The Saint Within

Every writer I know began as a young reader. Most read hungrily once they’d discovered the intimate pleasure of the written word. It feels like escape, this traveling through imaginary worlds. It does not matter what world you are reading about – whether it is the once-real world of Czarist Russia or the unreal world of Narnia – it is all imaginary, for your body is one place while your mind is in another.

But reading is actually the opposite of escape. No story can live without the reader’s emotional participation. The writer’s words are but directions to a place within the reader where sadness and joy and grief and curiosity and boredom and hope and despair reside. The words alone are a skeleton; the reader’s felt responses to those words are the flesh and blood of every story ever told.

What’s more, every story ever told grows from the same fertile thought: Life matters. It matters that someone fell in love or someone was crowned queen. It matters that a father and son were reunited. It matters that the killer was caught. Life is not just a bunch of meaningless crap that happens to us between birth and death. The story guides us to that place within us where we know life matters, where we know that we are interested for a reason, where we know that we matter and are living on purpose.

This is why stories and poems and songs were my church and my state growing up. I turned to them to remind me of what I so often forgot, what I so often lost track of in the hurly-burly of life’s circus. I had thought that I would need to make these heroes who’d saved me from myself less saintly, so that I could take my place beside them on the shelf. Instead, I found again the saint within me, the unblemished self who remains unaffected by my woeful stories of meaninglessness, who finishes the stories others had started, and who now begins my stories that others might finish.

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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Generous Creators

If you have written a book, or a story, or a poem, and you liked it, then by all means find some way to share with other people. Find a blog, or a magazine, or a publisher, and get it out there. Add your new crayon to the vast crayon box of stories and poems and books. There can never possibly be enough, because everyone keeps coloring and coloring and coloring their world.

But if you do share what you’ve written, remember that in truth no one actually reads the book, or the essay, or the story you wrote. No one can. Those books, essays, and stories are not on the page but in your mind. The story you wrote remains a mixture of what you put on the page and what you left behind, and what you found, not just in the story, but in yourself as you found the story. What you really found belongs to you and you and alone, and is the true reason you wrote the story in the first place.

The reader will read a different story. That one will belong to them. The reader will fill all the empty spaces you left between words and images and scenes in ways you could never imagine. The reader will focus on certain details and completely ignore others. The reader will draw their own conclusions, with which you might or might not agree. It doesn’t matter if you agree – it’s not your story anymore.

Some confusion occasionally occurs when reader and writer meet. The reader is naturally deferential, wishing to assign ownership to the writer, and the writer feels an understandable proprietorship. Yet this is a moment when the full generosity of creativity is called for. Everyone’s world must be colored as the pages of their life keep turning, each page calling for more color. If some reader tries to hand you your story in praise, or even criticism, give it back. Perhaps then they might find a way to share what they found with others, learning that no one can give or take from you what you already have.

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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How To Accept Your Readers

I wrote in this space recently about the relationship between self-acceptance and publishing acceptance. There is an immediate and almost tangible practicality to the practice of accepting myself – choosing to share the words and scenes and stories in which I am interested, for no other reason than I am interested in those words, scenes, and stories. There is, however, another less tangible and immediate group of people I must also practice accepting, just as regularly, if I hope to have any publishing success – namely, everyone else.

I am an author, meaning that unless I am writing in my journal, everything I write is written to be read by other people. While those other people are, thankfully, not in the room with me while I’m writing, I have occasionally gotten out of the house over the last fifty years, and whenever I do, I meet some of these folks and notice that each of them has their own idea about what is funny and what is not, and what is cool and what is not, and what is sexy and what is not. In other words, everyone has their own imagination, which is the final destination of everything conceived within my imagination.

As soon as I shared one thing I’d written with one other person, even someone I knew very well, I noticed this strange phenomenon: what I wrote and what they read were not precisely the same thing. Within the sanctity of their own imaginations, my readers ignored details I considered important while focusing on those I considered trivial. Readers would hate characters I loved and love characters I hated. No matter how carefully I crafted my story, no matter how many drafts I wrote or editors I hired, readers continued committing the unfortunate mistake of making up their own minds about what my story meant.

I had not understood, until I began sharing my work regularly, how much this difference between what I thought I had written and what my readers read had served as a quiet impediment to getting published. As a writer, I considered being misunderstood a kind of failure. Strangely, my job is not to be understood. My job is to write as clearly and honestly as I can, and then allow the reader to take whatever they need most from what I have written.

But to do so I must accept that everyone is on an equally important journey, and that everyone is their own best guide toward where they are going. This is not always so easy for me to accept. Sometimes as I go about my day, I see or meet people doing or saying things that make no sense to me. It is tempting at such times to think, “What is wrong with them that they would do that?” or, “What is wrong with me that I don’t understand them?”

The answer in both cases is always “Nothing,” but to accept that answer I must trust in something I cannot immediately perceive. Fortunately, I do this all the time. I cannot perceive the success of a story while I am writing it. All I know is that I want to write it. On most days, that is enough. I trust that what I want for that story will come. It will come in the form of other people finding it, guided to the story by precisely the same means I wrote 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.

You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

The Saint Within

Every writer I know began as a young reader. Most read hungrily once they’d discovered the intimate pleasure of the written word. It feels like escape, this travelling through imaginary worlds. It does not matter what world you are reading about – whether it is the once-real world of Czarist Russia or the unreal world of Narnia – it is all imaginary, for your body is one place while your mind is in another.

But reading is actually the opposite of escape. No story can live without the reader’s emotional participation. The writer’s words are but directions to a place within the reader where sadness and joy and grief and curiosity and boredom and hope and despair reside. The words alone are a skeleton; the reader’s felt responses to those words are the flesh and blood of every story ever told.

What’s more, every story ever told grows from the same fertile thought: Life matters. It matters that someone fell in love or someone was crowned queen. It matters that a father and son were reunited. It matters that the killer was caught. Life is not just a bunch of meaningless crap that happens to us between birth and death. The story guides us to that place within us where we know life matters, where we know that we are interested for a reason, where we know that we matter and are living on purpose.

This is why stories and poems and songs were my church and my state growing up. I turned to them to remind me of what I so often forgot, what I so often lost track of in the hurly-burly of life’s circus. I had thought that I would need to make these heroes who’d saved me from myself less saintly, so that I could take my place beside them on the shelf. Instead, I found again the saint within me, the unblemished self who remains unaffected by my woeful stories of meaninglessness, who finishes the stories others had started, and who now begins my stories that others might finish.

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 Rotten Kingdom

Once we leave school, we only read what we want. Our reading life is a sovereign kingdom, with us as the benign but sole authority. We people this kingdom with the stories that please us. It is not always clear which stories will please us and which will not. We wander bookstores and Amazon, we listen to recommendations from friends, we wait for the next release from our favorite authors—but not until we meet the book in person, until we hear its voice and glean its narrative intentions can we decide if this is a story that belongs in our kingdom.

After all, we are building this kingdom based on our own desire, on our own idea of good and bad, our own idea of right and wrong, of funny, of generous, of wise, of true, of hopeful, of scary, of sexy, of surprising. Why would we build our kingdom from what someone else calls wise, funny, profound, or interesting? For this reason, some stories must be set aside and left unfinished. To follow that story to the end is to live with it longer than it took to read.

I wish sometimes I was as disciplined with the stories I do and do not tell myself as I am with the stories I read and don’t read. I have a quick hook for the stories I read, not so much the ones I tell. I will tell a story for years and years without ever liking it. I will tell it to myself at night like the worst bedtime story ever written, a story without heroes, a story where nothing changes, a story where hope is a weak and comical candle against an indifferent wind.

I tell it, and the kingdom becomes muddy from rain. Now it is all clouds and wet winter and stalled busses and empty cupboards and boarded windows. Who rules this lousy place? This was never my kingdom. This is the world I built while I was pretending to be someone else, the one I left happily to rot after I found the stories I was meant to tell.

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

Disbelief

Strange coming from a writer, but I have, like many before me, learned never to believe what I read. Though maybe this is because I am a writer. A writer knows better than anyone how much must be left out. A writer knows better than anyone how the details you do choose to share slant the story you tell. A writer knows that what remains on the page after all the editing and rewriting is, at its very best, nothing more than a vivid and imaginatively fertile glimpse of the whole.

So I don’t believe what I read. No matter how well written, no matter how well researched, no matter how relentlessly detailed, I don’t believe I am getting the whole picture. But I don’t want the whole picture. It’s too much. What a bore that would be. Plus I enjoy filling in all those details the writer must by necessity leave out. I know what Gatsby’s Daisy really looks like and I don’t need Fitzgerald cluttering things up with his opinion on the matter.

And I certainly don’t believe it when a writer tells me someone is sad or happy or lonely or angry. That’s for me to decide. I’ll decide if your hero is noble or brash, if your villain is wicked or vain. In fact, I love to decide such things. I am like a little emperor – a little god even, looking down from my perch above the page and casting final judgments. What a joy to know the writer’s characters in this way. I see myself in all of them, and aren’t I interesting?

Though maybe I am being too severe. There are some things I’ve read that I believe. Strange, I just can’t remember what right now. I have the clearest memory of sitting with a book, and I must have been reading it, for I thought, “Yes! That is absolutely true.” That memory is like a dream now, how in a dream a book becomes All Books. No matter – the book itself is unimportant. The feeling is all I care about. The writer had reminded me of something that I had in my distraction forgotten, something I spotted between all his or her precious words. But I’ve got it back now, and I am forever grateful, and I believe I must read another book before I forget it again.

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

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Right Now

When I was in my early twenties, my brother and I started a theatrical show called The American Basement Review, a loosely connected series of comedic sketches based on our love of Monty Python and Saturday Night Live. While we had already reserved a venue for our first performance, we had no stage or lights with which to rehearse. In our heads, which is where the show was entirely conceived, we were picturing a cross between a Bugs Bunny cartoon and a Broadway musical. Once the show actually hit the stage the truth became glaringly apparent to us: we were just two guys standing on a more or less empty stage.

The scenes we wrote after that first show were much better that the ones we wrote for it. In fact, I remember standing on stage in the middle of a scene thinking to myself, “This should have ended three minutes ago.” From that point on, all scenes for the American Basement Review ran two typed pages.

It reminds me of what Frank Delaney said about reading your work aloud. Like a lot of writers, he holds to the belief that if it doesn’t sound good aloud, it isn’t any good, period. There’s a lot to be said for this. The spoken word often reveals what we distort in our minds. If something missed the mark, you will usually feel what is missing when you try to speak it.

Like a lot of writers, I’ve always been a pretty ambitious guy. I’m always filled with big ambitions for where my work might go. But whether I’m writing a comedy review or a novel the most important question is not, “Where do I want it to go?” but, “Where am I right now?” It is easy to sit around dreaming of what it might be; it is easy because you can make that future anything you want it to be. But when you look at where you are right now, when you read your work aloud, you are standing in the only place from which you can see all your possible choices, the only place from which you can get where you believe you wish to go.

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

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