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.

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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Believing in What You Write

Many years ago, I published a novel. It was the third novel I’d written, but the first I’d published. I loved the book. I was excited about it in a way I had not been about my first two books. The story’s voice sounded more like me than anything else I’d written. Once I’d found the story’s true beginning, the plot seemed to fall together on its own. It took place in the 1800’s, and I found myself happy to do the kind of exhaustive research I had not been willing to do for my second book, which had been set during Prohibition.

The first agent I showed it to at a writer’s conference snatched it up immediately. I was thrilled. I’d never had a real agent. In fact, I’d spent the first seven or eight years of my nascent writing career thinking how much better life would be if only I had an agent. Now I did. She was eager to send it out. Great, I said. Strangely, I couldn’t really imagine a big New York publisher actually buying it. But this was all new to me, and I wasn’t going to worry about what I couldn’t imagine.

My agent sent it out, and it came back. The editors had many complimentary things to say, but it wasn’t . . . quite . . . right. I would eventually find a tiny publisher whom I basically convinced to publish it. I had no idea if they actually liked it. When the book finally came out, after many unexplained delays, it was littered with typos, I was paid half of what I was owed, and I received exactly two copies, which I stuck on my shelf and tried to forget existed. I no longer loved the book. It was an embarrassment.

Ten years later, I found myself pulling a copy off the shelf and reading the first page. A lot had changed for me in those ten years. For instance, I no longer believed that my life would be better if only I had an agent. Also, ten years is a fantastic buffer for a writer’s memory. I had forgotten enough about the book that I could read it almost as if a stranger had written it. To my surprise, I liked it. I kept reading. I still liked it. If I had found it on a shelf in a bookstore, I’d have bought it. Period.

It ought to have been published by one of those New York publishers, I thought to myself. But I couldn’t be bitter about how it was published. I never really believed it would be published, and so, for all practical purposes, it wasn’t. My experience matched my belief perfectly. I found this comforting as I returned the book to its place on my shelf beside all the other books written by friends and strangers. I no longer believe in luck or talent or even hard work.

I believe in perception.

I will never be able to prove that what I believed, while sitting in my office in Seattle, somehow influenced an editor in her office in New York. It makes no logical sense. But I do know that I cannot write a single sentence unless I believe my story is interesting, or exciting, or profound. And I know that I cannot write about love if I am feeling hateful, and I cannot write something funny if I am feeling sad. And I know that if I perceive someone as a friend, they are friendly; and if I perceive them as an enemy, they are not friendly.

And I also know that that the only person’s mind I can change is my own. I have tried mightily to change other people’s minds, but to no avail. I cannot make anyone like what I have written, or buy what I have written, or praise what I have written. All I can do is believe that what I have written is worth sharing, and that continues to make all the difference.

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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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How to Believe in What You Write

I used to think of “reality” as what I could see and taste and touch – the stuff that has already been made and that everyone agrees exists. The more serious I became about my writing, the more impractical this concept of reality became. For instance, let’s say I woke up one morning and thought to myself, “I want to write a sweeping historical novel.” Let’s say until that morning I’d never written anything but term papers, emails, and Facebook statuses. If I asked myself, “I wonder if I could do this?” and if I looked at “reality” to answer this question, I would have to answer, “No.” Clearly I couldn’t, because I hadn’t.

Absurd, I know. If I looked to what I had done to tell me what I could do, I would never do anything, because I can’t do something until I’ve done it for the first time. But let’s say I didn’t just want to write this novel. I wanted, eventually, to make a living writing sweeping historical novels. Now, as a practical matter, I might look about at the world of writers and ask myself, “Has anyone made a living writing sweeping historical novels?”

Now what we commonly call reality can serve as an inspiration. It wouldn’t take long before I would see that, yes, people do make a living writing these books. Therefore, I might logically conclude, it is possible, and if it is possible, and if I am interested in it, then it is worthy of my full attention.

However, as inspiring as the examples of others can be, turning to the visible world requires great discipline. Because there other examples out there, examples of writers who failed to make a living, who failed even to publish a book. In fact, if I were diligent in my search for evidence, I would soon learn that there are more examples of people who did not make a living at it than of those who did.

What to do? It is as if there are two possible roads, and I won’t know which I am walking until I have reached the end. So it can seem, when I use the world I can see to tell me what I can do. But why would a writer do such a thing? I begin every story facing a blank page. The reality I can see is an empty canvas awaiting my decisions. The reality upon which my true attention is trained is the reality only I can see and know.

Which is why the true reality is not what I can see, not what has been made, but the alive potential within me from which all creation springs. It is a reality to which everyone has equal access, but which is equally unique in its expression through us. This reality is quite comforting when I can remember it. It is friendly and stable and supportive and consistent. When I’m in it, I cannot imagine wanting to leave.

But I do anyway. The world I can see and touch and taste is interesting too, and that’s where all the other people are, and it is easy to lose track of reality while we sit around debating the merits of what has been made, or fretting about what might be made. Meanwhile, there are pages and pages waiting to be filled, each of them equally blank, each of them equally open to whichever road I choose.

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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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The Light of the Blank Page

I write mostly memoir now, but it is still my job to forget the past. As a writer, it is my job to believe more in what will be than what was. After all, whether I am writing a memoir or a poem or a novel or a screenplay, my writing begins with a blank page. Everything that ever has been written already fills other pages. All that I hope for and believe in will one day fill my page. But first there is that emptiness and the question of what I would like most to occupy it.

The answer has nothing to do with the past. I would prefer to never care about the past except as material. But I do care about it. I replay victories and attempt to rewrite losses. Habits I can’t remember forming make choices for me before I recognize a choice is being made. And at my lowest and darkest, I see time as a cycle of predictable repetition, the future a dystopian, unchanging extension of what already is.

What a gift the light of the blank page is at these moments. There is my future as I choose to believe in it or not. There is what can be made and erased, what can be dreamt and undreamt. When I chose to write, I did not see myself pursuing a career so close the holy man’s. I just wanted to tell stories. But what choice do any of us have? The story cannot live in the minds of others until we tell it, and we cannot tell it until we believe it is worth telling. What choice do we have but to stand at the altar of our imagination and say we believe more in what will be than what is?

This is heresy in some circles, I know. It’s why writers like to gather together occasionally and commiserate. Here we can share tales from the dream-state from which our favorite stories are born. The dream-state bears so little resemblance to the rest of our lives that we must believe in it again and again to reenter it. To talk of it sounds crazy sometimes, but you would be worse than crazy not to seek it again once you’ve found it. It has no replacement, the same as life has no opposite.

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 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.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Rewriting History

Most memoirists are drawn to write about the most painful moments in their lives. The neglect, the abuse, the disease, the death, the poverty, or some combination of all of these serves as the dark backdrop against which the light that is memoirist’s life can shine brightest. But it is not so easy to revisit these moments. The imagination is so powerful and so immediate that it cannot differentiate between past and present. Merely remembering being told you are stupid cuts as deeply as the moment you first heard these words. How then to approach what is painful without suffering fully with it again?

The answer lies in stories. What we call pain is only a story we still believe about the past. To be called stupid, for instance, is nothing but a story. Perhaps the memoirist didn’t pass a test and someone took this to mean she was stupid. They could have as easily taken it to mean she wasn’t interested in the test. The stories the memoirist is told, then, are nothing until she believes them.

Meanwhile, having lived many years believing this old story, the memoirist has begun to tell herself another story. In this story, her intelligence is an expression of her curiosity. By this definition, everyone is intelligent. She much prefers this story, though it directly contradicts the story about intelligence she was once told and believed. She so prefers this new story that she decides to write a book describing her journey from one story to another.

Yet despite her desire to live from this new story, that old story still lives within her. She had believed it quietly for so many years, it had infected her choices and perceptions continuously and insidiously. When she returns to retell that moment she first believed she was stupid, her faith is shattered. Her new story feels as light as a fairy tale against the hard, measurable truth of the old story.

No matter. Writers write to teach themselves to believe in what they know. The memoirist returns again and again to that moment, and each time the sting lessens until finally there is no sting at all. Her belief in the new story has finally eclipsed her belief in the old. This is sometimes called “rewriting,” which it is. History exists to be rewritten until it suits our present lives, so that what was once seen as faith becomes knowledge.

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

Look At It

We often say that seeing is believing. Good advice, that. It’s one the thing to be told that the Louvre is amazing, it’s another thing to behold it yourself. And by the way, don’t be a sucker, don’t believe every story every fool tells you. Go see for yourself. Let experience be your teacher, and so make your own decisions about what is and isn’t true.

All of this is true in its way, but the reverse is true also: believing is seeing. You cannot see what you do not believe exists. For instance, perhaps you would like to make a living publishing ebooks on CreateSpace. If you believe such a thing is possible, you will begin to see evidence to support this belief even before you write your first ebook. The evidence will all be circumstantial, of course. You will notice stories about this first-time author who sold 100,000 books, or that midlist writer who abandoned traditional publishing in favor of doing it herself and is selling more than every before. The evidence will accumulate to support the belief until you try your hand at it and now you are maybe one more success story to support someone else’s belief.

Or maybe you don’t believe it. It’s all luck and you aren’t lucky. You’ve got a long list of evidence of your unluck – the rejection letters, the cheating boyfriend, the alcoholic mother.  Life’s a crapshoot whose rewards are given to the deserving and undeserving equally. Look at all the lousy books on the bestseller list. You’ve done better and yet look at your rejection letters. Look at Donald Trump, for that matter. Need we look any further? You won’t be a sucker and believe in what you cannot see. Look at life—look at it! Look at that mess. How can anyone not see what a mess it is?

I used to take this last question for an accusation, but maybe it is just the opposite. To see something lovely I must first believe in loveliness. Otherwise, I will see only ugliness and ugliness cynically masquerading as beauty. I waited a long time for the world to tell me what it was, all the while it was only listening to me, echoing everything I thought in what I saw.

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

Temple Building

Each of us spends our days building our own temple so we can see with our eyes what it is we believe. It is often a life’s work, this temple building. What we believe is important. Sometimes, in fact, we are more aware of the importance than the belief itself, a feeling of meaning within us pointing toward a thought we call belief. This can make the building of temples confusing. What should it truly look like when the meaning it is meant to hold lacks all form?\

We are drawn to begin the building anyway. It is an odd relationship between the building and the builder. Sometimes the building teaches the builder what he should build. This seems backwards and yet it often is the case. As the temple grows we learn its shape even as we set each brick in place.

And in the hours when we rest from our work, we may sometimes become aware of what has grown within us. It is simpler to look upon the growing temple than this namelessness we feel. It is there and then it is gone. The temple is always exactly where we left it, unchanged by mood or thoughts or the sadness of shadows.

Only time affects the temple. We dream of building something as permanent as the earth itself, but every speck of dust that collects on its walls, and every stone before the altar worn smooth by our knees, teaches us of the truth. You rise from prayer at such moments, awareness shattering solid life, and all the world feels ready to crumble. Yet it is through those cracks in the walls of your temple that a light reveals what has taken shape within you. There is the temple at last, visible now that the walls between and you and it have toppled.

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

Disbelief

Strange coming from a writer, but I have, like many before me, learned never to believe what I read. Though maybe this is because I am a writer. A writer knows better than anyone how much must be left out. A writer knows better than anyone how the details you do choose to share slant the story you tell. A writer knows that what remains on the page after all the editing and rewriting is, at its very best, nothing more than a vivid and imaginatively fertile glimpse of the whole.

So I don’t believe what I read. No matter how well written, no matter how well researched, no matter how relentlessly detailed, I don’t believe I am getting the whole picture. But I don’t want the whole picture. It’s too much. What a bore that would be. Plus I enjoy filling in all those details the writer must by necessity leave out. I know what Gatsby’s Daisy really looks like and I don’t need Fitzgerald cluttering things up with his opinion on the matter.

And I certainly don’t believe it when a writer tells me someone is sad or happy or lonely or angry. That’s for me to decide. I’ll decide if your hero is noble or brash, if your villain is wicked or vain. In fact, I love to decide such things. I am like a little emperor – a little god even, looking down from my perch above the page and casting final judgments. What a joy to know the writer’s characters in this way. I see myself in all of them, and aren’t I interesting?

Though maybe I am being too severe. There are some things I’ve read that I believe. Strange, I just can’t remember what right now. I have the clearest memory of sitting with a book, and I must have been reading it, for I thought, “Yes! That is absolutely true.” That memory is like a dream now, how in a dream a book becomes All Books. No matter – the book itself is unimportant. The feeling is all I care about. The writer had reminded me of something that I had in my distraction forgotten, something I spotted between all his or her precious words. But I’ve got it back now, and I am forever grateful, and I believe I must read another book before I forget it again.

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

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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