The Truth

I love to teach as much as I love to write, and I teach and write for precisely the same reason. The reason I teach is not to share secrets of craft, though I am a bit of craft geek and I enjoy talking to people about narrative arcs, and showing and not telling. Nor do I teach to offer insider information on the publishing world, though I am happy to do so, if only to eradicate the idea of insiders and outsiders.

In fact, I am not really interested in teaching writing, though it serves as a handy excuse to do what I love to do, which is tell the truth. That’s why I teach and that’s why I write. To tell the truth, my words must match my feelings. If I say I am happy but I feel worried, I am not telling the truth. If I say writing is at its core effortless, but I believe and feel that it is like working in a salt mine, I am not telling the truth. To tell the truth, whether in the class or on the page, I must first feel what I wish to say.

Fortunately, most of what I teach and most of what I write boils down to this: Everything is okay. That’s it. You can all go home now. Everything is okay. Everything is okay and always has been okay. You would think that three words would not be enough to inspire the 1,000-plus blogs I’ve written nor fill a four-hour master class, but they most certainly can and have. Everything, you see, does not appear to be okay. Quite the opposite, really. And so I need constant reminding.

And what better way to remember than to tell someone else that everything is okay. To tell someone else the truth I must first find that place within me where I know that everything is okay. I lose track of it constantly. And then I find it again. And then I lose it. And then I find it again. Every time I find it, whether on the page or in the class or even watering my lawn, the world tells me the truth right back. Every time I find it, what I feel, and then what I say, and finally what I see are the same. To find that balance is the only reason I do anything.

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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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

The Truth

I love to teach as much as I love to write, and I teach and write for precisely the same reason. The reason I teach is not to share secrets of craft, though I am a bit of craft geek and I enjoy talking to people about narrative arcs, and showing and not telling, without watching their eyes roll up into the back of their heads. Nor is the reason I teach to offer insider information on the publishing world, though I am happy to do so, if only to eradicate the idea of insiders and outsiders.

In fact, I am not really interested in teaching writing, though it serves as a handy excuse to do what I love to do, which is tell the truth. That’s why I teach and that’s why I write. To tell the truth, my words must match my feelings. If I say I am happy but I feel worried, I am not telling the truth. If I say writing is at its core effortless, but I believe and feel that it is like working in a salt mine, I am not telling the truth. To tell the truth, whether in the class or on the page, I must first feel what I wish to say.

Fortunately, most of what I teach and most of what I write boils down to this: Everything is okay. That’s it. You can all go home now. Everything is okay. Everything is okay and always has been okay. You would think that three words would not be enough to inspire the 1,000-plus blogs I’ve written nor fill a four-hour master class, but they most certainly can and have. Everything, you see, does not appear to be okay. Quite the opposite, really. And so I need constant reminding.

And what better way to remember than to tell someone else that everything is okay. To tell someone else the truth I must first find that place within me where I know that everything is okay. I lose track of it constantly. And then I find it again. And then I lose it. And then I find it again. Every time I find it, whether on the page or in the class or even watering my lawn, the world tells me the truth right back. Every time I find it, what I feel, and then what I say, and finally what I see are the same. To find that balance is the only reason I do anything.

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 Little Truth

If I were asked whether I was for or against mixing art and politics, I would have to say “against.” Wait! Before you stop reading this column completely and forever, let me explain.

Politics reminds me of the discussions and arguments I have with my wife. In one way, these conversations, however heated, are about what is happening at exactly this moment – how I seemed to stop listening in the middle of her story, how we always have the same things for dinner – and in another way they have absolutely nothing to do with what is happening at exactly that moment.

I have never had an argument with my wife that was not about the past, about a story we began telling ourselves about life long ago that neither of us liked, but we both felt required to keep telling if we were going to be good human beings. When we are arguing, we are really just saying, “Do we have keep telling this crap story? I don’t want to keep telling it, do you?” The argument ends when we both agree we can stop telling it, if only for the time being.

Art, meanwhile, is the end of the argument. Art’s arrow is aimed toward the truth that the argument was and is an illusion. Art creates arguments called stories so we can feel the truth of peace against the lie of war. For this reason, I have always turned to art to remind me what is true – not who is right.

Which reminds me of the rule my wife came up with the first year we were together: no one wins. That is, neither of us was allowed to win an argument. No one can create an argument by himself, and so the argument is never over until we both see how we contributed equally to it. I loved this rule, and have lived happily by it with her ever since. Arguments, in this way, are not competition, but a search for the truth, and the truth is always that we love each other.

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 Hand Pointing

In my third and most recent interview with Andre Dubus III, the celebrated novelist and short story writer focused again and again on the importance of the process. As he pointed out, he doesn’t always know how valuable a given story might be, but he’s certain the process of finding that story is valuable.

It is a good distinction. Write Within Yourself, a collection of essays culled from this column, exists because the process of finding each essay was ultimately more valuable to me than sharing them. I love to share them, and I am grateful I have a forum, Author magazine, where I can do so. But the process itself remains more valuable, because finding the essays changed not just how I wrote, but how I lived.

Each essay’s message is quite simple: don’t be afraid to write what you love. That’s it. I know it is true that one should never be afraid to write what you love, but, to quote Jennifer Paros, this is an un-provable truth. Like all the truths that have ever helped me, this truth can only be felt, not known. To be in it, is to know it; to be out of it, is to be talking about it while you forget it.

And so to write these little essays I had to return again and again to that place within me where I understood that I should never be afraid to write, say, or do what I love. That I love something is all the proof I need that this thing should be done. Love is a hand pointing, not a place on the map. The more often I returned, at the quiet of my desk, the more I learned how to find my way to this place.

By and by, I could find this place even when I wasn’t writing. I am still more likely to get lost away from my desk than at it, but this is probably why I am a writer. I always find who I am at the end of this road, and I always discover this destination leads everywhere.

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

No Lies

Imagine you are like a character in a story you are writing. In the case of the story you are living, you are the hero, and life is the author. As in a story you are writing, what you ask for and what you appear to get are often not one in the same, although in fact they always are.

Perhaps you desire a lover. You say to yourself, I feel so lonely and unlovable. If I had a lover to share my bed I know I would feel lovable as I looked across the pillow and thought, “Yes, I am lovable for there is the proof snoring gently beside me.”

Such is your prayer, but life isn’t paying any attention whatsoever to what you say with your words, life is only interested in what you say with your feelings. In this case, what you are really saying is, “I want to feel lovable.” You have your solution as to how to achieve this; life has its solution. Perhaps life’s solution is to provide no lover whatsoever. What better way to help you learn you always have been lovable?

You see you cannot lie to life. To lie is to say one thing while you feel another. Since life doesn’t pay attention to what you say, you are always telling life the truth, whether you understand that truth or not. It is a good lesson for writers to remember. Writing at its best has always felt like truth-telling. In that moment when word and true feeling align, you release at last the exhaustive belief that the truth was ever yours to decide.

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

Accepted Value

Andre Dubus defined a writer’s job as one of truth telling. I have to agree with this, and I believe that definition applies to all forms of writing, from romance to poetry to suspense and, yes, to fantasy. Fantasy is a tricky name for a genre, however, as it suggests perhaps the very opposite of truth telling.

A Course In Miracles defines a fantasy as an attempt to correct a problem that does not exist. I have come to understand that I wrote many novels that were fantasies, although they were all set on this planet, and not one contained a single elf or magic sword. These novels were written precisely to correct the problem of my unperceivable value. I believed that if I could write and publish a very specific sort of book then my value would be established and unquestionable.

For this reason, the books never felt real to me. They were largely shadows I hoped one day would take full form within the light of acceptance. I might as well have hoped to meet Santa Claus. Writing is an expression of value, not a pursuit of its acquisition. The writer looks within himself at what he perceives as valuable and translates it into a form that can be shared. It is never, ever the other way around.

Eventually I began to share what I knew to be of value. Immediately, the work changed. What I was writing now had the feeling of something that already existed, something I could not have created alone but which was happy to remain still long enough for me translate into words and stories. In those moments I gained what I had long believed I lacked: acceptance. It was quite surprising to learn that what I had thought was the end of a writer’s journey was actually its beginning.

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

Give It All

Due to an ongoing Internet issue, I’ve been dealing with a lot of customer service representatives lately. My strategy with these people is to be as nice as possible, to treat them like new friends who would love nothing more than to do everything in their power to help me. Once upon a time it was more important that the person trying to help me thought I was nice than they actually helped me. Their theoretical opinion of me was like a wall that stood between me and all the nasty, impatient things I was often thinking.

That wall seems to have disappeared. In this way, my niceness is a choice, which is actually the nicest way to be nice – assuming, of course, I am actually as nice as I think I am. Yet this wall’s absence reminds me of how people over forty-five tend to speak their minds no matter what anyone thinks of what they have to say, a tendency that only increases the older we get. As my mother-in-law recently explained, “I held my tongue for all those years. Now I don’t give a damn who I offend.”

Which is why, I believe, writing is so often a middle-aged profession. It is much easier to write honestly if you don’t give a damn who you offend. I don’t think there’s any value in trying to offend, but not trying not to offend will quickly paint you into a very boring corner. In fact, it is much easier to write if you don’t care what anyone thinks of anything you have to say, because no matter what you say you are guaranteed that everyone will think everything given the chance.

Still, I try to write stories that are kind, patient and generous because that is always how the truth has felt to me. It took me years to work up the courage write stories like this. I was worried people would think I was unsophisticated. Somewhere someone probably thinks exactly that, but this seems like a very small price to pay. To offer half the truth you know is to offer no truth at all. Instead, give to the world all that you know to be true so that the world might know the truth that is you.

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

No Exaggeration

My younger brother John is a natural storyteller, which is to say he is not afraid to exaggerate. When we were boys, it seemed sometimes as if he lived in an elementary school soap opera peopled with Shakespearean-sized villains and heroes. One day after school he kept me rapt with a tale of his narrow escape from a mysterious group of predatory teenagers. Sensing the totality of my hypnosis, he went so far to stop mid-yarn and declare, “Wait! I hear them. No—it was just a dog.”

My mother, slightly less gullible than I, eventually caught him in a more conspicuous exaggeration and observed, “Making life a little more interesting?” John always appreciated the delicacy with which she handled this moment. As he explained to me years later, he lived his early life feeling as if I, two years his senior, had already done everything interesting someone his age might do, a perception I am certain I did nothing to discourage.

But as I said, he’s a natural storyteller, and he wasn’t about to let something so disposable as the facts get in the way of Job One, which was entertaining his listeners – or, more to the point, telling a story that accurately reflected life as he had lived it. I don’t have to live in his or anyone’s skin to know that his life meant as much to him as mine did to me – or Hamlet’s did to him, for that matter. Sometimes the storyteller is confronted with the conundrum of a day’s routine events not seeming to match the depth at which he lived them.

So I have no problem with exaggerators. But I also know that I do not have to climb Mount Everest to find a worthy view. In fact, I do not even have to leave my desk. From time to time we storytellers luck out, and an event comes along so startling on its surface that it seems to do all our work for us. More often, however, we are left with days so similar to the last they could be laid one on top of the other like pancakes. I decline to call such hours meaningless. Let the historians mark the days as big or small; I reserve the right to live them all.

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

Nobody Cares

A few years ago I had the pleasure to interview Dennis Lehane, who told the story of how, in his early years of writing, he posted a note to himself above his desk where he worked that read, “Nobody Cares.” This meant both the hard-boiled truth that the world was largely indifferent to his little joys and struggles, but also the emancipating understanding that whether he failed or succeeded would not actually affect anyone else. Since nobody cared, he needn’t waste any energy worrying about what anyone thought about what he was doing.

I thought of this when my creative work began to draw exclusively from my own life, whether in memoir or in this space. I could be a slippery and uncooperative protagonist, stiffening suddenly as the Bill on the page seemed to become aware the literary camera. Ironically, this only made Protagonist Bill less sympathetic, an outcome that only further heightened his awareness of my narrative eye.

Until, that is, I remembered that nobody cared – or more specifically, nobody cared about me. If I have done my job as a writer correctly, the reader will care about my story’s protagonist – me, in this case – but not the me I am so often trying to protect. This is the me to whom I was referring when, as a young man, I sometimes complained, “Nobody cares about me.” Meaning, nobody cared that I was sad; nobody cared that I was frightened. And it was true. To care about my sadness in the way I believed others should would be to ask another to care about an illusion I had believed. To care about this illusion would only strengthen my belief in it, which in turn would only strengthen my sadness.

The opposite of an illusion is the truth, and this is what readers really care about. Stories, at their best, are dreams through which a reader can awaken from an illusion into the truth. Nothing matters but that awakening. The moment I believe that I matter more than the awakening, I begin protecting myself, and the story disappears into the nightmare I have spent my life trying to disbelieve.

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