What’s Been Learned

I have taken recently to asking all my interviewees to finish this sentence: If writing has taught me anything, it has taught me . . . what? When I thought of this question I had imagined the answers would be as varied as those received from the question it replaced: “What advice would you give someone wanting to be a writer?” To that question I received everything from, “Write what you want to read,” to, “Don’t follow trends,” to, “Write every day.” One writer answered, “Get an agent.” Another novelist advised, “Don’t write novels; get into video games.”

However, from the dozen or so writers to whom this has been asked I have received two answers nearly to the exclusion of all others: Trust, and Persistence. Trust and Persistence. Interesting, because, as far as writers are concerned, aren’t they really the same thing? How can you persist without trust? How can you write in the face of rejection, of bad reviews, of the very unknown that is every single book before it is published – how can you live with this continuous uncertainty without trust?

I can see why an established writer might not bother advising a newer writer to merely, “Trust yourself.” How easy that vague encouragement is to disregard. When gathering advice, we are drawn to specifics. Write 2,000 words a day; start your story with action; have only one antagonist; put your hero in peril as quickly as possible.

All good advice, I suppose, but all of it useless unless the writer trusts himself. I was at a Seder once whose leader explained to the children gathered around the table that God did such and such to show His people He was real. This was the leader’s interpretation. All I could think upon hearing this was, “How convenient. This way no one has to have any actual faith.”

Everything can be disbelieved, from burning bushes to needing to write sympathetic protagonists. It’s as easy as thinking, “I don’t believe that.” It’s as easy as thinking, “I don’t believe I’ll find an agent for this book,” or, “I don’t believe anyone will want to read this story.” Nothing is easier to do, and nothing is harder to live with. Trust me.

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

More Author Articles

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

On We Go

I have just finished editing two of articles for next month’s issue, both of which deal in one way or another with the importance of persistence. Almost every writer I interview mentions persistence somehow, and writing magazine after writing magazine is filled with pages of writing professionals encouraging new writers to persist, persist, persist. Problem is, as a writer you can hear this advice so often that it can cease to mean anything. Yes, yes, I need persistence—but what I really need is an agent!

In truth, you need persistence more. Yet persistence can mean different things to different people. Some people are tough—I call them survivors. For them, persistence is the embodiment of their toughness. Do not bother knocking them down, they will only rise again. Tough people, however, expect to be knocked down, I think. It is a kind of proof they are actually doing something. If you stick your chin out it will get hit, but the alternative to not sticking your chin out is unacceptable, so swing away, Life, I’m a survivor. Tough people get a lot done and can be fantastic allies—just don’t cross them.

I am not tough. In fact, if you’ve read my blogs you may have gleaned a certain antipathy for the very notion of survival. Yet I believe just as strongly in persistence, though it means something slightly different to me. To me, persistence is the rejection of the idea of failure. Persistence is not about taking my lumps, or toughening my skin, it is about viewing life with the greatest compassion possible. Nothing wants to hurt me, and everything is trying to help me. Failure is the belief that something is finished. Nothing is ever finished, it is only on its way to becoming something else.

This may sound airy and theoretical, but for me it is the most grounded and stable place from which to launch any venture, from a novel to a magazine to a relationship. If I live or write or love in fear of something ending or being taken from me, I am always unstable. Nothing can be taken from me that I do not give away, and no one on earth can tell me what I have done or written or thought or sung was worth writing or thinking or singing. It is no one else’s business.

More Author Articles