. I got up and brushed off my interview pants and looked around at the park and the children and the surrounding hills and the canopy of sky – all of life, right there in Torrance, waiting for nothing.

If you like the ideas and perspectives expressed here, feel free to contact me about individual and group coaching.

 

Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence.
You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter