Beginnings and Endings

You are probably familiar with the expression, “Happiness is within.” Whether you believe it or not, by now it is possible that when you hear that phrase you are no more inspired by its message than you are delighted by the sight of your own furniture. Language is tricky that way. A combination of words is usually – though by no means always – most powerful when read or heard for the first time. Gradually any thought can become like gum we chew past its flavor with our familiarity.

Such is the challenge of writing: our goal is to keep that gum fresh at all times. Fortunately, not all the world is as familiar to me as my furniture. As small as the circle of my life often is, I see or hear something new in it every day. Whether it’s a headline in a magazine, an overheard conversation in the produce aisle, or simply the sight of a crow perched on an iron fence, what I can see, hear, touch, taste or smell frequently inspires me, simply because it is always in motion. The flavor of the world is always fresh.

By and by I bring that inspiration to the desk. At that point, however, I can no longer depend on the world I can see, touch, taste, and smell to inspire me. I must move my attention to a world beyond the five senses. Whatever thoughts were planted in my mind reading the headline or hearing the conversation or seeing the crow must now grow from the soil of my imagination and curiosity.

Sometimes those thoughts grow quickly and effortlessly and sometimes not. I am never happier than when the thoughts are growing into essays or stories. Life never feels so on purpose, so easy, and so meaningful as when I am connecting thought to thought to thought toward a story I want to share with other people. Fortunately, I have learned over the years to be patient when the thoughts are not growing so quickly. They will – if I trust that my happiness can indeed be found within. It’s where every story starts and every story ends.

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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Good Job

My job isn’t to be a good writer, or a good editor, or a good teacher. Nor is my job to be a good father, or a good husband, or brother, or friend, or citizen. I only have one job, and that is to be happy. I don’t mean to suggest that none of those other things I do aren’t important. They are. But I’m not good at doing any of them if I’m not happy. Simply writing or hanging out with the people I love isn’t enough to make me happy.

I have to take being happy seriously. It has to be more important to me than being successful, or handsome, or popular, or cool, or smart, or funny. It has to be more important than how much I weigh or how much money I make. It has to be more important than whether I’m right or who is president. It has to be more important than whether the lawn is mowed or the dishes have been done. It even has to be more important than whether anyone else in my life is happy.

Yes, it’s a Me First orientation, but, as I said, I’m pretty much useless at doing anything until I’m happy. Some days I wish I could act myself into happiness. I wish I could write myself to happiness, or kiss my way to happiness, or laugh my way to happiness. Some days it seems as if I do. But just as you can love the story you’re writing one day and hate it the next, so too the thing I did yesterday that seemed to make me so happy is an empty chore the next.

As activities go, however, writing nearly always makes me happy. It’s the blank page, you see. That nothingness is so bare and honest. It asks me what I’m most interested in this morning. I am consistently happy when I’m chasing some interesting idea, whether on the page or in conversation. But those ideas don’t come by themselves; they don’t appear magically on the page. They arrive by invitation only. No interesting ideas will come to a house crowded with complaint and fear and envy. Ideas are looking for a party, a celebration of nothing more specific than life itself, where nothing more is needed, but more keeps coming anyway.

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

Our Only Currency

Writers traffic in the most universal of all human currency: feelings. The question every writer must ask about every scene or sonnet is, What does this moment or idea feel like? Does it feel happy or tense or funny or sad or boring? What is happening is largely irrelevant. Events are merely vessels for the feeling contained within them.

But this is true of everyone, writers and non-writers alike. I have heard it said that everyone is selling something, and isn’t that something happiness? Isn’t the job of the advertiser to convince us that this chewing gum or hybrid car or life insurance will somehow make us happier? There is no other reason we would want it.

Sometimes, however, we sell unhappiness. We do this for the good of our fellow man, who have been lulled – largely by all those people running around selling happiness – into believing the world is in far better shape than it actually is. We might say, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention!” Or, “Silence equals death!” Though the world will sometimes shoot the messenger, the message must be delivered all the same, lest the happiness we all crave remain nothing but an illusion peddled by hucksters.

I would love nothing more than for all my readers to feel happier when they have finished one of my stories than when they began, but there are days I feel like a huckster myself. Happiness is something I invented to relieve the boredom and terror of life, a snake oil for the gullible and lonely. Trust me, is all I can offer. Yet what else can I offer? Happiness, the gold that would fill the purse of every soul on earth, remains forever a thing unseen and untouched. Instead, it can only be known as the imagination knows itself, and then shared with a world made richer by gaining what it cannot count.

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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 Bill at: williamkenower.com

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The Wheel of Life

I heard recently about a video circulating in which a MFA teacher complains about many of her students. I chose not to seek it out for a number of reasons, but I thought of it again when I learned of an article published in the Seattle alternative newspaper, The Stranger, in which an ex-MFA teacher complains about his students as well. In both the video and the article, I am aware, the question of talent was raised. Talent, goes the story, cannot be taught. You either have it or you don’t.

Perhaps I’m a bit of a coward, but I chose to avoid that article as well, specifically because of that toxic word. I know why that word exists, and why it feels appropriate to apply to certain people and not to others. I am frequently tempted to use it when talking to students or describing writers I enjoy when I perceive the bright, effortless light of originality. It is the perception of effortless that is so attractive and magical and the source of what is misleading about that word.

Over my writing life I have worked deliberately and consistently to find the most effortless expression of whatever I am trying to share. The more I have found this effortless path, the more I have come to understand that effortlessness is our natural state of being. That most of us, including me, often live outside of this effortlessness does not alter this truth. Rather, the suffering I have known in my life and perceive around me merely proves the point, for what could be worse than struggling against what we are meant to be?

So sometimes a writer, whether young or old, new or experienced, finds that bright, alive, effortless current of a story. The writer didn’t make it, didn’t force it, and didn’t get in the way of it, the writer merely found it and let it come. No teacher alive could teach that current, and no amount of skill could imitate it. Either you are in the flow of that current or you are not. But to say that the current is available to some and not to others, that one either has talent or doesn’t, is to measure one life against another, to believe that one child is born capriciously with the capacity for happiness and another not, and all the while praying the wheel of life will turn for you.

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

Dark Stories

I was playing catch with my son yesterday – a sentence I doubted I would ever have the privilege to write five years ago – when he asked me why I don’t like dark movies any more. “You used to think China Town was the best movie ever made. Now you say you can’t watch Sopranos or Goodfellas. What’s happened to you? You’re losing your edge.”

It was a good question, and one I hadn’t thought sufficiently about to be able to construct an answer before his attention strayed. Yet I continued to turn the question over as we finished our game of catch and went inside and did a little math work. Then we were on to separate things, and I stopped thinking about him, until my wife poked her head into my office. “Where’s Sawyer?”

“Oh, Jesus,” I said. “Has he gone on another walkabout?” Our homeschooled son has grown restless of late, and will occasionally disappear without a word. All for the good, really, except his solo adventures are not like those of typical teenagers, and his parents are left to wonder if he will ever return. He did on this occasion, bursting through the back door, announcing, “I’m back!”

So he was. It was then I remembered his question, and I thought, “The only thing I want to share with the world, the only thing I want to write about, talk about, and teach, is that everything is okay even though it appears as though everything is most definitely not okay.” I have to learn this every day, and I do not find what we call dark stories, stories about how everything is not okay but somehow we will struggle through it, useful in this regard. I say this as someone who spent many, many, many years telling that very story over and over again.

I only want to see past the darkness now, particularly as I sit on my couch and wonder if that boy will ever walk through the door again. In such moments, my storyteller’s imagination is tempted to see a future not just without my son, but without happiness itself. There is no darker story a mind can tell. What if all the light left the world: what and how would we see? Such a world seems impossible to live in – which, fortunately, it always is.

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

The Storyteller

Sometimes I wander about the world as a storyteller, and sometimes as someone having a story told to him by the world. I look to the world for the story it is telling me only when I forget I am a storyteller, but this forgetting happens quietly, quickly, and frequently. I do not always mind the story I believe the world is telling me. It can be funny or exciting or even flattering. I particularly enjoy the flattering stories the world is telling about me. How nice that the entire world holds me in such high regard!

But often I do not like the story the world is telling me at all. It is such a depressing story, a story of happiness being something known only when the pieces of the world arrange themselves for brief trembling moments that can be enjoyed until chance, or inertia, or gravity, or evolution pull them apart. It is a story of greed, and violence, and lust, and vengeance. I must grab and cling to all the happiness I can before my time runs out.

I soon become a critic. If the world is bent on telling me these crappy stories, and if I am forced to listen to these stories—and how can I not be, since I am only one man and the world is huge and loud, and while I must rest, it talks on and on and on?—then by God I will do what I can to change that story. So I criticize and reject and complain. Then I do it some more. Yet still the world tells its depressing story, and I can but listen and watch.

It is nice at such times to retreat to my desk where the page is blank and I can ask, “What is the best story I can tell myself today?” How quickly my mood changes with that simple question. How optimistic and curious I become. And how I love that blank page, how it erases all the stories I told myself about the world and returns me to my natural state—a storyteller choosing a happy ending for the world he makes.

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

A Common Mistake

I have always written, but for many years I also wanted to be a Writer. It was as important to me as the writing itself. The writing, after all, took place in private, but the Writer was the one who had to get about the world. If I could be a Writer, I believed, then I could as free feel in public as I sometimes felt in private.

I desperately wanted to be free. As a Writer, I would have no job. A job was something I had to do to feed and clothe and house myself. This wasn’t freedom. This was paid slavery. No, to be free I had to be paid for something I would have gladly done whether I was paid for it not. Being free meant no one could tell what to do or when to do it. Being free meant I would listen only to that same voice that guided me through what I wrote.

What’s more, I only wanted to think and talk and do what mattered. To write a story or a poem or an essay is to focus on what matters most about life. In the solitude of writing, I was free to look beneath the dull surface of things, to see clearly what was so often obscured to me in the bright lights and hubbub of the world away from my desk. If I were a Writer, somehow such stuff would be left to other people. If I were a Writer, people would only turn to me for Very Important Things.

I never spoke any of this to anyone, including myself. It seemed too narcissistic. Yet even such fantasies, summoned by the ego in moments when it was uncertain of its worth, have served as some kind of beacon for my life. I still want nothing more than to be free to live my life as I want to live it, and I still seek to turn my attention to what I believe matters most. I had just mistaken a Writer for 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.

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

Making Time

I have always made time to write. Whether I was working as a waiter or a sales clerk, whether I was designing roleplaying adventures or booking and conducting interviews, I have always made time to write. This was not so difficult because I considered writing a pleasure and what I wanted most in the world was to do only things that pleased me. Making time to write often meant choosing writing over something that did not please me at all.

Yet I imposed a cost on myself for this choice. I called myself lazy. I believed I wasn’t responsible enough. I felt I should do a few more things that didn’t please me, which seemed like a more grown-up way to live. Children just did whatever they felt like, until they grew up and learned the unavoidable truth of surviving. There’s only so much time in the day, after all. If you spend it all just doing whatever you felt like, houses would never get built and groceries would never get bought.

Time’s a strange commodity. It expands and compresses with my attention. When I become happily lost within the dream of writing, the past and future loose their hold on my imagination, trained as it is in the present moment where creation can occur. When I awaken from this dream, it is like waking from a night’s sleep; it is as if I’d traveled five miles of time in a few steps.

When I am doing things that do not please me, I feel every second. I travel each one, step-by-step, measuring my way toward the end of this chore. Time is a measure, not in where I am, but only in my position relative to the end. I live in the future, in that imagined time when I might be happy again.

Time has never actually existed, but happiness and unhappiness have. In fact, they are all we really know. No one actually needs to find time to write. We need only answer this question: Is my life about doing what pleases me, or doing what I must? Which is actually more important? How I answer that question creates or destroys all time.

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

Ask Away

Do you think the imagination can tell the difference between writing a story and planning your vacation? Do you think the imagination can tell the difference between composing a pop tune and talking to your boyfriend? Fortunately, it cannot it. Your imagination is a tireless, loyal, and non-judgmental servant. It will provide answers to any and all questions you ask of it.

The difference between, say, writing a story and talking to your boyfriend is focus. To write is to devote your complete attention to one idea for an extended period of time. As you focus, and as the clarity of your desire sharpens, the quality and volume of answers your imagination provides heightens. It is harder for the imagination when your attention wanders from thing to thing to thing, as it does throughout your day. But when you plant yourself at your desk, when you quiet the mind, when you forget all the stray possibilities growing around your life and ask only, “What do I most want to say today?” – to focus in this way is to understand the true power of this partnership between you and your imagination.

Look at all we’ve done. The human imagination has brought us everything from Auschwitz to the Ode to Joy. It did as it was asked. To hear us gnashing our brains over whether or not we are free is absurd. We are so free we can build our own jails. We are so free we can create nightmares to keep us up at night.

I suppose this is why humans are so fond of rules. Why, left to our own devices we might create anything. Indeed. The pain we call waste, or sloth, or apathy, is not a failure of talent or desire, but is either a failure to ask, “What is it I most want?” or an unwillingness to believe we deserve the answer.

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

One Enemy

Writing your first story could be disorienting if you came to it a little later in life. After all, much of the stuff that concerns or alarms or annoys us seems to be outside of us. Sometimes a politician we don’t like is in power, or a war we disagree with is being fought, or a stock we own is going down, or a friend won’t call back, or a child won’t behave. If only all these things would work themselves out we might be happy.

Then you sit down to write a story, to create something that has never existed before, to say, “This is what I think is exciting, or funny, or profound, or clever.” Now the world is yours. Now there are no other people to clutter things up with their misguided plans and wrong politics and greed and selfishness. Now there is only you and your world.

How disorienting when you find yourself just as concerned and alarmed and annoyed as if there were a whole crowd of people in your office offering you lousy story advice. There is no one to point to or to blame. There is only what you believe is lovely and valuable and interesting and your willingness to share it. Who could have predicted that this simple transference from thought to page would have the power to summon the same host of woes as the front page of any newspaper?

I can blame with the best of them. At least once a day I feel certain that I would be ceaselessly happy if only other people weren’t so ceaselessly unhappy. Then I sit down to write and I quickly run out of excuses for my mood. Doubt is the only enemy standing at the gates of my imagination. He can see the end of everything before it has begun, and has come to warn me of what I might have overlooked. He’s right in a way—every story is written by looking past what could be and toward what we still believe is possible.

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