Unknown

In the middle of the Dark Years, when nothing I was writing was being read, I would occasionally threaten to quit writing altogether. “I will just quit it if things don’t turn around,” I told my wife.

“Really?” she asked. “And then what would you do?”

“I don’t know, but this ridiculous. I mean what’s the fricking point?”

“I get it, but what else would you do?”

It was a maddeningly unanswerable question. I was suffering. I knew this as certainly as I knew I was tired at the end of my day or thirsty after a run. But while I could sleep when tired or drink when thirsty, the power to end this suffering appeared to rest in other people’s hands. It was an unacceptable arrangement, a slave and slave master arrangement. More than to have my work read, I wanted to be free. I wanted my life to be my own.

Which is why I would threaten to quit from time to time. It was a suicidal choice, but sometimes it’s necessary to march yourself to that cliff if only ask, “Who’s making you do anything? Who’s making you breath and eat?” To take that leap is to remember the truth at last, as you fall freely into the unknown.

I’ll never be free from the unknown anymore than I can be free from blank pages. Those blank pages are my dependably unwritten future. They were also the answer to my wife’s question. When I wondered what else I would do, I perceived only a blank page, an unknown awaiting my attention, and the moment I stepped willingly into it, my life was my own 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.

You can find William at: williamkenower.com

Follow wdbk on Twitter

Rejecting Stories

For years I had two separate and apparently contradictory experiences when I wrote. Sometimes the writing was effortless. I would sink quickly into the dream of the story I was telling and find myself carried along as if in a current. When I was in this current, I was so focused on this other reality that I lost track of time in the reality where I lived. In that current, ideas always came to me; I never had to make anything up. My only job was to stay interested in whatever I was interested in and let the current do the rest.

I loved this experience. First, I loved it for practical reasons. The stuff I wrote when I was in that current was the most original and alive and authentic stuff I could write. I was also prolific. The longer I stayed in that current, the more I produced. But I also loved this experience for less practical reasons. It was fun. It didn’t feel like work at all. It was simply getting interested and following that interest, which is really just play. I always want to play; I never want to work. Finally, when I was done writing, I would be launched into the rest of my day, where all the business of life that seemed so tedious yesterday, was benign today. Why, there was nothing inherently boring about doing dishes after all!

But sometimes the writing was not effortless at all. I could not sink deeply into the dream of the story and I could not find its current at all. On these days, I felt like I had to make up everything and I everything I made up stank. All my craft and storytelling know-how was useless to me. It was as if I had forgotten what a story was.

I loved the first experience as much as I hated the second experience. These were the types of experiences I went out of my way to avoid if I could. After a session like this, games that I had enjoyed playing the day before were meaningless to me today. In fact, my whole life seemed meaningless to me – a gaudy distraction until my inevitable demise.

For years I never knew from day to day which experience I would have nor why I had the experience that I did. I’d heard that sometimes the Muse visits and sometimes she does not. I’d heard that writing was hard. I believed this story, and the evidence of my experience confirmed it. Until one day I asked myself, “What if the story isn’t true? What if these experiences aren’t random? What if they are instead a result of something I am doing?”

If you are a regular reader of this column or have listened to my Fearless Writing classes, you have probably already guessed that the reason I had these two experiences was not chance, but a consequence of whether I was wondering what other people would think of what I wrote. That’s it. If I never worried about other people, the writing was effortless; when I worried about those other people, writing was the hardest thing I’d ever tried to do.

The difference between these two experiences remains so interesting to me that I have gone on to write thousands of essays on the subject, taught classes on it, and now have a book coming out next spring called Fearless Writing. However, as glad as I am for all the material these experiences have provided me, nothing has been so instructive to me as that moment I questioned what I had previously thought of as reality. In that moment, I became the author of my life. In that moment, I rejected a story that wasn’t serving me. Once I’d rejected it, an empty space was created where I could write a story by which I actually wanted to live.

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

Factually Unproven

Perhaps you have heard the phrase, “You have the right to your own opinion, but you do not have the right to your own facts.” Clever, that – and true I suppose. If it is raining, it does not matter if in your opinion it is a warm, sunny day, the fact remains that it is raining. Nor does it matter if you are offended that someone would not take your opinion about the whether seriously, it is still raining.

Except, as any writer knows, the fact that it is raining is rarely of any interest to anyone. All we care about is what we feel about that rain. Does the rain put us in a romantic mood or a gloomy mood? Will the rain ruin the crops or sustain them? Does the rain remind us of the end of summer or the beginning of spring? A writer’s currency, which is also every person’s currency, is how it feels to be alive at any given moment. Ten people could stand in the exact same rainstorm with ten different feelings based on ten different opinions and each opinion would be correct.

All for the better, I say. I get facts wrong all the time. I try to get them right because I hate to be corrected, but being a storyteller I have a natural propensity not to let them get in the way of what I know to be true. What I really know to be true can never be proven. What I really know to be true can never be measured to weighed or compared or diagramed.

And so I tell stories, where if this truth cannot be proven it can at least be shared. This is a much better use for the truth. We all have it and know it anyway so we hardly need to prove it, though we have tried to just the same. Unfortunately, you only prove what you do not already know to be true, and the instant you doubt this truth you lose all sight of it and soon there comes the existential collapse. Until you hear a story, or read a story, or maybe even tell a story, and then you remember what you have always known and who you have always been.

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