Easy

When I was a teenager, I knew just a few things for certain, one of which was that I wanted a girlfriend. I knew I wanted a girlfriend the way I knew I liked David Bowie’s album Ziggy Stardust and T. S. Eliot’s poetry, and the way I knew I liked playing football and the game Dungeons & Dragons. I knew what happiness felt like, and I knew I preferred it to the alternative, and I also knew that all those other things that made me happy could not take the place of what I believed waited for me in the unique happiness of The Girlfriend.

I say believed, because when I had girlfriends, that unique happiness never quite materialized. In its place was an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying exploration. The difference between what I could picture in my mind when I thought Girlfriend and what was actually happening was the stuff of mournful sonnets and love songs. It was my own mental clarity around the subject that confounded me. I absolutely knew this experience could be better, the way I knew what happiness felt like. So why wasn’t it better?

The answer, of course, was that I was only seeing half a picture in my mind. I was seeing Me with Somebody. I could see me quite clearly; I just didn’t understand that the Somebody couldn’t be just Anybody. Then I met Jen, and I understood. I hadn’t wanted A Girlfriend. I had wanted to be with Jen, but I just hadn’t met her yet.

I made this same mistake with writing for a very long time. I knew I wanted to publish a book, the way I had once known I wanted a girlfriend. I had the exact same mental clarity around the subject, as well as the same confusion. Part of the reason I had wanted A Girlfriend was that any girl who said “Yes” to me could help me believe I was desirable. A published book, I hoped, would have the same effect. It took me many interesting but ultimately unsatisfying explorations to conclude that I didn’t want to publish just any book.

It was when I asked myself, “What book do you desire to publish?” that the experience of writing and publishing matched the pleasure I had believed it could bring me. It was like that first date with Jen. We sat there eating chocolate cake at Penguin’s Cafe, talking and talking and talking, and I thought, “This is easy.” It was, to that point, the easiest thing I’d ever done. Nothing was required of me other than following my own curiosity, which always led me right back to Jen.

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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A Good Relationship

Writing got much easier for me when I began to see it as a relationship rather than something I alone was doing. To write, I asked questions, and then listened for an answer. If I perceived myself – the one who asked the question – as also responsible for the answer, one never came. So though I was physically alone whenever I wrote, the experience was of communication with something else. Though this contradicted certain concepts of reality I had been taught to believe, it was the only practical approach to doing the thing I loved to do.

But this relationship became troubled and argumentative as soon as I began worrying about other people, the ones with whom I would like to share my work. Publishing is a relationship also. I start a story and readers finish it in their imaginations. The inherent truth of all relationships is equality, and this is true of the writer-reader relationship. My reader’s interpretation of my stories is every bit as valid and important as mine. But those interpretations are none of my business.

The moment I think they are my business, the moment I begin worrying about what people will think of what I’ve written, I become lost in a desperate and endless search for approval. I have gone on that search many times, only to find myself in some bitter country of constant argument. You can either look for your story or for people’s approval – not both. The moment I return to the story and begin listening to whatever answers all my questions, I am traveling in the only direction I have ever wanted to travel.

I have learned that this rule is applicable to all relationships. Every argument I have begun with people I love stemmed from my belief that I knew what another person was thinking, or that I had to somehow guess what they were thinking. I mistook this illusory mind-melding for intimacy. Just as when I am writing, to be in good relation to another person, I must forget about what I think they’re thinking and simply speak the truth as best I can. The only way I know how to speak the truth is by listening to that same voice that answers my questions when I write.

Every argument of which I have ever been a part ended the moment I chose to be completely honest. Or, I should say, the argument ended in me, which is all I’ve ever wanted. I am still a little amazed that to feel close to someone else, I must return to what I trust most completely in myself. It seems a little contradictory, but I believe what I listen to when I write speaks to everyone. In this way, it is the true source of all our intimacy, and the more closely we listen to it, the better we know others and ourselves.

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

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.

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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.

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

On The Road

The books we write are like one, or two, or three-year marriages. First, you must love the story you are going to tell. It’s not enough that the story is sexy or interesting. There are a lot of sexy, interesting story ideas out there, but that does not mean you will love them all. If you don’t love a story, you’ll reach the middle and you won’t know where it’s going, and it won’t feel sexy or interesting anymore. But if you love that story, you will be willing to find your way through these valleys, not merely to get to the other side, but because the love you feel for the story has not left, it has just required something different of you to see and feel it.

Which is the other way stories are like marriages – both ask us to change. This is never why we start. We begin because love stimulates our strongest curiosity, our sharpest interest. This relationship, this story, is not a place on the map, it is a road, and you want to know where it’s going for reasons you cannot understand, the same as you cannot see where the road is ultimately headed.

Soon enough, however, you find out. You came to this road ill-equipped for the entire journey. Usually, you are carrying too much. You will never go as far as you want lugging all that you have called precious. You must decide which is more important – the journey or what you are carrying. Or perhaps parts of you are not as strong as you had thought. It wasn’t until you reached the river you had to swim that you understood how weak you had let your arms become. Now you must find the humility to pay attention to what you had called unimportant.

Oh, the agony of change. Always there is that moment when you have marched yourself right up against it and you know you can go no further as you are. For that moment, you hate everything. You hate yourself for needing to change, and the road for requiring you to change. Worse, you cannot go back; that way is now an illusion you can no longer believe. There is only forward, one step toward what you actually are.

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 Kind Mistress

Writing is such a relationship. Roald Dahl described how he would “sniff around an idea” before committing to it. By returning again and again on walks and the shower, or by taking notes, or perhaps scratching out a line or two of dialogue, a writer can see if his interest remains as strong as the day the idea first arrived.

I have started many a story the day it first popped into my head. I would never suggest that one cannot finish a book begun this way. But you can also spend two months on something you discover wasn’t as enduringly interesting to you once you are slogging your way through the torturous middle. If the story, like a partner, is not something you love, it will end, just as many relationships end once the dishes aren’t done and the car breaks down.

But in a good marriage, not only are you willing to work together to see that the dishes get done and the car gets fixed, not only are you willing to find your way through the arguments these petty problems seem to stir, but, in time, you will likely find that the petty problems are as valuable to a marriage as sex and long conversation and romantic vacations. Within the slog of everyday life lived with someone you love you can uncover the divine, the lovely, and the meaning in absolutely everything.

So too is it with a story you love. Every story will become as tangled as a late night argument; every story will appear as hopeless and small as a flat tire. But if you love that story you will discover you have the patience to find your way through a tired middle, will have the discipline to discard an unnecessary character. Love is simply not a mistress you can quit. What you call quitting is only a search that will lead you back exactly where you started, where she will be waiting for you to start another story.

9781935961994-Perfect_CS.inddWrite 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 Kind Mistress

Writing is such a relationship. Roald Dahl described how he would “sniff around an idea” before committing to it. By returning again and again on walks and the shower, or by taking notes, or perhaps scratching out a line or two of dialogue, a writer can see if his interest remains as strong as the day the idea first arrived.

I have started many a story the day it first popped into my head. I would never suggest that one cannot finish a book begun this way. But you can also spend two months on something you discover wasn’t as enduringly interesting to you once you are slogging your way through the torturous middle. If the story, like a partner, is not something you love, it will end, just as many relationships end once the dishes aren’t done and the car breaks down.

But in a good marriage, not only are you willing to work together to see that the dishes get done and the car gets fixed, not only are you willing to find your way through the arguments these petty problems seem to stir, but, in time, you will likely find that the petty problems are as valuable to a marriage as sex and long conversation and romantic vacations. Within the slog of everyday life lived with someone you love you can uncover the divine, the lovely, and the meaning in absolutely everything.

So too is it with a story you love. Every story will become as tangled as a late night argument; every story will appear as hopeless and small as a flat tire. But if you love that story you will discover you have the patience to find your way through a tired middle, will have the discipline to discard an unnecessary character. Love is simply not a mistress you can quit. What you call quitting is only a search that will lead you back exactly where you started, where she will be waiting for you to start another story.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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You can find Bill at: williamkenower.com

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Nothing Lost

I am told that in near-death experiences one relives not so much one’s entire life but all the relationships we have had in that life. In this way the fortunate nearly-dead understands the importance and poignancy of every single living soul with whom they’ve come into contact.

This seems true, but is also very easy to overlook. We meet so many people after all, and most of them very casually. There are cashiers and waiters, airplane neighbors, schoolmates, workmates, strangers on the street. Most of these souls are just a part of the busy flow of life, as distant and muted in our lives as the scenery.

Then there are your children. I have heard parents say, “My children are everything to me.” I don’t believe this. I certainly hope it isn’t true, because what exactly was this parent before the children were born and what will they be once these children – hopefully – leave the nest? But I understand the sentiment behind the statement. There is something about raising a child that casts a spotlight on life and teaches us what survivors of lightning strikes and botched surgeries often learn with or without children.

At some point in your parenting life you will probably realize that you must become conscious of your words and actions. It has never been clearer to me than with my children that my own impatience gets repaid with impatience, my anger gets repaid with anger, my love gets repaid with love. Everything I do and say matters.

For many years I considered this heightened experience to be unique to parenting. The rest of the world was durable enough to withstand my anger and indifferent enough to ignore my love. I cannot remember exactly when this changed. One afternoon, however, I left a drugstore noting that I had taken as much care thanking the cashier for my change as I had talking to my son about college.

“But I’ll never see that cashier again,” I thought. “Why bother?” But it was as silly question, wasn’t it? As if kindness is something you can lose when you offer it to someone else.

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

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A Pristine Relationship

One of the best pieces of writing I did when I was in high school was a brief speech I delivered as a part of my school’s graduation ceremony. When I sat down to write it, I not only knew that the words I wrote would reach an audience, but that this audience would be seated directly in front of me while I read it. This brought an immediacy to my work that was usually lacking, and I dropped all pretense and wrote as honestly and succinctly as I could.

My future experiences in front of audiences have often served as an excellent training ground for the very private work of writing stories. For a time I wrote and performed in my own theater show. Sometimes the audiences were big, sometimes they were small; sometimes the audiences laughed throughout, sometimes they did not. What I never did, however, was stand on stage and count who was laughing and who was not. I never wondered why person X in the front row laughed at Joke A but not Joke B.

And while I was constantly rewriting the show, I understood there was a difference between what wasn’t working on the whole and what simply wasn’t working well on a given night. Sometimes the wrong people have come to your show. This is never very pleasant, but I managed not to take the wrong crowd coming to my show particularly personally.

I’m a bit of a People Person, which can make writing a strange profession. The reader/writer relationship is as distant as a relationship can be when both parties are still alive. But it is a relationship nonetheless, and not all relationships are equal. I had a number of girlfriends, but I only wanted to marry one of them. Likewise, I have started reading many books, but I haven’t finished all of them.

Which is part of the beauty of the reader/writer relationship. It’s rude to leave a theater when you’ve wandered into the wrong show, but no one’s feelings will be hurt if you put down a book you should not have bothered picking up. There is, however, something delicious about picking up the right book. I always preferred bigger audiences because people tend to laugh when other people laugh, and so the larger the audiences the greater the opportunities for a wildfire effect. The reader’s relationship to a book is largely pristine; it is like a guided conversation with yourself – and why, I think, Hemmingway said that when you finish a book you love you always come away feeling as though you have been slightly changed.

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