Making Something

I have always thought of myself as ambitious, which, if pressed, I’d have once admitted was the steady and quiet desire to make something of myself. I would not be some idle passenger in my own life, twiddling my thumbs until they dumped me in the ground; I would grab the wheel and captain this ship to some port of my own choosing. I would go somewhere.

The problem with wanting to go somewhere and make something of myself is that I am always somewhere and I am always something. I have tried calling some places nowhere and I have looked in the mirror from time to time and thought maybe I was nothing, but these perceptions had the same unreality of the stories a writer cannot make himself write. Just as when I have found myself forcing a story somewhere it didn’t want to go, I learned eventually to step back from the mirror and let my mind return to stillness, a quiet space removed from the din of doubt and comparison.

I cannot fear this stillness. I cannot mistake it for the catastrophic termination of a shipwreck. As a writer, I have had to make a friend of that stillness as I have the blank page. That is where I must go to understand my role in my own life. I have come to see writing as my decision to join a conversation already in progress. It is a conversation that began long before I was born and will continue long after I have died. It is a conversation that only gets better and richer and more interesting as it evolves and draws in more and more participants.

Writing in this way taught me that what I call ambition is merely the decision to participate in my own inevitable evolution. The stillness of the blank page reminds me that my choices are my role in that evolution. No one can make those choices for me; stories do not write themselves. Whether I choose to write or not, however, does not stop the desire to write, that ceaseless call from life to join in the conversation. The moment I choose to heed that call, I am exactly where I want to be, and I remember again exactly what I am.

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.
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More people are writing more often than ever before in the history of mankind. More people are also sharing that work, whether in traditionally published books, independently published books, blogs, twitter feeds, Facebook posts, emails, or even comment pages. The digital age has created a generation of writers and authors, if you define an author as anyone who has ever shared anything with another person – which I do.

If you’re a little older than, say, thirty, and if you’ve always wanted to write, and if you grew up with the dream of entering what used to seem like the rarified air of the Published Author, it is easy to view this new development grumpily. Now any clown with a keyboard and an Enter key can become an author. This publishing proliferation has cheapened the position of the author. To be an author one need be an authority on nothing other than one’s own strident opinion. Where’s the value in that?

For me the value is everywhere. Not that long ago, much of the population didn’t even know how to write, let alone publish. In this way, writing is evolutionary. Let everyone on earth meet the blank page and ask, “What would I like to see there?” What a question. To answer it is to meet one’s own creative identity as little else can. To answer it is to confront the reality of free will, the fluidity of thought, and our connection to something that has taken on many names over time.

Most of all, writing asks us to be responsible for the life we are living. The blank page simply will not fill itself. Only our choices will fill it, and we can only choose from thoughts we are thinking, and we can only think about what we are focused on – and we can focus on anything. We can focus on genocide or flowers, argument or cooperation. We are as free as our boundless imaginations. So what do you want to see on the blank page? The answer to that question is how what we have come to call reality is created.


Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.

A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.

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The Poison

When I was still living in Providence my father and I went to play tennis one afternoon at my high school. There were two men playing on the court adjacent to ours, and as my father and I began warming up I witnessed the following:

Both the men were serious tennis players and evenly matched. They played at full speed, and their serves and groundstrokes had the compact intensity that only comes from regular practice and regular competition. One of the men was a bit heavy, a detail I might not have taken any notice of were it not for a kind of exterior monologue that ran throughout his game.

“Come on now, you fat bastard!” he shouted as he prepared to receive a serve. “Hit it this time. Hit it! Oh! How could you have missed that? Is it because you’re a fat lazy bastard? All right! Now that’s how to hit it! McEnroe!” (This was his patron saint). “Come on, McEnroe. Oh, you fat, lazy, stupid, bastard. How could you have missed that?”

It was incredible. My father and I cut our game short.

It has been my observation that the people most likely to beat the drum of evolution – which is the drum of change, of the ceaseless, creative, expansive impulse within all of known life – are the very same people to sing the sad song of human wretchedness. No verse is sadder in this song than the one that cries humanity will never change. All of life evolves, apparently, except us.

Unless, of course, we all admit we are fat, ugly bastards. We must admit our wretchedness or risk remaining so forever – forever racist, forever at war, forever corrupt. Without this constant reminder, evolution will apparently not visit us. And yet it does despite this song. It visits us despite the inverted perception that by some magic we might swallow the poison of self-loathing and see it transformed within us to the nourishment of self-love.

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!
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Evolved Expression

I love this quote by Werner von Braun at the beginning of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow: Nature does not know extinction. It knows only transformation. A great definition of evolution, I think, and I have always been a fan of evolution because it reveals life as constant motion towards. The question, it seems to me, is towards what?

The scientist might say survival. That is the equation of life. You live so you can live and then keep on living while you make more life that keeps on living. Everything from art to romance to French food is merely an expression of our biological need to not die. Yet I find not dying a hollow motivation to write. It turns all of creation into a contest to see who can forestall the inevitable the longest, a contest everyone loses eventually.

Rather a grim equation that, and so the Existentialist would say life is movement towards death. You know where you’re going, friend—the same place we’re all going, the same place everyone from Beethoven to Genghis Kahn has gone. Whistle through the graveyard all you want, that’s the end result.

But what use is this to us? While I am alive I must get up everyday and make choices. I cannot help this or stop it. I must choose what words to put on the page and what to eat and whom to talk to. Whether life is a movement toward death or not, my life in the living is constant choice.

My book moves forward, moves toward, with every word I choose. Every word I choose evolves my story. And as I look at that story, and the story that came before it, and the story that came before it, I can see each story living within the other. None of them dead or trying not to die, but each of them showing me the expanding potential of my choices, each of them transforming, word by word, the evolving expression of love.

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

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Evolving Choice

I’ve always had mixed feelings about the theory of evolution. Not the humans evolving from monkeys part. Everything clearly evolves. I evolve; you evolve; the birds, bees, bears, and baboons evolve. Once we huddled in caves thrilled to light a fire, now we watch revolutions in Egypt from our iPhones. Every thought, every gesture, every printed book or hole in the ground changes the world irrevocably for we cannot go back to the universe that existed before that hole was dug, the gesture made, the thought thought.

It was the natural selection about which I had misgivings because it suggested all of life evolved through a combination of random mutations and the irresistible compulsion of all living things—from amoebas to elephants—to make more of itself while avoiding death. Nowhere in any of this was that with which I have lived every day of my life: free choice.

To me this has always been the burden and the gift of consciousness. I can do anything, which is dizzying at times. I am always having to choose every single thing I do, say, and think. It is relentless. No one or thing has ever been able to choose anything for me. They have tried, but in the end I must still give my Yay or Nay before I take a single step. I don’t know about squirrels and llamas, but for humans, life is one endless and contiguous stream of choices. Was evolution chosen or imposed? I don’t know, but for my money, any theory that does not take into account free choice needs to be revisited.

And if I were to revisit the theory of evolution, I would begin with this question: why does all life desire to live? What is the mathematical or alchemical formula that requires everything from dandelions to Barak Obama to live, live, live, live and make more life that can go on living? And if everything in my life is a choice, is not that very living a choice as well?

Art has long sought to tackle this very question. The question, after all, is like a joke that ceases to be funny once it is explained, just as our stories defy the tidy containment of a thesis paper or the ravings of a deconstructionist screed. No matter what you are writing, the answer that has eluded scientists forever lies within that urge to create what was not there before. We already know the answer for we are living it, the meaning always the act of choice itself.

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Most of you have probably heard the old writer’s adage, all writing is rewriting. True enough, I suppose, although this has always felt a bit like a school marm’s warning to her lazy students: Just in case you were thinking you could get off with one draft—forget it! Writing is rewriting.

But there is a gentler angle, namely, everything you have ever written is merely a rewritten version of what you have written before. Not that we are all forever repeating ourselves, but rather everything we write is an evolution of what we have written before. Just as each successive draft represents an evolution of that story, so too each successive story represents the evolution of what you wish to share with the world.

This is why nothing is wasted. You can’t really have a bad day. Evolution can happen as fitfully one day as it can smoothly the next, but fitful or smooth it is always occurring. Perhaps you will perceive this evolution, perhaps you will not. Usually, on bad days, you will feel you have regressed. This is not happening. You can no more regress than you can unwrite all that you have ever written.

Yet evolution is a strangely unsatisfying business, precisely because it never ends. Whenever I hear biological evolution discussed, it always seems that modern day humans are somehow excluded from the mix. We’re done, I guess. Impossible. We may not have sprouted wings or regrown gills, but the idea of humanity is ever growing. So too the idea of you is ever growing. This is why every story you have ever finished feels vaguely unfinished. Because you aren’t finished. Because that story you told has only sparked the newest idea, and you must leave it off knowing there is more you could have done and you will have to do it in the next story which will itself spark new ideas that will have to wait for the next story.

And so it goes. John Lennon mused that A Day In The Life was never quite what he had hoped for. Perhaps he had already begun to dream of Come Together. As one of my favorite teachers is fond of saying, “We didn’t come here to get it right.” And thank God we can’t. If we get it right, why would we bother starting the next story?

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