Discovery

Though I write only non-fiction these days (personal essays and memoir) I spent a little over two decades writing only fiction. This background served me very well from a craft standpoint – the fiction writer learns very early that he must show at every turn rather than telling – but perhaps more importantly I learned that the foundation of all writing is discovery.

Again, this is sometimes easier for the fiction writer to perceive than the non-fiction writer. After all, fiction writing is all discovery. When I wrote fiction I began with the smallest seed of an idea and then set about to discover everything that would grow from it. Most of that was discovered during the actual writing. Typically, I would begin a scene with little more than this: Joe goes to go the hardware store and meets his ex-wife and gets into an argument with her. Then I would start writing and see what happens. Sometimes Joe wouldn’t even meet his wife. That was the pleasure of it all.

But the non-fiction writer, by definition, isn’t making anything up. The non-fiction writer writes about what is. Except we aren’t, really. I write essays and memoirs to discover why it is I know what I think I know. No matter how many times I’ve told a story before I write it, no matter how thoroughly I’ve thought through an idea before I write an essay about it, I always leave room within my writer’s imagination for something new about this story or idea to come.

And almost always that something new is my role in the troubles my stories or essays are depicting. The temptation to lay all the blame for the problems of the world on others remains great. Let me tell you what’s been done to me, or let me tell you all how you should behave so that we might straighten out this mess. Such is my response when I believe the world I behold was made by others. That I must look within to find the world I perceive is more than a bumper sticker, it is the only direction my writing journeys have ever taken me.

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

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

Discovery

Though I write only non-fiction these days (personal essays and memoir) I spent a little over two decades writing only fiction. This background served me very well from a craft standpoint – the fiction writer learns very early that he must show at every turn rather than telling – but perhaps more importantly I learned that the foundation of all writing is discovery.

Again, this is sometimes easier for the fiction writer to perceive than the non-fiction writer. After all, fiction writing is all discovery. When I wrote fiction I began with the smallest seed of an idea and then set about to discover everything that would grow from it. Most of that was discovered during the actual writing. Typically, I would begin a scene with little more than this: Joe goes to go the hardware store and meets his ex-wife and gets into an argument with her. Then I would start writing and see what happens. Sometimes Joe wouldn’t even meet his wife. That was the pleasure of it all.

But the non-fiction writer, by definition, isn’t making anything up. The non-fiction writer writes about what is. Except we aren’t, really. I write essays and memoirs to discover why it is I know what I think I know. No matter how many times I’ve told a story before I write it, no matter how thoroughly I’ve thought through an idea before I write an essay about it, I always leave room within my writer’s imagination for something new about this story or idea to come.

And almost always that something new is my role in the troubles my stories or essays are depicting. The temptation to lay all the blame for the problems of the world on others remains great. Let me tell you what’s been done to me, or let me tell you all how you should behave so that we might straighten out this mess. Such is my response when I believe the world I behold was made by others. That I must look within to find the world I perceive is more than a bumper sticker, it is the only direction my writing journeys have ever taken me.

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

All Is Well

Many of the writers I work with complain of a similar problem: they sit down to write but they can’t write. They want to write, they need to write, they should write, and yet they don’t write. This experience is just about the most pain one can feel while sitting and doing nothing. And yet the pain, the discomfort, is both necessary and a clear indicator to the writer that all is well.

Writing is very much like a prayer. The writer is asking for something that is not currently clear within his consciousness. When the clarity comes, whether it is in the form of a rhyme to a poem or an epiphany at the end of an essay or a plot twist in a thriller, the writer experiences both discovery and relief, for what he has found feels both new and familiar. He is seeking something new, the authentic evolution of his story, and it is the familiarity that signals to him that what he has found belongs in the story he is telling.

I have experienced this discovery and relief thousands of times in my writing life. It remains the pleasure against which all other pleasures in my life are measured. Yet the more I have this experience, the more I understand that it cannot be replicated. Each prayer is wholly different than the one before, because what I asked for yesterday has already been given. Once it has been given there is no need for it to be given a second time because I already have it – and so it is not.

If I doubt my new prayer will be answered, I will feel discomfort. The more profound my doubt, the more profound the discomfort. Yet it is the pain of doubting that tells me I needn’t doubt. This is the doubt that can disbelieve spring in winter, whose eyes are hypnotized by what has already been made and has lost the vision to see what might be. It is the doubt that sees life as nothing but a giant waiting room within a slaughterhouse, where the dream of death is more real than the endless discovery of life.

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

Discovery

Though I write only non-fiction these days (personal essays and memoir) I spent a little over two decades writing only fiction. This background served me very well from a craft standpoint – the fiction writer learns very early that he must show at every turn rather than telling – but perhaps more importantly I learned that the foundation of all writing is discovery.

Again, this is sometimes easier for the fiction writer to perceive than the non-fiction writer. After all, fiction writing is all discovery. When I wrote fiction I began with the smallest seed of an idea and then set about to discover everything that would grow from it. Most of that was discovered during the actual writing. Typically, I would begin a scene with little more than this: Joe goes to go the hardware store and meets his ex-wife and gets into an argument with her. Then I would start writing and see what happens. Sometimes Joe wouldn’t even meet his wife. That was the pleasure of it all.

But the non-fiction writer, by definition, isn’t making anything up. The non-fiction writer writes about what is. Except we aren’t, really. I write essays and memoirs to discover why it is I know what I think I know. No matter how many times I’ve told a story before I write, no matter how thoroughly I’ve thought through an idea before I write an essay about it, I always leave room within my writer’s imagination for something new about this story or idea to come.

And almost always that something new is my role in the troubles my stories or essays are depicting. The temptation to lay all the blame for the problems of the world on others remains great. Let me tell you what’s been done to me, or let me tell you all how you should behave so that we might straighten out this mess. Such is my response when I believe the world I behold was made by others. That I must look within to find the world I perceive is more than a bumper sticker, it is the only direction my writing journeys have ever taken me

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

Found Stories

Scientist and mathematicians are asked to find solutions to questions or problems. The theoretical mathematician might be asked to solve, to find the answer to, an unsolved equation. Once solved, the mathematician no longer needs to find the answer to that equation. It is complete; it is known; it is a puzzle with all the pieces at last in place.

A writer too must find her story. Whether her story is culled from her own life or is entirely fictional, she must find those core events that suggest the entirety of the world she wishes to share. Always, this finding of the story occurs before the story is complete. She might say she has found her story when she at last understands that her heroine does not actually love the man she claims to love, or when she realizes the victim committed suicide and was not murdered. At such moments, we declare with relief, “I’ve got it! I’ve found the story.”

Or have we? I had one such moment with my last book. I told my wife I had found the story when I understood my memoir was about what my son taught me, not what I taught my son. That understanding brought the entire book into focus, it informed every chapter and scene. And yet unlike an equation, or a lost checkbook that has been recovered, every time I sat down to write my book I had to find the story again.

The story, after all, is not merely a series of events. The story is a flow of language, and, ideally, each word I choose – I find – exists within that story’s flow. In this way, I am continually realigning my attention to my story, finding it and finding it and finding it every moment I spend at my desk, as a tightrope walker must find and find and find his balance from one end of his rope to the other.

And even when I am done with my story, I am not entirely clear on what it is I have found. I can hold a published book in my hand, but that book has no more to do with what I sought than does a marriage license my wife. It is as if the experience of finding the story, of translating what is inside me into words outside of me, has simply brought the story back into me where it is reabsorbed into what I have become in the telling. How strange to feel complete even as another story brews, another story I must tell to find what I already am.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite 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

Mysterious Treasures

It is common for writers to feel that they write to discover what they know. This is certainly true for writers of fictional stories, where an idea comes to an author in its dim but interesting form. The writer then spends a month or a year or a decade discovering why that idea is so interesting, and in so doing, translating it into a form where another human being might find it interesting also.

But this discovery occurs at all levels of writing, from the largest stories to the smallest sentence. Though I have been doing it all my life, how and why this discovery occurs continues to elude me, even now as I am pursuing it. That is, discovery is always heightened perception. To discover something is to see it – to perceive it – for the first time. If I were searching through sand on a beach for lost coins, I would dig and sift until I perceived coins reflecting in the sun. Even if I unearthed the coins, if I did not see them, if the sun had temporarily blinded me of if the coins were so caked in sand as to be camouflaged, no discovery would have occurred, despite my successful digging.

So it is with writing. To write is to turn our attention within so we might see the world more clearly. Here is where the mystery begins. On a beach I see the sand, I see my hand and my shovel and with luck the coins. But within me there is only the boundary-less expanse of thought. And just as the coin must be separated from the sand, so too must a thought be separated from all other thoughts to be perceived with enough clarity for translation.

Yet thought lacks the engines of shovels and hands. The only engine of thought is more thought. It is easy in this way to become lost in our efforts to discover what we seek. Now we are searching not for a coin within sand, but for a specific grain of sand in a world made of nothing but more sand. Despair not. That which compelled your search, your unique interest and curiosity, remains your truest and only compass. Collect those thoughts to make your interest whole, build it thought by thought. When you are done you will behold that which had lacked only the attention of a curious soul to be made real, and the world will be richer for it.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite 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

Exploring Music

I wrote recently about what I (rather accidentally) did right when I taught myself to compose music in my early 40s. This was a particularly instructive time in my life. Unlike writing, which I had been immersed in since I was a teenager, I had merely dabbled with music writing in my 20s. Thus I was coming to it relatively fresh, and as an adult. As a result, I observed things about the experience of composing music that I often overlooked in writing.

First, there is a technical aspect to music that doesn’t apply to writing. That is, every child in America (hopefully) is taught to read and write English, but not every child is taught to read and write music. I knew how to read music from my years of playing the flute, and I had a rudimentary knowledge of music theory, but knowing what an eighth note and an F major chord are is not the same as knowing how to write music.

Still, even with all my experience writing in English, I believed my primary obstacle was technical. The music was in my head, I only needed to learn how to get it onto the (digital) page. This was true, and it was not. What was fascinating at the time, and what remains mysterious to me still, is that in learning how to write music, I simultaneously learned what music could be.

I have known this about writing also, but because the music was happening so quickly I saw it more clearly. It is as if the potential for music, or for stories, sits like an untapped well within me. Every new technique I learned – and by technique I mean how certain combinations of sounds could create unique emotional experiences – revealed still new musical potential.

It was as if music was gradually revealing itself to me. All my life I had listened closely and devotedly to music, but listening and writing are not the same. The act of creation requires that we remove art’s first mysterious veil so that we can observe some of the gears and wheels driving the engine. In this way art can appear mechanical. Yet nothing could be less true. The more of the mechanics I learned, the more technical facility I acquired, the more deliciously mysterious music became. I wasn’t an architect, I was an explorer, and all my technique merely allowed me to travel further into a vast cave where I might unlock some door and release what already existed.

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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Forge Ahead

I was reminded again of how impressed I am by carpenters as I watched two young men install my new kitchen cabinets.  What agonizing precision. I listened to them going back and forth about 1/16 of an inch and thought, “How?  How can you possibly get it right?  Sneeze and the whole thing is wonky.”

The lead carpenter was a very meticulous fellow. I could tell it as soon as he shook my hand. He was the kind of man who would never rest until everything was lined up exactly and without a centimeter’s discrepancy. He said to me at one point about my refrigerator, “Everything will be fine. You’ve got easily 1/8 of an inch to spare.” To him, 1/8 of an inch was a gap wide enough to fall through.

But I worried for this young man. Watching him, I wondered if he believed nothing would work out if it were 1/8 of an inch off. I’ve certainly been through that in my writing, especially toward the end of a project. Here, I’m getting down to the tiny details; here, I’m toiling over a ten-word sentence in the middle of a 100,000-word novel. As I work and work that sentence, I begin believing that if it doesn’t come out right, the whole book is shot.

In carpentry, this is somewhat the case. If one cabinet is 1/16 of an inch off, all the cabinets are 1/16 of an inch off, and eventually you may have more cabinet than kitchen. Obviously, this is not so in a novel. But let us not demonize this eagle-eyed carpenter/writer for his narrow demand on one sentence. Within that absurd focus is a desire for accuracy. The belief that the entire novel hangs in the balance is a mirage, the product of fear and fatigue at the end of a long journey. But often the stuff we can’t seem to get right is a sign of where we’re headed.

Often, what is so confounding is not that our skill and desire has abandoned us, but that somewhere in our artist’s psyche a new desire has hatched, the route to which we have yet to discover. And so, what would have sufficed yesterday seems cheap and dull today. Rejoice! You have lifted your head to view the horizon and determined that where you are will no longer do. What other pleasure is there for an explorer like you than to know there are more paths to forge?

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Heart Of Brightness

Yesterday I wrote about authors finding a friendly route for their readers. I think this an apt metaphor for the writing process, and part of why so many authors talk about discovery as one of writing’s greatest pleasures.

If you share your work with other people, you will eventually have the experience of a reader being moved or excited by what you’ve written, just as you have been moved or excited by what you have read. For me, when a piece of writing shines most brightly it is as if the writer has revealed something to me that I have always known but have never expressed, and I come away feeling as if I have learned something about myself.

To put it another way, writing is like seeing a light from your window. You find the light beautiful and you enjoy looking at it across the horizon, but you would like to see it close up. So you set out to find your way toward it. Your readers have seen this light too, but like you have never chosen to find its source. As you trace the linguistic path toward this light, as you discover that intellectual and emotional route, you become a guide both to yourself and to your readers.

Upon arrival you experience the unique mixture of discovery and recognition. Recognition because you have always known the light and it is not new to you, and discovery because the light is that much brighter and warmer close up and now that you know the path you may go there whenever you want.

There are lights everywhere calling to us. Sometimes we see a light and head toward it and sometimes we start walking until one comes into view. Either way, the only journey that ever matters is inward. The heart does not know darkness, it is all light, and when we turn toward another bright spot on the horizon we are actually turning toward ourselves.

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