A Visit with an Old Friend

When Fearless Writing was published in May of this year, I found myself in my local Barnes & Noble where, against my better judgment, I drifted over to the Writing and Publishing section to see if my book was in stock. Bookstores, you see, even larger bookstores like B&N, don’t stock every single published book. Like a lot of writers, I’ve had a lifelong conversation with Disappointment, who for a time seemed to be a constant companion of mine. I hadn’t heard from him in a while, but maybe he was wandering the bookstore now, ready to resume our dialogue.

To my mild surprise the book was there – and shelved face out, rather than spine out. Well, I reasoned, they probably do that with all the new books. As it happens, the shelf on which it was displayed was visible from the escalator, so that the next time I was in the store I could peer “casually” in that direction without risking running square into Disappointment, who would be standing exactly where the book used to be. Yet there it was, still face out. I worried for a moment that it was there only because it wasn’t selling, but my inner Publishing Professional quickly talked me down off that ledge.

A couple months later I was back in the store, and there was the book, still face out on the same shelf. This time, however, I noticed that this was not just any shelf. This was the “Top Picks in Writing and Publishing” shelf. They must know I’m local, I thought, and so they’re doing me a favor.

Then recently I was in the store again, and there was the book, still on that shelf, still face out. I found a bookseller and asked her about the Top Picks. Were those books chosen by this particular store? “Oh no,” she told me. “Those books are chosen by Corporate depending on what’s selling well nationally.”

“Nationally?” I said.

“That’s correct.”

I had to make sure I’d heard it right. Disappointment can be an annoying fellow. He’ll be jabbering in your ear and you mistake a No for a Yes. It happens. I thanked her and headed for the escalator, and as I glanced once more toward the shelf, there was my old friend, arms folded, shaking his head. He was smiling though. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well over the years. I knew I’d meet him every time I tried to predict my happy future, and he, I believe, had always known I would be fine however the future unfolded.

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

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Lessons in Disappointment

Mrs. Katzman was renowned throughout Summit Elementary School for her strict rules and her impatient old-lady temper. I had come to believe that the student’s first job was to please the teacher, but I did not always understand the rules of Mrs. Katzman’s temper, and so pleasing her seemed like a game of chance.

For instance, my classmates and I were each assigned a different country for which we were to write a report. As a part of this report, we were to draw a picture of its flag on a large piece of construction paper. I drew a black bar down one side of the page (the pole) from which extended a perfect rectangle in which I drew Canada’s (my country) maple leaf and colors. I showed my masterpiece to Mrs. Katzman.

She took one short, shocked look and declared, “This isn’t a flag. A flag has waves. Where are the waves?” She turned and held the drawing up to the class. “Class, look at this. Where are the waves? Why didn’t he draw any waves?”

I returned to my desk and drew a flag with waves.

So it went with Mrs. Katzman. I wanted to be liked, but I gave up trying to solve the riddle of being liked by this woman. And though it was agreed on the playground she was nothing but a mean old teacher, a part of me felt responsible for her meanness, as if my un-waving flag was the final piece of evidence needed to condemn her world to a place guaranteed to disappoint. After my parents divorced and my father moved to Florida, I did not wish to contribute to anyone’s disappointment.

Then the evening came that I accompanied my mother to Parent Teacher Night. I had decided it would be acceptable to endure Mrs. Katzman’s capricious temper from behind the shelter of my mother’s unconditional acceptance. But when we marched into the room together – my mother having been fully prepared for what was to come – Mrs. Katzman turned from her desk, saw me, and her face broke into a grandmother’s joyous smile.

“He’s so wonderful!” she cooed. “He’s just a delight to have in class.” She was beaming down at me as if I were the hero of her favorite story. All my offenses flashed through my mind, and yet I could not find them in her eyes. How mysterious. You might even say disappointing. I returned home that night with the strangest feeling that she’d been smiling at me thus the entire year, and now I would never be able to tell tale of the cruel schoolmarm unless I was willing to lie about the end.

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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Never Disappointing

There are the results I want and then there are the results I get. For years, I called the latter disappointment. I believed that growing up was about learning to accept the difference between expectation and reality. Though we still want what we want as much the child wants an ice cream cone, the adult understands this is not how life works. Life, in this way, becomes an exercise in managed disappointment.

Yet how often does the story we finish differ from the story we first expected? For that matter, how often does the scene we write differ from the one we first imagined? I have learned too well not to expect too much from my ideas. They are enough only to be bring me to the desk where my imagination meets the blank page, and that intersection becomes the reality known as a story.

There is usually much discomfort between idea and reality. There are those narrative roads I travel that don’t work, and sometimes I must go a long way down a certain path before I understand that the growing irritation under my boots is the story telling me turn back. I do not always want to listen to the story. I want what I want. This is my story, isn’t it?

It’s hard to tell sometimes. If I’m very honest, when I get to the end of a story, I am most pleased when that story feels like something I followed and found, not something I made. I cannot make the truth, after all, any more than I can make my life. I can only follow my life, and think how grateful I am, long after the fact, for all the burrs in my boots.

“Why, wasn’t it good luck,” I said to my wife the other night, “that Penguin didn’t buy that book of mine twelve years ago? How could I have ever done the work I’m doing now?” I could vaguely remember the disappointment I felt at the time. I’d been so close. Only now I cannot even see what it was I thought I’d been close to, any more than I can stand beside a dream after I awaken.

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

Lessons In Disappointment

Mrs. Katzman was renowned throughout Summit Elementary School for her strict rules and her impatient old-lady temper. I had come to believe that the student’s first job was to please the teacher, but I did not always understand the rules of Mrs. Katzman’s temper, and so pleasing her seemed like a game of chance.

For instance, my classmates and I were each assigned a different country for which we were to write a report. As a part of this report, we were to draw a picture of its flag on a large piece of construction paper. I drew a black bar down one side of the page (the pole) from which extended a perfect rectangle in which I drew Canada’s (my country) maple leaf and colors. I showed my masterpiece to Mrs. Katzman.

She took one short, shocked look and declared, “This isn’t a flag. A flag has waves. Where are the waves?” She turned and held the drawing up to the class. “Class look at this. Where are the waves? Why didn’t he draw any waves?”

I returned to my desk and drew a flag with waves.

So it went with Mrs. Katzman. I wanted to be liked, but I gave up trying to solve the riddle of being liked by this woman. And though it was agreed on the playground she was nothing but a mean old teacher, a part of me felt responsible for her meanness, as if my un-waving flag was the final piece of evidence needed to condemn her world to a place guaranteed to disappoint. After my parents divorced and my father moved to Florida, I did not wish to contribute to anyone’s disappointment.

Then the evening came that I accompanied my mother to Parent Teacher Night. I had decided it would be acceptable to endure Mrs. Katzman’s capricious temper from behind the shelter of my mother’s unconditional acceptance. But when we marched into the room together – my mother having been fully prepared for what was to come – Mrs. Katzman turned from her desk, saw me, and her face broke into a grandmother’s joyous smile.

“He’s so wonderful!” she cooed. “He’s just a delight to have in class.” She was beaming down at me as if I were the hero of her favorite story. All my offenses flashed through my mind, and yet I could not find them in her eyes. How mysterious. You might even say disappointing. I returned home that night with the strangest feeling that she’d been smiling at me thus the entire year, and now I would never be able to tell tale of the cruel schoolmarm unless I was willing to lie about the end.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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Never Ending

I have always loved to tell stories, particularly stories from my own life. When I was a boy and a young man, however, I frequently ran into a recurring problem. I would begin my tale with great enthusiasm, launching into whatever incredible event I felt demanded both my and my listener’s attention. Everything would usually go swimmingly as I mimicked my character’s voices, paused for dramatic effect, and allowed myself to feel again the joy, shame, or frustration of that moment.

Then I came to the end. Then I arrived at that moment I had somehow never anticipated, that moment that, like it or not, asked, “And why are you telling this?” My answer usually amounted to: “Can you believe the kind of crazy shit that happens to me?” This was not a horrible ending, but it made my life feel like the tale told by Shakespeare’s idiot, just a bunch of sound and fury.

And so perhaps it was. I sulked about the world for a time, disappointed with stories and with life. It all ends with a whimper, doesn’t it? Why, it hardly even seems worth writing about. I would not be the one to disappoint others; let them figure out Santa isn’t real themselves.

But life itself does not end merely because you have become disillusioned with it. It goes on and so did I, and from time to time in my sulking I would remember those stories I used to begin with such enthusiasm. I could still feel within me that same pull to tell them. At my gloomiest, this pull felt like a relentless siren song, a stubborn betrayal, and I would see myself as a kind of tragic hero doomed with unfortunate insight.

Self-pity is a drug with a very short high, and even I grew sick of it. Meanwhile, these stories still asked me to tell them. Perhaps, I thought, the true ending was in the beginning. Perhaps I’d had it right from the start. So I began telling the stories again. This time, however, I didn’t try to end them. Instead, I merely looked for a point on the horizon that confirmed my enthusiasm, an excellent vista from whose perch the rest of life was still visible.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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A Better Story

I made a little mistake recently. I was waiting to find out whether or not something I thought would be helpful to me was going to happen, and without intending to, while I waited I began slowly believing that if this thing happened my life would be substantially better. This has always been a very seductive idea to me – the arrival of The Great Event. It’s exciting, and imbues life with a heightened sense of meaning.

Of course, this thing did not happen. I was disappointed at first, but I quickly saw that I needed to make a decision. My disappointment, I decided, was not because something did not happen, but because of how I had portrayed this event in my imagination. I had allowed some idea of happiness to become fixed upon a single point, in this case an event.

As writers, we are always waiting for news about this or that event: the event of the agent, the publisher, the advance, the review, the movie deal. If we allow ourselves to becomes fixated upon any one of these, our life and all its meaning is squeezed into some spot on the horizon, as if we were all marooned on an island, scanning the empty sea for the first sight of a ship.

On the day I learned that this thing would not happen, many other things happened to me, all of which contained potential for still more things to happen. In the end I decided I was lucky that things turned out the way they did. Had I gotten what I thought I wanted, I might have traced any future happiness back to this one event. Nothing in the world is worth that narrow view of life to me. I would never write a story about a character whose happiness depends upon one love, or one job, or one decision—why then would I want this story told about me?

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