The Rabbit Hole

One of my favorite books about writing is Ernest Hemingway’s A Moveable Feast, his posthumously published memoir about his years in Paris as a young man. It was the first book I’d read that I felt fully captured the pleasures and challenges of writing, though one line always both bothered me and stayed with me. Hemingway was describing the need for discipline if you want to write, and how you can’t let your life’s problems get in the way of your work. Besides, he went on, “Work solves everything.”

I don’t care if the guy won the Nobel Prize, I thought, nothing solves everything. I was a young man myself when I first read the book. I’d had my share of problems and did not think work alone could possibly have solved all of them. Though even as I thought this, I could not remember what had solved them. Problems were strange that way. They seemed in those days to appear and disappear like unwanted party guests, cluttering up the conversation with their complaints and accusations, until mysteriously, quietly, without ever being asked to leave, they were gone.

Then recently I was having one of those days a writer sometimes has. I had agreed to write six essays about Fearless Writing for an online tutorial. Unfortunately, I had just written a whole book on the subject, and was finding the work boring. On this particular day, as I looked about at my little world, all my interests felt like chores and all my chores felt like slave labor. Life, apparently, had become chewing gum chewed past its flavor. Plus, all the news on the TV was bad. People killed each other and screamed at each other. Also, people bought all the wrong books.

I decided I would write the next essay as if I’d never written about fearless writing before. I didn’t care if it contradicted everything I’d written in the book; there was just no point in doing anything if it wasn’t any fun. Before long, a New Idea arrived. Just what I’d been looking for, I thought, and followed it. Down the rabbit hole we went, and the old world was forgotten because the new one was so interesting.

I’m not sure how much time I spent in the rabbit hole, ten minutes or two hours. Time changes down there. Eventually, the Idea and I had wound our way back to the surface. When I emerged, I sat for a moment, back in my chair, in my room, in this world, and I tried for a moment to remember my problems from earlier that day. I couldn’t. Papa was right, I concluded, and left my office, to return to my very interesting life.

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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My Only Problem

In every story we tell there is always a problem our hero must overcome. Sometimes the problem is a killer that needs to be caught; sometimes it is a lover who cannot be won; sometimes it is a terrible storm that must be survived; sometimes it is a dragon that must be slain. In almost every case the hero must do something, must solve a puzzle, or climb a mountain, or win a race, or learn a skill. Problems, after all, aren’t going to solve themselves.

On the other hand, the challenges we face while writing our stories are a little different. Yes, I must figure out my story, must find a plausible and entertaining beginning, middle, and end, must write and rewrite until the pieces come together. But a story isn’t a problem; nothing appeared in my way to keep me from where I wanted to go. I was the one who chose to head off into the dark of my imagination until I’d found a way. That’s not a problem; that’s called life.

But sometimes while I am finding my way problems do appear to arise in my path. They often come in the form of questions, such as, “What if this story stinks?” or, “What if I never finish it?” or, “What if it’s unoriginal?” As soon as I ask such a question it is answered in my imagination, and I perceive a future in which my story stinks, or is forever unfinished, or is unoriginal. I do not like this future at all. And yet in the moment I am imagining it, this future feels more real than the present. Now, this future is a problem that needs to be fixed. I want to dismantle it and build another one.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to dismantle. The only way to solve the problem of the future is to ignore it. This is the opposite of the stories we tell, where problems are ignored at the hero’s peril. I must not mistake myself for a storybook hero. Unlike these paper kings and knights, my future remains unwritten, and my only problem remains the belief that what might happen is more important than what is.

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

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 William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

My Only Problem

In every story we tell there is always a problem our hero must overcome. Sometimes the problem is a killer that needs to be caught; sometimes it is a lover who cannot be won; sometimes it is a terrible storm that must be survived; sometimes it is a dragon that must be slain. In almost every case the hero must do something, must solve a puzzle, or climb a mountain, or win a race, or learn a skill. Problems, after all, aren’t going to solve themselves.

On the other hand, the challenges we face while writing our stories are a little different. Yes, I must figure out my story, must find a plausible and entertaining beginning, middle, and end, must write and rewrite until the pieces come together. But a story isn’t a problem; nothing appeared in my way to keep me from where I wanted to go. I was the one who chose to head off into the dark of my imagination until I’d found a way. That’s not a problem; that’s called life.

But sometimes while I am finding my way problems do appear to arise in my path. They often come in the form of questions, such as, “What if this story stinks?” or, “What if I never finish it?” or, “What if it’s unoriginal?” As soon as I ask such a question it is answered in my imagination, and I perceive a future in which my story stinks, or is forever unfinished, or is unoriginal. I do not like this future at all. And yet in the moment I am imagining it, this future feels more real than the present. Now, this future is a problem that needs to be fixed. I want to dismantle it and build another one.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to dismantle. The only way to solve the problem of the future is to ignore it. This is the opposite of the stories we tell, where problems are ignored at the hero’s peril. I must not mistake myself for a storybook hero. Unlike these paper kings and knights, my future remains unwritten, and my only problem remains the belief that what might happen is more important than what 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

Storytelling Magic

All storytellers must convince their readers that there is a problem. Without problems there would be no stories. But conditions are not seen universally as problems. For instance, my oldest son, Max, attended public schools and thrived. My youngest son, Sawyer, so hated public schools—well, all schools—that we pulled him out and are now schooling him at home. The problem for Sawyer was not school, but the combination of school and Sawyer.

So if Sawyer were to write a story about his time in school, he would have to do so in such a way that the Maxes of the world understood why school seen through Sawyer’s eyes was as problem. For the story to be moving and compelling, the Maxes of the world would absolutely have to believe that this whole school thing stinks. Ideally, the Maxes of the world would begin to question why they ever liked school in the first place.

Then Sawyer, like all storytellers, would have to pull a little storytelling magic: he would solve the problem. The problem, however, would have to appear to solve itself. That is, in the very best stories, the resolution is, as Aristotle said, surprising but inevitable. Like the best mystery writer, the clues should have been present all the time. Or, to put it another way, the problem arrived already containing its own solution.

Or, to put it another way, there was never any problem to begin with. The only true problem was one of perception. Once the truth is perceived, the problem no longer exists the same as a dream no longer exists; the same as the dream never existed. This is the storyteller’s magic – to trick us into believing what isn’t real so that we might remember what 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

No Problem

I used to turn my writing into a problem. There I would be, writing along, enjoying myself, translating scene after scene and thought after thought into words, lost in the dream of the story, the blank page a friendly, fertile field for whatever I wished to grow – until I came to a point where the way ahead was unclear. Such is the nature of writing. Discovery remains the writer’s first reward, and clarity is always most satisfying when found within the fog of uncertainty.

So I would sit, still happy to be on this journey, considering my many, many options. This is the moment where discipline is required. It feels good to be moving swiftly within the momentum of the story. How effortless creation feels within that current, and how aware I am of the support the current provides, buoying and sustaining me with the next thought and the next thought and the next thought. What a relief compared to the hurly-burly of my workaday life.

It is easy then to mistake the necessary stillness of a creative mind for inaction, and inaction for abandonment, and abandonment for failure. Now, my story has gone from a journey I wish to take to a problem I must solve. It is a problem because I have put myself in jeopardy. Until I begin moving again I am living under the threat of failure, which to the writer’s mind is like living under the threat of death. How tempting to leap on the first thought that comes along simply to escape the quicksand of failure.

Yet stillness is the only state from which I can perceive the movement of my story. Stillness is both my invitation to my imagination and my acceptance of its reply. It has taken me many years and many false escapes from a false death to understand that problems do not exist within the garden of creation. If I can remember this simple and enduring fact then no way is ever blocked to me. But if I forget, then my garden appears full of dragons and thorns, and my choices are like a game of Russian roulette where every loser is forgotten.

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

New Work

When I heard John Lennon sing, there are no problems, only solutions, I thought to myself, “I think he’s right, but you better be careful when and to whom you say that or you could get punched in the mouth.” When something feels like a problem, being asked to see it as anything other than a problem feels like being asked to feel glad for the thorn stuck in your foot. A man cannot wish his problems away, he can only fix them, and only in admitting a problem is a problem can the fixing begin.

While homeschooling my youngest son I frequently find lots of problems – mostly with him, of course, but occasionally with me also. He’s bored and not paying attention, and I’m frustrated and wondering why we didn’t just leave him in school and pray for the best because surely there’s a better use of our time than this. Problem upon problem upon problem.

Yet it would be just as easy to view a book I choose to write as one problem after another. After all, when the book begins I have a bunch of pages that need to be filled. If they aren’t filled with words, preferably interesting and entertaining words, then I have a problem called an unfinished book. You could say each empty page is a problem that needs to be fixed. In fact, you could say the whole book is nothing but a problem that needs to be fixed.

Or an opportunity to do something I want to do. Oh, it’s grating when you’re in the thick of what feels exactly like a problem to be told it is really an opportunity, yet that moment when what had been working no longer works, whether in a story or a relationship, is like the end of a job you never really wanted. You are surprised to find that you no longer require the security you believed it had once offered, and now that silence, that emptiness called not knowing, is the blank page waiting 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

My Only Problem

In every story we tell there is always a problem our hero must overcome. Sometimes the problem is a killer that needs to be caught; sometimes it is a lover who cannot be won; sometimes it is a terrible storm that must be survived; sometimes it is a dragon that must be slain. In almost every case the hero must do something, must solve a puzzle, or climb a mountain, or win a race, or learn a skill. Problems, after all, aren’t going to solve themselves.

On the other hand, the challenges we face while writing our stories are a little different. Yes, I must figure out my story, must find a plausible and entertaining beginning, middle, and end, must write and rewrite until the pieces come together. But a story isn’t a problem; nothing appeared in my way to keep me from where I wanted to go. I was one who chose to head off into the dark of my imagination until I’d found a way. That’s not a problem; that’s called life.

But sometimes while I am finding my way problems do appear to arise in my path. They often come in the form of questions, such as, “What if this story stinks?” or, “What if I never finish it?” or, “What if it’s unoriginal?” As soon as I ask such a question it is answered in my imagination, and I perceive a future in which my story stinks, or is forever unfinished, or is unoriginal. I do not like this future at all. And yet in the moment I am imagining it, this future feels more real than the present. Now, this future is a problem that needs to be fixed. I want to dismantle it and build another one.

Unfortunately, there is nothing to dismantle. The only way to solve the problem of the future is to ignore it. This is the opposite of the stories we tell, where problems are ignored at the hero’s peril. I must not mistake myself for a storybook hero. Unlike these paper kings and knights, my future remains unwritten, and my only problem remains the belief that what might happen is more important than what is.

If you have a question, concern, or quibble you’d like addressed in this space, please, feel free to contact me. Answering other people’s question is one of those things that pleases me most.

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

Problem Free

In preparation for his GED, my son and I have been going through a number of math problems, most of which involve rules and formulas with which he is unfamiliar or has forgotten. He is very clear how he feels about this activity. “I hate this,” he said at the end of a particularly complex problem. “I hate math. I’ll never use it.”

I understood his point of view. I doubted there would be many times in his life where he’d have to find the median and the mean of the volumes of three cylinders. But I’d also seen him find a little pleasure in solving math problems he did understand. With these problems, he could go inside himself to find the solution. With the other problems, he had to turn to me, he had to look outside of himself, and there was very little pleasure for him in that experience. That was what he really hated: not being able to go inside himself for what he needed.

It is odd to me that we call these math questions problems. A problem is something that must be corrected or fixed. A math equation does not need to be fixed; it only needs to be understood. It is already correct. The mathematician is merely learning to perceive what is missing. That is only a problem if the mathematician believes there is something wrong with him, that he is not perceiving quickly enough, or that he might never perceive, and that a better mathematician would.

Writing can be seen as a problem, too, if we let it. A blank page becomes a problem the moment I forget that I need only look within myself to answer the question, “What comes next?” The moment I forget this, writing holds no pleasure for me whatsoever. Now writing is a problem, an incomplete puzzle that must be finished so that I am allowed to enjoy life again. How I hate this puzzle that stands between happiness and me. How quickly I can find myself in prison simply because I am looking in the wrong place for the freedom I already possess.

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 End of Tyranny

For the last week I’ve been playing the classic puzzle-solving video game Myst with my youngest son, Sawyer. I played Myst to its conclusion almost 20 years ago, so I could remember little of the game and its many ingenious puzzles except this: all the puzzles are indeed solvable. I had to remind myself of this on the several occasions Sawyer and I appeared to have reached a dead-end. Sawyer had not played the game through, however, and so when we reached these impasses he did what most people normally do when confronted with what looks like an insurmountable obstacle—he complained.

“This game is flawed!” he concluded. “It’s poorly designed.”

To be clear, I would have complained as well had I not known, empirically, that the problem was not the game’s design but the players’ perception. It was a kind of foggy hindsight, which, while obscuring the solutions, revealed complaint in all its uselessness. The complainer says, “There are no solutions!” and so none are perceived. His complaints actually prevent him from seeing the very thing he complains does not exist.

It was a rare treat in my life as a father. I was able to say, “Trust me, we’ll figure it out,” with a time-traveler’s authority. But I do not need to replay my trials every decade or so to know the roles of trust and complaint in my life. What can feel like a declaration of independence from the tyranny of an unjust world is actually a sentence to a prison of my own design. Fortunately, I can leave as soon as I remember that the key to that cell is not the solution to some problem but only the belief that one exists.

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

New Work

When I heard John Lennon sing, there are no problems, only solutions, I thought to myself, “I think he’s right, but you better be careful when and to whom you say that or you could get punched in the mouth.” When something feels like a problem, being asked to see it as anything other than a problem feels like being asked to feel glad for the thorn stuck in your foot. A man cannot wish his problems away, he can only fix them, and only in admitting a problem is a problem can the fixing begin.

While homeschooling my youngest son I frequently find lots of problems – mostly with him, of course, but occasionally with me also. He’s bored and not paying attention, and I’m frustrated and wondering why we didn’t just leave him in school and pray for the best because surely there’s a better use of our time than this. Problem upon problem upon problem.

Yet it would be just as easy to view a book I choose to write as one problem after another. After all, when the book begins I have a bunch of pages that need to be filled. If they aren’t filled with words, preferably interesting and entertaining words, then I have problem called an unfinished book. You could say each empty page is a problem that needs to be fixed. In fact, you could say the whole book is nothing but a problem that needs to be fixed.

Or an opportunity to do something I want to do. Oh, it’s grating when you’re in the thick of what feels exactly like a problem to be told it is really an opportunity, yet that moment when what had been working no longer works, whether in a story or a relationship, is like the end of a job you never really wanted. You are surprised to find that you no longer require the security you believed it had once offered, and now that silence, that emptiness called not knowing, is the blank page waiting 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.

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