Leaving Room

The suspense novelist G. M. Ford is an outliner. He’s a practical man, and he believes in plotting a journey before you begin. However, during our conversation several years ago, he described his process this way: “Yeah, you got to plot it out. You got to know where you’re going, and what your beginning and end are. But you don’t want to plot too much. You want to leave room for the magic!”

The magic is the only real reason I write. Even in these little essays, which are always about one small idea and often an idea I’ve thought about and talked about and thought about some more, I leave room for the magic. And leaving room is exactly what I must do. The magic – the unplanned, inspired, original, alive thought – needs space. It cannot coexist with my old thoughts, no matter how inspired they were once upon a time.

But leaving room requires trust. The empty space I clear in my imagination, which is the invitation to the new and inspired thought, cannot be perceived as a threat my self-worth. I’m a man of action, after all. I like to do stuff and get stuff done and then do some more. Oh, the satisfaction I feel after a productive day, and how grumpy I can become after a day spent drifting and not creating, my mind sent spinning into circular stories of the nothing my life is in danger of becoming.

So the empty space I must allow to invite the magic is not the natural impulse for a fellow like me. Yet it is as essential to creation as the blank page is to writing. What’s more, it is the true peace for which I am searching in all my doing. There is no anxiety in the room I leave for the magic, nor is there doubt or indecision or comparison. There is only love and the asking for more love, a garden that will grow itself as long as there is room to grow.

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

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A Writer’s Inspiration

What is a writer’s inspiration? Here is what all creative people value: to find oneself fueled as if by command from within to put into the world that which can only be seen by the imagination’s vivid eye. We value that fuel as it propels us past logic and doubt, past reason and comparison. The writer’s inspiration does not share the writer’s fear of failure and judgment. The writer’s inspiration says simply, Create this, and you will know in the creating why you must.

The writer’s inspiration asks only that the writer does not doubt its reality. Doubt its reality and you have lost all sight of it, and so you say, “Look! It was never real. Doubt has shown me the truth. I have cast the light of skepticism upon this thing I could never see, and now it is gone. I am alone, as I have always suspected.” Do not make doubt your friend. It is crafty in its insidious logic. It asks of the writer’s inspiration what it cannot possibly produce: proof of the value of what has not yet been made so that it knows it is worth making.

Doubt is no friend to creation. Love is creation’s only companion. The writer knows his inspiration’s value only has he knows what he loves. Nowhere can your love be proven. In no court could your love stand the withering eye of reason. All that we can say of love is that we know it.

You love your inspiration as you love your friends. You trust your inspiration as you trust your friends. You may believe on some dark night that you trust a friend because he has proven himself through deeds to be worth trusting – but you know this is not so. You know that only in trusting does a friend become a friend; only in trusting do you allow a person to reveal himself to you. So too is it with the writer’s inspiration. Your trust is inspiration’s invitation, the open door of your heart through which love seeks its voice.

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 Gardener’s Tale

My job is to plant the seed and water the flower, not to grow it. Only the flower can grow the flower. Only the seed itself contains the complete potential of the flower; only the seed understands what that flower will actually be. It is not my job to know nor determine, only to give my attention steadily and trust what occurs underground, where everything begins.

We must choose deliberately which patch of earth to cultivate. Life will flourish everywhere, though environment affects the shape the life will take, whether a cactus or a dandelion. Comparing preferences renders them meaningless, a war of apples and oranges, and yet when obeyed privately the meaning of life’s ceaseless nudging is revealed as you discover the perfect mix of shade and sun for the seeds you’ve so long been carrying in your pocket.

You can get used to having those seeds in your pocket, even believing they were meant to stay there. But they must be surrendered to the earth. This is an unspectacular beginning. No pop of the champagne bottle here, merely laying what might as well be a bone interred for all the inactivity. How easily you are reminded of death as you create life; how easy as you bury life to begin imagining its expiration as your poor, weak eyes can perceive no movement.

And how futile can seem the watering of tilled earth. This water could be more useful elsewhere, could feed a thirsty, growing world, rather than turn a patch of dirt to mud. The garden’s true engine is as beyond the mind’s comprehension as the planted seed is beyond the eye’s perception. But growth occurs all the same, often while we sleep. We awaken one morning to green and yellow and red, and are left to wonder exactly what part we played, and soon enough to dream of other gardens, whose seeds we pull from those new blossoms.

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 Holiday Season

It is very hard to try to do two things at once. It is very hard to love someone while simultaneously believing you must protect yourself from them, or that you must always be right, or that there are good people in the world and bad people in the world. Likewise it is hard to listen to your creative potential, your muse, your imagination if you simultaneously believe that you must write perfectly, or that you must know that what you’re creating now will succeed later, or that no one wants to hear from someone like you.

Be glad it is hard to do two things at once. All these stories of protecting ourselves and being right, all these stories of writing perfectly and success, are our invention. They are not real, and so can only be maintained by our constant attention. The truth, meanwhile, requires nothing of us. Love cannot be manufactured, only perceived. Our imagination cannot be commanded, only received. How kind life is to make suffering exhausting.

Eventually, everyone must rest. We will complain about it first, and march in protest about how hard it is, and form committees to determine why it is so hard, but by and by, because these stories are not actually a part of reality, we will either forget to tell them or grow weary of telling them. Either way, the truth of love, the truth of our creative potential, will be waiting for us when we do.

We will celebrate such moments. “The good stuff was really coming today,” we’ll say. Or we’ll say, “I had a great time with my wife. No arguments, no debate. Just fun.” These are like holiday seasons, respites of pleasure from the grind of life. But the other day a cashier asked me if I was looking forward to the weekend. “My life’s a weekend,” I confessed. And I didn’t realize until I said it that it was true.

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

The Big Time

I was twenty-four and in the middle of writing my first screenplay with my brother. We were writing it as quickly as we could so that when we arrived in Los Angeles, we’d have something to show to the agents and producers we were hoping to somehow manage to meet. I wanted to write it in the same way I’d written the sketch comedy show he and I had been performing for the last few years, which was to tap into the funny, tap into the cool, tap into the interesting I felt within me and let the funny, cool, and interesting find its way onto the page.

But I couldn’t write this screenplay like that. It had to be able to impress agents and producers who, as I understood it, thought in terms millions of viewers and tens of millions of dollars, whereas my sketch comedy show on a good night performed to around 80 people and earned us slightly more than nothing. I had to write for The Big Time, and I wasn’t sure what that meant. I was not sure if my funny, cool and interesting was funny, cool, and interesting enough. So I smoked a lot of cigarettes plus a few other things, and didn’t sleep much, and caught a cold, and began to hear a great clock in the sky ticking its way down to the end of my creatively viable youth.

Then one evening my brother was at work and I wasn’t, and instead of writing more of the screenplay, I decided to describe what it felt like to catch a pass from my father. In one longish paragraph I wrote about the pleasure of running flat out down an open field, tracing the path of the ball in the sky and timing my run and my extended arms so that the ball and I would meet. I wrote about how I couldn’t do this often enough, and that even though I was technically practicing for our Sunday touch football games, was technically getting better so our team could win, the pleasure was all in the running and finding how my father and I were connected through that ball.

I spent an hour writing that paragraph, and when I’d finished, I sat back in my chair and felt something I hadn’t in quite some time. I didn’t want to leave the chair, in fact, because as soon as I did, I knew I’d be caught up once again in the momentum of my day, of which that screenplay was now a part. I wished for a moment that that this was the momentum of my day – the quiet, profitless knowing after writing something just to write it, of catching a ball just to catch it, of living a life just to live it.

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

Music Lessons

For years my wife, herself a writer, was my first and only beta reader. Every draft of every novel went under her nose, and she’d return with her likes and dislikes. It was not a peaceful arrangement. Often her dislikes outnumbered her likes. I came to hate this process. I didn’t really want her feedback; I just wanted her to love it so I could send it to agents or editors with some confidence. Eventually, I relieved her of her duty as beta reader, and there was peace in the kingdom.

About the same time I stopped showing my wife my books, I started writing music. I discovered that using Garage Band I could compose anything from a pop tune to a piano sonata to a symphony. I was thrilled. I’d wanted to compose music my entire life but I hadn’t the time nor discipline to learn to play the piano well enough to write what I heard in my mind. Now I could put little black dots into the program, press play, and hear what I’d written. Sometimes what I’d written sounded like what I heard in my mind, and sometimes it didn’t. And sometimes I liked what I’d written more than what I’d imagined and sometimes I did not. I was my own beta listener.

I was so excited when I finished a song or a little symphony. Even though I had chosen every little black dot, the song still felt a bit like something I’d discovered on the radio. I was the beta listener, after all. And since I always liked the songs, and since whenever you find a song you like you share it with someone you love, I’d play it for my wife.

At first, she was as delighted as I was. “You wrote that?” she’d ask. “Yes!” I’d say. “Isn’t that cool?” Once she’d gotten over the shock that her husband of fifteen years was now writing music, she began to listen with a more critical ear, commenting, “Oh, that beginning’s really dynamic.” Or, “The middle kind of bogs down, don’t you think?” And then one day, after listening to my latest piece: “That just doesn’t work for me. It has no center.”

And that was when a miracle occurred. I didn’t care. To my own amazement, I did not care one speck that she thought it had no center. What she or anyone thought of this or any piece could not change my relationship to it, could not change why I’d written it, or what I’d learned writing it, or what I thought of it. The two experiences were totally separate. And I thought to myself, “If I learned to write music for this lesson alone, it will have been worth it.”

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

Nothing Lost

The stories we write are not unlike children we raise. We grow them with love and attention in our home and then send them out into the world where they will grow yet again. What becomes of your child will always be rooted in how that child’s life began in your care. So too with the stories you write. The relationship your stories eventually form with your reads began in your heart and your mind. But that relationship, strangely, has very little to do with you.

Imagine you had a child who became very famous. Once you said, “Sing Mommy another song. You sing just like a angel.” Once you argued with her, and laughed with her, and asked her what kind of cereal she wanted for breakfast. Now she stands on a stage and sings for ten thousand people. Those people might dress like her, might read about her life in magazines or fantasize of meeting her someday. To those people, she is like a dream, and at times it feels as if she is singing just for them, her songs speaking so directly to the longing and loss in their very distant lives.

And perhaps the story you write will becomes famous. Perhaps ten million people will read it, will give over hours and hours of their life to this story, will suffer and rejoice with your characters and see the worlds you wrote in their own unique imagination. If these people love that story, they will feel as if you’ve written it just for them, as if they had summoned it in answer to some question. To them, it will be their story, for it was their life it altered in some small way.

Or perhaps only a few people will read it. How many people read your book will affect certain experiences you have after you finished the story, but it will not change your relationship to that story. That is as intimate and personal as your readers’ relationship to your story. What changed in you in the writing of the story cannot be undone by sales or awards or reviews any more than a young woman could lose her adulthood when her mother tells her again how she sings like an angel.

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 Different Story

I used to think stories were those tales I told my friends about that interesting thing that happened to me the day before, or those adventures I read in books, or those love affairs I saw in movies, or the crimes I watched being solved on television. Those were stories, and then there was life. Life, that Ocean of Now through which I swam, was reality. I often preferred stories.

But as a storyteller I am aware that my job is to select those details that provide the most vivid view of a perspective of the world I want to share. If I am introducing a character, I cannot describe every single detail about that character, from exactly how many hairs are on his head to the color of his underwear. All those details exist; they are real. Nonetheless, they must be omitted because they do not serve my story. I must choose to focus on a tiny fraction of the whole of reality to share the truth my story seeks to convey.

The details I choose to include and the details I choose to omit determine the story I tell. So too those details I choose to focus upon and those details I choose to ignore while I swim through the Ocean of Now called Life. It is physically and perceptually impossible for me to focus on all the details that make up the whole of reality. I can only face in one direction at one time; I can only be in one country, in one city, and in one room at one time. I can only have one conversation at one time. I can only read one book at one time or listen to one song at one time.

And I can only think one thought at one time. This is where the real storytelling occurs. How easy, when I poor my coffee in the morning and head to my desk, to think, “What’s the point?” I am a gardener who can perceive his seeds and the soil, but not the fruit of the coming tree. In that three-word instant I am living the story of a barren world where nothing I plant will grow. Who would choose to live in such a world? I just did. And I will continue to live in it, to call that story reality, until I choose a different story—and just like that, as if I’d picked a different book from the shelf, my world is fertile with possibility again.

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

The Vessel

When I began writing this blog on a daily basis five years ago, I quickly found myself wanting to write not just little essays about writing and creativity but to tell stories from my writing and creative life. Prior to that, all the stories I had written had been fiction. As a fiction writer, the ongoing question driving my stories was: What’s the most interesting thing that could happen next?

I could not ask this exact question when telling stories about my life. First, I already knew what was going to happen. Second, my whole life is interesting – at least to me. It’s true. To me, even those moments I had found dull in the living are interesting in retrospect, if for no other reason than to understand why I found one moment dull and another moment fun. And so instead the question I asked about these stories was: Why would someone who isn’t me or my family be interested in this story?

To answer this question honestly I had to find within my story what belonged to everyone. The stories could not simply be about what I learned, about how I went from feeling one way about myself to another way, but about how life expressed itself through me. Life, after all, guides and moves and supports everyone equally and continuously, the same as the ocean supports all boats of every size equally.

As I told more and more of these stories, I began to see my life as not belonging to me at all. My life was not some delicate treasure I kept safe and showed to friends and strangers like a ship in a bottle. My life was a vessel on the ocean, but it was the ocean I’d come for. Without the ocean, the vessel need never have existed, but give it some wind and water and meaning immediately fills its sails.

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 More Direct Route

Most of the students and clients I work with have two competing thoughts about writing. Their first thought is that they have a story they want to tell. There is something within these stories, whether the stories are fiction, narrative non-fiction, or memoir that has grabbed hold of the writer’s curiosity. This is a fantastic feeling. This is a feeling that gives life meaning without explanation. This is a feeling that is only sought, that is completely satisfying even as it sends you seeking more.

But there is always another thought. Sometimes the thought is that writing is hard; sometimes the thought is that the story must please this reader or that editor; sometimes the thought is that if we don’t get the story exactly right no one will like it; and sometimes a writer has concocted a poisonous stew of all these and more. These thoughts, these stories about storytelling, wait like impatient bosses at our desk and usually begin talking as soon as we arrive for work.

No wonder so many newer writers believe they are lazy, or not disciplined or enough, or not focused enough. We are all meant to avoid what we dislike. We are not, however, meant to avoid what we love, to be kept from that which lights our curiosity. We are always, always, always moving toward what we love, only sometimes this movement is long and circuitous and full of many rest stops and diversions.

No matter. No one can stop moving. But it is possible to take a more direct route. Let your story about writing be the friendliest story you know. Let it be a love story with a happy ending and nothing more. Writing, after all, is a visit with someone you adore, who will answer any question and always has something interesting to say. The impatient boss, meanwhile, is an illusion, marking your time on a clock that does not exist, comparing you unfavorably to friends until everyone is an enemy.

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