A Proper Relationship

The relationship between artists and money has never been a simple one. In fact, I have recently found myself in conversations with writers who simply did not want to mention publishing for fear of that dread word spoiling their creative experience.

This is understandable. Money is tied ineluctably to thoughts of our survival. Whether you are an artist, or a banker, or a nanny, it is easy enough to turn the game of life into a survival contest, to view the world in a cold Darwinian search for food and shelter. In this light, life has no meaning outside of not-dying, which is to say it has no meaning at all. That which is meaningless is worthless, and that which is worthless can and should be thrown away. In this way, paradoxically, thoughts of mere survival lead eventually to thoughts of suicide.

To write, meanwhile, is to seek meaning in the suffering inherent in life. This meaning has nothing to do with mere survival, and yet in the end it is more essential to our continuation than food or shelter. You would not deny a friend food or shelter if you had it to share, why would you withhold meaning? And yet this is what we do when we choose not to publish, we withhold meaning for fear it will be called meaningless, and there we will be again, back in the game of dead or alive.

If mixing art and money disturbs you, do not look upon publishing simply as a means of putting food on the table; think of it as sharing what is most valuable in life. That this brings food to your table is recognition of the proper relationship between the body and the soul. The body is in service to the soul, never the other way around. It cannot be, for without the soul there would be no body. Art, love, friendship, compassion—all these things correct the suicidal reversal that is survivalism. So share what it is you already know you want most in your life. Share it so you can see that is it more real than the hand with which you give it.

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!
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The Game of Life

I was 33, my second son was six months old, and my wife and I were starting the paperwork to purchase our first house. I was driving to work, to a job I had expected to leave before I turned 30, a job which nonetheless provided me with enough money to support my wife and now my two sons and perhaps the house we wanted to buy.

As I drove to work I thought about numbers. I thought about how much more we would pay with the mortgage, about utility bills, about picking up an extra shift now and then to pay the mortgage and the utility bills. It was like a game, these numbers. I was good at games. In games you add up your numbers – the pips on your dice, your hit points and armor class, your batting average – you add all these numbers and at the end you know if you’ve won or lost. It was very clear because your victory is measured in numbers that cannot lie.

I get it, I thought. I see how you could fool yourself into thinking this is enough. This is quite a big game, learning how to survive and provide. It’s a long and important game. I can see how I could spend 20 years playing it. You could be 40 or 50 before you understand that there is absolutely no winning, maybe longer if you’re determined to keep playing. Why, I could do it with this job. It doesn’t matter that I really don’t like the job. Liking it isn’t the point. Winning the game is the point.

I’d like to tell you I turned around at that moment and drove home, but I did not. I had a new baby and a new mortgage and I wasn’t about to leave my job. But I understood then that a life-long gamer like me had to be careful. If someone hands me dice, I want to roll them, and if someone shows me a finish line I want to be the first across it. I can’t go looking for a finish line that doesn’t exist – if I did I’d only run and run and run until I dropped.

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

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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The Beginning and The End

I’ve interviewed enough writers to notice a cumulative trend: Many writers have worked a day job they did not particularly love, yet made a fine living at it anyway. Every writer I know who makes a living writing, loves to write. Even writers who don’t make a living writing love to write.

I used to be a waiter. It wasn’t bad work: I liked people, I liked moving around, I liked wine and food. Also, the world seems to need a lot of waiters. It’s hard to be an unemployed waiter. So it wasn’t bad work. I would not, however, have worked one minute as a waiter without the guarantee that I would be paid to do so. I will not tell you how many books, how many pages, how many words I wrote for which I was not nor will ever be paid a single cent.

But like most jobs, waiting tables serves a physical need. Like most jobs, waiting tables is a part of the never-ending business of not-dying, of staying clothed and fed, of trading stuff, of building stuff, and of knowing the rules of the world. It’s all very practical. The physical world is a practical place. You’ve got to chop some wood if you want to stay warm in the cold, cold winter.

The arts, of which writing is a part, are a little different. Yes, a book is a product, but this product serves only purpose, and it’s not a particularly practical one: to make people happy. People consume art not to keep themselves alive, but simply because they love it. That is the currency of art – love. Money comes with it, but first there is love.

Which is why, I think, the artist must love his or her work. It’s a transfer of love, after all. The writer says, “I love this idea! I want to write it.” Then an agent says, “I love it! I want to sell it.” And then a publisher says, “I love it! I want to publish it.” And then a reader says, “I love it! I want to tell other people about it.” And onward turns this great, impractical cycle, as books, just like the people who write and read them, will always begin and end in exactly the same place.

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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The Game Of Life

I was 33, my second son was six months old, and my wife and I were starting the paperwork to purchase our first house. I was driving to work, to a job I had expected to leave before I turned 30, a job which nonetheless provided me with enough money to support my wife and now my two sons and perhaps the house we wanted to buy.

As I drove to work I thought about numbers. About how much more we would pay with the mortgage, about utility bills, about picking up an extra shift now and then to pay the mortgage and the utility bills. It was like a game, these numbers. I was good at games. In games you add up your numbers – the pips on your dice, your hit points and armor class, your batting average – you add all these numbers and at the end you know if you’ve won or lost. It was very clear because your victory is measured in numbers that cannot lie.

I get it, I thought. I see how you could fool yourself into thinking this is enough. This is quite a big game, learning how to survive and provide. It’s a long and important game. I can see how I could spend 20 years playing it. You could be 40 or 50 before you understand that there is absolutely no winning, maybe longer if you’re determined to keep playing. Why, I could do it with this job. It doesn’t matter that I really don’t like the job. Liking it isn’t the point. Winning the game is the point.

I’d like to tell you I turned around at that moment and drove home, but I did not. I had a new baby and a new mortgage and I wasn’t about to leave my job. But I understood then that a life-long gamer like me had to be careful. If someone hands me dice, I want to roll them, and if someone shows me a finish line I want to be the first across it. I can’t go looking for a finish line that doesn’t exist – if I did I’d only run and run and run until I dropped.

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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Evolved Expression

I love this quote by Werner von Braun at the beginning of Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow: Nature does not know extinction. It knows only transformation. A great definition of evolution, I think, and I have always been a fan of evolution because it reveals life as constant motion towards. The question, it seems to me, is towards what?

The scientist might say survival. That is the equation of life. You live so you can live and then keep on living while you make more life that keeps on living. Everything from art to romance to French food is merely an expression of our biological need to not die. Yet I find not dying a hollow motivation to write. It turns all of creation into a contest to see who can forestall the inevitable the longest, a contest everyone loses eventually.

Rather a grim equation that, and so the Existentialist would say life is movement towards death. You know where you’re going, friend—the same place we’re all going, the same place everyone from Beethoven to Genghis Kahn has gone. Whistle through the graveyard all you want, that’s the end result.

But what use is this to us? While I am alive I must get up everyday and make choices. I cannot help this or stop it. I must choose what words to put on the page and what to eat and whom to talk to. Whether life is a movement toward death or not, my life in the living is constant choice.

My book moves forward, moves toward, with every word I choose. Every word I choose evolves my story. And as I look at that story, and the story that came before it, and the story that came before it, I can see each story living within the other. None of them dead or trying not to die, but each of them showing me the expanding potential of my choices, each of them transforming, word by word, the evolving expression of love.

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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Practically Done

The Editor is on vacation. What follows is an older post. Enjoy, and I’ll see you next week.

Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain, the wants optional. There is bread to be buttered, roofs to be kept overhead. The march of survival tramps on unceasingly, and somehow, somewhere in the dirty, daily business of not dying we hope to squeeze in time for that which we most want to do.

Yet as someone who has spent many decades attempting to appease the beast of what must be done, I will tell you that his hunger is limitless. There is always something else you must conceivably do. And all for what?  Some meager corner of your life you call your own?

Someone once said to me, “Bill, why don’t you write a book like John Grisham, make lots of money, and then write the books you like to write.  Wouldn’t that be more practical?” In fact it would be impractical. I have tried and tried to do things I didn’t really want to do, and I usually can for a time, until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again with something else I don’t want to do—saying to myself, “This time I will work harder, and be more diligent, and this time I will finish this thing.”

Everything in your life is working tirelessly to get you to do the thing you most want to do as often as possible. You will be forever sabotaged and distracted and disrupted whenever you do what you don’t want to do. No matter how simple it appears, no matter how logical, it won’t work.

If you want to be practical, if you want to butter your bread, if you want to survive, then do what you most want to do the way you want to do it. It is the only way to ensure you will keep wanting to do whatever it is you are doing. You are the only one doing everything in your life, after all, and so if you don’t want to do what you are doing what you are doing won’t get done, and I don’t see what is so practical about that.

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What Survives

Daniel Pink’s book Drive brought out the missionary in me. I hadn’t gotten through the introduction and I was already quoting it to my wife. Drive is about what motivates people to do what they do, and the introduction begins with a story of an experiment conducted on monkeys years ago. The monkeys had to solve a simple puzzle, and what the test discovered, to the scientists’ confusion and amazement, was the monkeys solved the puzzle without any reward whatsoever being offered. No food, no affection—nothing. What’s more, when food was offered as a reward, the monkeys did worse.

I knew I wanted to interview Daniel as soon as I read this. Why did the monkeys solve the puzzle if doing so didn’t bring them food, shelter, or affection? Apparently because solving the puzzle pleased them. And apparently this need—this intrinsic need, as Pink describes it—is as strong if not stronger than all those survival-based needs. Pink goes on to show how humans, to the contrary of all the motivational thought of the last few centuries, are far more motivated by an intrinsic need for progress and pleasure than the rewards of money and fame or the threat of punishment.

How revolutionary. And yet it is. There is a comfort in the simplistic carrot and stick approach to motivation. If people are at base animals trying to survive, then in the end the best way to get them to do what we want them to do is to appeal to their need for safety or their fear of harm.

But if you’ve ever tried to write a book, you know the carrot and stick not only don’t apply, they don’t even exist. No one will punish you for not writing a book they haven’t asked to read, and if it’s money you’re after, writing is probably not the quickest means to that end. Yet you have to love writing to write a book, and once you have discovered something you love to do, you would just about rather crawl into a ditch and die than have that thing taken from you.

Survival is a fear-based, ersatz motivation. In fact, it is not even motivation; it is merely racing away from death. True motivation moves us toward something. Not moving toward what you love is a death all its own, though fortunately a death from which you can be resurrected with something as simple as a choice.

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Practically Done

Life can appear to be divided in two: that which you must do, and that which you want to do. The musts are certain, the wants optional. There is bread to be buttered, roofs to be kept overhead. The march of survival tramps on unceasingly, and somehow, somewhere in the dirty, daily business of not dying we hope to squeeze in time for that which we most want to do.

Yet as someone who has spent many decades attempting to appease the beast of what must be done, I will tell you that his hunger is limitless. There is always something else you must conceivably do. And all for what?  Some meager corner of your life you call your own?

Someone once said to me, “Bill, why don’t you write a book like John Grisham, make lots of money, and then write the books you like to write.  Wouldn’t that be more practical?” In fact it would be impractical. I have tried and tried to do things I didn’t really want to do, and I usually can for a time, until the tension between where I want to go and where I am telling myself I must go becomes so great that something snaps and I must start again with something else I don’t want to do—saying to myself, “This time I will work harder, and be more diligent, and this time I will finish this thing.”

Everything in your life is working tirelessly to get you to do the thing you most want to do as often as possible. You will be forever sabotaged and distracted and disrupted whenever you do what you don’t want to do. No matter how simple it appears, no matter how logical, it won’t work.

If you want to be practical, if you want to butter your bread, if you want to survive, then do what you most want to do the way you want to do it. It is the only way to ensure you will keep wanting to do whatever it is you are doing. You are the only one doing everything in your life, after all, and so if you don’t want to do what you are doing what you are doing won’t get done, and I don’t see what is so practical about that.

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