Universal Stories

When I wrote Fearless Writing, I often had in mind two pivotal experiences in my life: trying to make myself write fiction, and allowing myself to write personal essays. The personal essays were easy to write; the fiction was often hard to write. In the personal essay I found the most natural vessel for both my voice and the sorts of things I wanted to write about; in fiction, I often felt as if I was putting on a voice and forcing ideas into stories. So that’s my story: The guy who tried and tried to write fiction until he finally let himself write creative non-fiction. But that’s not what I’m really writing about when I tell this story. I would never bother telling a story about how to stop writing fiction and start writing personal essays. Rather, I would tell a story about how to stop doing something you don’t really want to do and start doing what you love to do.

This is the job of every storyteller, whether the stories we tell are fiction or non-fiction: we are looking for the universal in the particular. It’s a good business decision, of course. There’s not much of a market for people looking to move from fiction to non-fiction, but there’s a very big market for people who want do what they love to do instead of what they don’t love to do. But that’s not why we tell our stories the way we do. It’s never been for the money. It’s because we love each other.

I forget this sometimes when I’m scrounging around the world fretting about platforms and proposals. These are the sorts of things with which I’m preoccupied now that I’m a non-fiction writer. Is my platform big enough? Is my proposal jazzy enough? These questions fatigue me because I feel like I should care about the answers but I really don’t. The more I try to answer them, the smaller and grubbier I feel.

So I quit trying. I sometimes wonder if this quitting means I’m lazy, until in my idleness an interesting an idea comes floating along. Because I only spotted it, and didn’t make it, I know that idea doesn’t actually belong to me. But my interest in it does. Now I’m fully awake, and not idle at all, and the idea grows and grows as I give all my particular attention to it.

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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