Choosing Confidence

Writing is all about making choices. I must choose every character, every storyline, every scene, every sentence, every word. Nothing happens until I make a choice. Choices can be erased, modified, or extended, but they must be made. Without choice, there is only the potential of a story, but no story itself.

However, I cannot choose something unless I know it exists. I cannot choose to use the word, say, “sesquipedalian” unless I know it exists. I had never heard of that word until I was forty. Now I choose to use it from time to time, if only for comic effect. For the forty years that I never used the word it always existed, only not in my awareness – which, as far the choices I can make are concerned, is the only reality that matters.

Which is why it’s nice to expand your vocabulary, or read about the world, or take yourself on periodic adventures, or try new wines, or listen to new music. All these things give us new choices. But maybe more useful than all this exploration is this simple question: If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be?

I used to wish I could stay calm when I was in conflict with another person. During every argument or disagreement I felt as if I were being given a test for which I neglected to study. Everything I said and did was guesswork, and all I wanted was for the argument to end so I could go back to feeling confident in my choices. And then one day my wife and I were in an argument, and I wanted it to be over so I could go back to being her friend. But on this day I tried something different. I thought, “What if, when I talk to her, I go to the same place I go when I write?”

All at once I had confidence, and the argument dissolved quickly. It was nothing short of miraculous. My confidence had always been available to me in arguments; I had just mislabeled it. What I had called imagination was really love, and I can never be more confident than when I am focused on what I love. I still forget what real confidence is, but no matter – I can choose it exactly as often as I remember where to find it.

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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Giving Up

If I am working with a client who has never attempted a book-length project before, one of the first challenges I must help this new writer overcome is the sudden and daunting awareness of how little she actually knows about this book she would like very much like to write through to its conclusion. The writer rarely sets out on her journey with this awareness. Instead, she is just excited by some idea that has become so bright in her imagination that she cannot seem to pull her attention from it.

And so one day she decides to sit down and actually begin writing the thing. The idea has been so bright and so interesting to her that it feels as though all she needs to do is set aside a little time everyday and the story should virtually write itself. Then she begins. Sometimes it takes no more than a couple pages for the writer to understand that this story is made of around 60,000 details called words, and that she must in fact choose each of those details, and that those details must fit together as effortlessly as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

This is often a disorienting moment. The writer’s interest in the story was complete. What’s more, the feeling the story is trying to convey is complete as well. If the author is writing a story about the difference between feeling unlovable and finding love, then that profound difference is complete within her mind. But the story that is meant to share that feeling, which is made of tens of thousands of details, is so incomplete that the writer doubts if she ever knew anything.

I can sometimes be of help to these writers simply by reminding them what it is their job to know and what it is not their job to know. It is not our job to know the details. It is only our job to know we would like to find them. It is a sometimes subtle difference, but what we call failure is usually the mistaken belief that our inability to know all the pieces ahead of time means we are incomplete.

How tempting it is in the moment of this mistaken awareness to give up. The feeling of personal incompleteness is in direct opposition to the direction of life and is commensurately wretched in its expression. It is appropriate to want to give up something at this moment, but it’s not the story. Give up believing you can finish what is already whole, or fix what was never broken, and return to the business of finding what you are actually looking for.

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

No Difference

If you’re going to write anything at all, whether it’s an epic poem or an historical romance or a cyberpunk vampire space opera, you have to be able to tell the difference between one thing and another. You must be able to tell the difference between a story that interests you and a story that does not; you must be able to tell the difference between forcing a word or a scene or a character, and allowing a word, scene, or character. This is how you really learn to write. Nothing in all the classes you take or books you read can ever replace this felt, uniquely personal understanding.

And to write anything at all, you must be able to tell the difference between love and fear, between loneliness and companionship, between confidence and insecurity. To show something we must contrast it against its opposite in the same way we most enjoy breathing immediately after holding our breath. We create danger so our reader can fully appreciate safety, despair so they can appreciate contentment.

Remember, however, that all the differences we experience and learn to perceive are ultimately a part of a flawlessly integrated whole. To walk a tightrope, you must learn the fine difference between balance and imbalance. And yet these two opposites are in service to the same goal. The discomfort we have named imbalance is there to help, not to punish. So it is with all discomfort, and with everything we have discarded in favor of a different thing. Yes cannot exist without no, as form cannot exist without shadow.

As abstract as this concept may seem as you go about the very practical business of writing your next legal thriller or your first tender coming-of-age love story, it remains the source of your creative wellbeing. The idea that your creations are but a shadow, is anathema to creativity. We are not in the business of good and bad; we are in the business of what we want and don’t want. Everything is good in the end, even that meandering first draft you scrapped. You are a better writer because of it.

Which is why you have suffered so when you believed you were no good, that what you planted could not grow. You had believed completely in the good and the bad, had demanded it of the world, and yet if you looked closely at anything that you named bad you always saw some good. And so you labeled yourself bad to maintain this useless idea. The suffering you knew even then was merely guiding you back to the truth, back to what you are, back to what you want to create.

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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.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

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No Modifiers

Writing is built on nouns and verbs. Adjectives and adverbs color, pass judgment on, and celebrate those nouns and verbs. Left on their own, adjectives and adverbs would be a collection of opinions about nothing. You could write an entire book without a single adjective and adverb, and probably someone already has.

Maybe this is why love is my favorite word. It is both a noun and a verb. Love is both an experience and expression. You can be aware of love as a feeling within you, and you can actively love someone or something. In this way, it is both things at once. It is both some thing and something you do. It is really a sentence all by itself.

Which is exactly like every living thing. Every living thing is a complete sentence. Every living thing is both a noun and a verb, for everything is doing something, even if that something is growing or dying, even if that something is nothing, for not acting is still a choice, which means it is an action. Nouns and verbs, I think, belong to God, while adjectives and adverbs belong to people. We invented every one of them and can become enormously attached to them.

It is hard to see the world without adjectives or adverbs. I’m not really used to it. Things are good or bad, ugly or beautiful, or done perfectly or imperfectly. Everything seems to require my modification, my stamp upon it. The stamp is in my mind alone. What I call beautiful another calls ugly. The stamp does not exist, only the thing it would pretend to label, which I can see truly only when I call it love.

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

No Little Choices

So Election Day will be upon us in just a couple days, and if you haven’t voted already, I hope you do so on the day. I did not vote in the first two Presidential elections for which I was eligible. A child of the Seventies, I’d adopted the cynical attitude toward politics typical of that time. Watergate suggested that forces were at work that could not thwarted by single ballot. What difference did my vote make? Voting felt like tossing a message in a bottle into the ocean. As a young artist, I already spent enough time worrying about my own insignificance. I didn’t need one more reminder of it.

My decision to vote for the first time also coincided with my decision to write my first novel. I’d been writing stories and poems and sketch comedy since I was a boy, but now I was going to write a book, which I understood from the outset was going to take a while. Moreover, I did not outline: I found one little idea that seemed interesting and followed it until it lead me to another idea and then another idea and by and by I’d finished a first draft.

I learned early on that I could not concern myself with all that I did not know about the book I was writing. Whenever I did, I’d feel overwhelmed and as if I’d already failed. All my security and confidence lay in paying attention to the choices that stood immediately before me – the next scene, the next sentence, the next word. The more I cared about each choice, the more I paid attention to my preference for one word over another word, the more the book made sense to me even when I couldn’t perceive its entirety.

You could say this was also how I learned to vote. I looked at the two candidates that year and could feel my preference for one over the other and I decided that that preference mattered. It mattered even though I did not live in anything close to a “battle ground” state. It mattered because acting on that preference felt better than not acting on it, in the same way writing felt better than not writing. So I voted, and did not worry about the role my single vote played in that year’s election. I couldn’t worry about it – I had a book to rewrite, and I had to pay attention to the difference between what the book was and what I wanted it to be.

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

No Instructions

I was visiting my brother a few years ago in Los Angeles and decided to watch some TV while he was working out. I didn’t have cable in my own home at the time and was unfamiliar with Comcast’s immense, standard-issue remote. I looked for instructions, but could find none. I began pushing buttons. Nothing happened. I pushed more buttons. Still nothing. I became angry and pushed the same buttons again. More nothing. I gave up, and awaited my brother’s return, whereupon I explained my dilemma.

“Oh, yeah,” he said. “You’ve just got to . . .” He pushed one button, and the screen came to life.

“Give me that stupid thing,” I said, and began surfing for something to watch. It was a relief to be flipping through the channels, even though I couldn’t find anything I liked. It was easy to answer the question, “Does this look interesting?” Much easier, in this case, than, “How does this work?”

Sometimes figuring out how something works is simpler than knowing what you want to do with it. It’s just a puzzle. Plus, if you lose interest in figuring it out yourself, you can find someone else who has figured it out. People love to help one another—sometimes, maybe, a little too much.

Life is not some vast, immensely complex remote control. At some very critical point, no matter how much others would like to help us, we are all on our own. We are all looking at a blank screen and wondering what we would like to see across it. Thankfully, no authentic instructions exist for such moments, including the advice in this column. At best I can remind you of what it feels like to enjoy that moment of choosing, of remembering that you cannot be wrong when you find what you love.

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

Inspired Choices

Writing a book could be seen as the result of making 80,000 choices called words. I could think of it that way, but I don’t because it’s overwhelming. When I think of choices I usually imagine myself weighing the value of two apparent equals, such as deciding to eat fish or chicken, or deciding to paint a room Sunshine Yellow or Raincoat Yellow. Most of the words in a book seem to choose themselves, one following the other, as do my steps as I am headed from one place to another.

But from time to time I must pause in my writing journey and choose where to go next. Now I am aware that I am making a choice, and, like a musician learning a new score, everything slows down. In many ways, the success of a piece depends on what I do at these moments. I have paused because I cannot yet perceive a difference between one choice and another, between one word and another, one thought and another. It is this apparent lack of difference that so confuses me – because I know that whether I am writing or taking a walk, I am always choosing between opposites.

A choice is always inspired or uninspired. At any given moment, in a story or in my life, there is only ever one inspired choice, while there are countless uninspired choices. The inspired choice is an expression of unconditional love, unconditional happiness, unconditional well-being. It is happiness, love, joy, passion, or curiosity extending itself outward. As I writer, I ask myself, “What does this story want to be?” It is a question I can answer only from my awareness of how interested I am in the story, utterly independent of what other people will think of that story. That is unconditional love for the story I am telling.

Uninspired choices, meanwhile, are entirely conditional. Uninspired choices – of which I have made many, many, many in my life – are an attempt to assemble happiness by arranging the furniture of my life. I will be happy, says the uninspired thought, when I have bought that house, or won that game, or lost that weight, or published that book. I have made so many of these choices that I sometimes call the effort and force necessary to make them normal. I have made so many that I sometimes call the inevitable disappointment that follows bad luck.

Writing taught me the difference between these choices like nothing else. It is immediately uncomfortable to choose the uninspired word. You can ignore that discomfort, which I frequently have, but the discomfort will only increase with every new uninspired word. Why, you might ask, would I ever make an uninspired choice if it feels so lousy? Why make such a choice if it always leads to disappointment?

Because the uninspired choices carry the illusion of control, whereas the inspired choices always require trust. The uninspired choice says, “I will cut a path through the forest,” whereas the inspired choice knows a path already exists, although I cannot yet see it. My life sometimes feels too important to surrender to something other than the brute strength of my will to succeed and my willingness to work hard. Yet all I am seeking in my hard work and yearning for success is happiness, happiness, happiness, and hopefully more happiness – the very thing waiting to be chosen at any moment.

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

Good Ideas

I don’t like to ask the authors I interview where their ideas for books come from, because the slightly embarrassing truth is no one knows. Not in the way we know where, say, babies come from. Although, truthfully, the answer is more or less the same. An idea is attractive to a writer for reasons he cannot fully understand. Perhaps he met that idea in an article or on television; perhaps he met it when he idly asked himself, “What if?” However he met it, he eventually spends more and more time with that idea until he decides that this relationship is serious enough to at last consummate it on the blank page.

The difference, of course, is that biologists can watch a baby being made, but no one can watch an idea being formed. Which is why I don’t ask writers where their ideas come from. It can inspire a tiny existential crisis. I do sometimes ask writers how they know an idea is attractive. We meet a lot of ideas in a single day. What is the difference between an idea that is attractive enough to pursue all the way to the page, and one that is not?

This is a more practical question than the other. In fact, it may be the most practical question I could ever ask myself. Every idea, like every relationship, like every job, is a path I follow. What is the difference between a path I seem to be cutting through the bramble myself, and one that opened for me? What is the difference between discovering and making, between receiving an idea and grabbing the first one that appears in my mind?

The answer may seem obvious when asked this way, but it is not always so obvious in the busy marketplace that is my mind. How easy to mistake the stillness of waiting for an idea, for the boredom of impatience; or the momentum of following an idea for the momentum of running from failure. Yet to learn that difference, as I must every day, is to find oneself, an idea that needs nothing but love.

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

Preferences

Buddhists believe that happiness is the absence of want. This has always made sense to me. If you have everything you want, what is there to be unhappy about? But this is not really what they mean, of course. The absence of want refers to the perception that there is nothing you require, that you want, in order to be happy. That is the absence of want.

Except I have lived my entire life with a continuous creative impulse that I have always called want or desire. An idea forms in my mind of something I would like to experience, a book I would like to write, a meal I would like to eat, a relationship I would like to have. Immediately, I experience a kind of delicious discomfort – a desire in want of fulfillment. Such impulses have been the source of my most satisfying creative experiences. How is this not want? And how is it not a good thing?

It is only recently that I have come to understand that what I called want was actually preference. Imagine you walk into a bookstore and begin reading one novel after another: suspense, women’s fiction, science fiction, memoir. And then you pick up a cozy mystery. Those other novels were nice, but this is just delicious. This is just so cozy and mysterious. You want more. Fortunately, you are in a bookstore, and you can have more. All you have to do is pick out another one, and then another one, and then another one.

And then perhaps one day you feel a new itch. As you drive to the bookstore to buy another cozy mystery, you begin imagining one of your own. The feeling of creating your own cozy mystery is similar to the feeling of reading a cozy mystery, only more intense, because to summon the new story you must steep your attention all the more in the coziness and mysteriousness. You realize you would prefer to read these stories and write these stories.

Now comes the moment where an author must choose to see this evolving impulse as preference or want. It is easy to call choosing one book over another preference, for most of the creative work was done for us ahead of time. It is another thing to call the writing of that book preference because the author’s book is still unwritten. It appears not to exist. And so perhaps she believes she must want it, want what she does not have, even while the very seed of what she claims she does not have is planted in her heart.

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

Choosing Confidence

Writing is all about making choices. I must choose every character, every storyline, every scene, every sentence, every word. Nothing happens until I make a choice. Choices can be erased, modified, or extended, but they must be made. Without choice, there is only the potential of a story, but no story itself.

However, I cannot choose something unless I know it exists. I cannot choose to use the word, say, “sesquipedalian” unless I know it exists. I had never heard of that word until I was forty. Now I choose to use it from time to time, if only for comic effect. For the forty years that I never used the word it always existed, only not in my awareness – which, as far the choices I can make are concerned, is the only reality that matters.

Which is why it’s nice to expand your vocabulary, or read about the world, or take yourself on periodic adventures, or try new wines, or listen to new music. All these things give us new choices. But maybe more useful than all this exploration is this simple question: If I could change one thing about myself, what would it be?

I used to wish I could stay calm when I was in conflict with another person. During every argument or disagreement I felt as if I were being given a test for which I neglected to study. Everything I said and did was guesswork, and all I wanted was for the argument to end so I could go back to feeling confident in my choices. And then one day my wife and I were in an argument, and I wanted it to be over so I could go back to being her friend. But on this day I tried something different. I thought, “What if, when I talk to her, I go to the same place I go when I write?”

All at once I had confidence, and the argument dissolved quickly. It was nothing short of miraculous. My confidence had always been available to me in arguments; I had just mislabeled it. What I had called imagination was really love, and I can never be more confident than when I am focused on what I love. I still forget what real confidence is, but no matter – I can choose it exactly as often as I remember where to find it.

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