One of the more unexpected decisions I made in the middle of my life was to shift from writing fiction to creative non-fiction. That I could sit alone in a room and make stuff up, could imagine a world not my own, had been one of the most reliable and reassuring practices I’d discovered as a boy and young man. I didn’t need anyone or anything to do this. It didn’t matter who was president or what wars were being fought or what the stock market was doing. It didn’t matter if I had a girlfriend or not, if I’d won or lost the race, or if I’d been invited to the party. All that mattered were the cool, interesting, unexpected stories that came to me if I asked for them. Those stories were like gold – more valuable to me than anything the world could offer. At that time I didn’t care one whit about current events. It was a lot of noise and I couldn’t control any of it. I knew theoretically that current events were like the story of the world, but it seemed like a story without an ending and whose purpose was to remind me that something wasn’t right, that something needed to change. What a crappy story. The stories I asked for reminded me why it was interesting to be alive. That’s why they were valuable. They certainly weren’t bringing me any money. Rather, they left me feeling better than before I imagined them, unlike current events, which left me feeling worse.
But as a creative person, you must be aware of what fascinates you on such a granular level that no detail is too small to warrant your complete attention. For me, the business of plot and character were never that fascinating. I noticed this once I began writing essays where I could happily meditate on a single word choice for longer than I had previously believed possible. Once you’ve experienced this there’s no going back. Except not writing fiction felt like abandoning not just the dream of being a novelist, but the dreams called stories upon which I had so depended for most of my life.
I am happy to report that nothing has actually been abandoned. There is gold everywhere. I look for it most often in my own experiences, usually stuff I did some time ago. Meanwhile, I find I’m a little more interested in current events. This is no coincidence. If you practice looking at your own life, looking past what you had once judged as good and bad, cruel and kind, hopeful and hopeless, and seeing instead the value in all of it, every stitch and grain of sand, it becomes easier to do the same with what it is in front of you right now. While it’s not as easy as when you’re alone in your room where the past is a dream for your telling, with a little concentration you can control not what is happening but what you see, and that makes all the difference.
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