How to Stay Humble While Sharing Awesomeness

As a writer/teacher I have two basic job descriptions. The first is to share as much awesomeness as possible. The second is to stay humble. These two requirements are inextricably linked to one another. In fact, I couldn’t achieve the first if I forgot the second. I know this, because I do forget the second from time to time – because I’m human – and as soon as I do I can’t find any awesomeness to share.

To be clear, my necessary humility cannot dim the light of whatever awesomeness I am trying share. I must love what I am sharing. I must delight in it and celebrate it. And I must also acknowledge that what I am sharing, no matter how much it might resemble what others are sharing or have shared, is absolutely unique to me. It is literally impossible for someone else to have shared exactly what I am sharing. Except for me, it simply wouldn’t exist.

And so where, you might ask, is the humility in all of this? Simple: what I am sharing is not and never was mine. All the writer or artist or teacher can do is find another and another and another way to say, “Look at life! Isn’t it awesome?” The awesomeness exists whether or not I see it or share it. It is a universal light that I can either block or let shine through the unique shape that is me.

It is easy for me to forget this light, even when I am appreciating what someone else has shared. For instance, I love Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Van Gogh had a style. His style is easily recognizable, particularly in that painting, so much so that my mind’s eye can become transfixed by the unique choices he made. We sometimes call this “appreciating someone’s genius,” which is nice, but Starry Night is above all an appreciation of life. That is why I love it. I don’t actually give two figs about van Gogh’s style. What I love is that his style helped me see the awesomeness of life afresh.

Because sometimes my sight misleads me and I do not perceive that awesomeness at all. These are not happy times. I cannot simply manufacture awesomeness anymore than I can assemble a flower from dirt and seeds and sun. So what I do not see does not exist, and I shuffle about, quietly complaining to myself, as if clouds had extinguished the sun.

My biggest complaint during these darkest times is always the same: No one loves what I’ve shared. No one cares about me. It’s not pretty, but it’s a trap that many artists fall into. As I mope from here to there, I hold out the hope that if I could just attract the light of someone else’s attention, all would be well.

Fortunately, self-pity requires its own kind of diligence. It simply won’t maintain itself without my continued effort. By and by I forget to feel sorry for myself, and in the empty space once occupied by my complaints, I notice something interesting. It feels so good to be interested and curious that I shine my own attention on what I’ve seen, and there, in that light, is the awesomeness of life that I’d forgotten.

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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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True Creation

I have written in the past that compassion might be a writer’s most important personal quality. Your characters will always be more believable, more alive, if you have compassion for their struggles rather than have judgment on their struggles. A story is no place to even a score; save that for the court. What’s more, this compassion will find its way to your readers. As they follow the characters you present without judgment, they may attune themselves to this vibration of compassion and grant it to themselves and others. All in all, a good thing.

Yet right behind compassion is humility. For instance, anything I have ever written that had any real crackle to it always arrived through discovery. That is, I didn’t make it, I merely perceived it and then translated what I had perceived. What I wrote wasn’t mine in the purest sense, it was simply my attempt to share what I had seen or heard and which existed long before I ever saw or heard it.

Except the only way to perceive what is worth sharing is to forget my ego, that part of myself that believes it is responsible for making everything but actually creates nothing. The ego blocks true creation because it is so busy occupying all my energy as it tries and fails to do it all itself. Then I forget the ego, perceive true creation, and I am writing again.

And when this happens, when I forget my ego and perceive true creation, when I write it down and share it, inevitably someone will want to tell me—or you, or anyone who has done this—what a wonderful thing it is to have shared this perception. And it is wonderful to share what we have perceived. And now is when you must be humble, because the only way to ever see what you wish to see is to forget the part of yourself buoyed by praise or crushed by criticism. The moment you take full credit you deny the existence of the very thing you were so happy to share.

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

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Five Rules

A regular reader of this space may have observed that I eschew writing rules. While I am a full proponent of showing instead of telling and decent grammar and so on, I think it best to let folks find their own way. Chances are we will all arrive at more or less the same place. That said, I have accrued my own vague lists of rules that I try to follow each time I sit down to work. Here they are:

1. Feel first; Write Second. When I find myself hating what I am writing it is always because I am not feeling anything. If I feel nothing, then there is actually nothing to write, and so what I am writing is just an imitation of what I sounded like when I did feel something. Sometimes I need to feel the energetic flow of the story, and sometimes I need to feel what the characters in a scene are feeling – either way, until I feel something interesting, it’s best to avoid writing anything. Of course this wouldn’t be a problem if I followed rule number 2 . . .

2. Be Patient. Stories take time, characters take time, even sentences can take time. Like most writers, I enjoy writing, only so much so that I get myself into trouble by diving in before I actually have something I want to say; or I beat myself up for not finishing a book in six drafts; or for only writing two pages in a day. There is a profound difference between procrastination and patience: one is avoiding, the other is waiting.

3. Be Humble. When I’m on the beam and the good stuff comes, I say, “Thank you,” and back away. Writing is a hands-off operation. When I start congratulating myself I get my hands all over what I’m trying to do, and this only gets in the way of more good stuff coming.

4. Be Compassionate. Every time I criticize someone else’s work, I am criticizing my own work. Every time I allow someone else to make their own mistakes, I allow myself to make my own mistakes.

5. Stick the Landing. Good stories are about good endings. The ending is the gift and the reason the story is being told. I am never finished telling a story until I know why I am telling it.

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

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