William (Bill) Kenower
In Conversation With
William (Bill) Kenower is the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write With Confidence and Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion, the Editor-in-Chief of Author magazine, and a sought-after speaker and teacher. In addition to his books he’s been published in The New York Times and Edible Seattle, Parent Map, Tiferet Journal, and has been a featured blogger for the Huffington Post. His video interviews with hundreds of writers from Nora Ephron, to Amy Tan, to William Gibson are widely considered the best of their kind on the Internet. He also hosts the online radio program Author2Author where every week he and a different guest discuss the books we write and the lives we lead.
R.J. Jeffreys: A number of years ago you started Author magazine, an online magazine for writers and dedicated readers. As Editor-in-Chief what is the ongoing mission and most important goals for the magazine today? Also, what has the experience of writing a popular daily blog been like for you at Author magazine?
William (Bill) Kenower: My goal from the beginning has been to use the experience of facing a blank page and asking, “How shall I fill this?” to help readers understand that they are not just the authors of their stories but of their own lives. Life is a creative process, and what it takes to write the book you want to write is also what it takes to lead the life you want to lead.
The interviews—specifically the video interviews—were meant to humanize authors on all experience levels, to remind us that we are not alone. I was particularly keen on getting authors to talk about their ups and down, their fears and doubts, if for no other reason than to remind beginning writers in particular that everyone goes through what they are going through.
The blog has been a real gift to me. It helped me fully find my voice. By doing it five days a week for so many years it simply didn’t allow me the luxury of agonizing over every little word. In the process I found my natural voice and also the language to express my most authentic interest, which is, simply put, that everything is always going to be okay no matter what.
RJJ: You've now published two bestselling books on writing Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence (Writer's Digest Books) and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion (Booktrope Editions). These excellently written nonfiction books contain page after page of exceptional advice for writers to improve their craft. What are some essential examples you can offer that will be helpful to other working writers, and also for people who are just starting their writing career?
WBK: Write what you would love to read. Write what excites you most. You’ll never be “better,” more original, more authentic and excited than when you are hot on the trail of something you find so interesting you can’t take your attention from it. To that same point, you simply can’t care what other people think of your stuff. Yes, you’ll love it when they love your stuff and you’ll be morose when they hate it, but when you’re actually writing you have to forget about the audience completely if you want to get lost in the dream of the story you want to tell.
Love is the creative juice driving everything. You can’t invent love, you can’t manufacture it, you can’t even choose it. All you can do is obey it.
RJJ: With sponsorship from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association (PNWA), Writer's Digest, and on your own, you teach very popular lectures on the writing craft. And, utilizing material from your Fearless Writing book, you also teach Fearless Writing Masterclasses. Why do you so strongly feel that writing fearlessly is most important to writers, and is this relatable and essential even for someone who doesn't write for a living?
WBK: I think craft is a very important part of the writing process, but it has always reminded me a bit of my times tables: you only have to learn them once. Same with craft. Once you understand stuff about narrative arcs and characters and the power of nouns and verbs and how to write believable dialogue you simply don’t have to learn it again. You might refine what you know about these aspects, but if you write regularly, you don’t have to relearn everything every time you start a new story.
However, I have to find my inherent, fearless confidence again every single time I sit down to write. It’s not a point on a grid. It’s more like balance, and every day I’m a little bit different, and what I write is a little bit different, and so finding that balance, finding that fearlessness is a little bit different. I think a lot of writers—and I used to be one of them—don’t take the emotional mastery of writing as seriously as the technical mastery. If you aren’t in your confidence, in your fearlessness, if you’re worrying what other people will think of your stories, then no amount of craft will help you. I am always interested in helping writers find that fearless and confidence, that flow on purpose, rather than just hoping it will happen by some divine spirit.
RJJ: Your wife, Jennifer Paros, is not only an outstanding artist, but also an exceptional writer. She has been a valued contributor to Author Magazine since its inception. What stands out for you that Jennifer has brought to the magazine?
WBK: I knew she could talk about the emotional challenges inherent in creativity. Though she has plenty of skill, she is not someone who has ever believed that skill can get you through. Rather, she has always known that it’s the authentic connection to the work that brings it fully to life. In fact, when I first moved in with her I asked about her time in art school, about learning how to draw something so it actually looked like what you meant it to look like. She shrugged and said, “Any monkey can learn how to do that. Finding what you want to draw, that’s the real challenge.” I thought of this when I started the magazine and knew she’d be a great contributor, and she has been.
RJJ: As a writing coach with a thriving business of your own, what should someone expect to gain from working with a professional writing coach?
WBK: My goals are twofold. First, I hope, like a tennis coach, to work on my client’s swing, so to speak. So I read their work and talk about what works and what doesn’t, point out certain habits they may have fallen into that aren’t serving them. For whatever reason, a lot of my clients are non-fiction writers, memoirists and spiritual self-help writers, and given the nature of my work I am able to help guide them around some of the pitfalls typical to these genres.
Secondly, and maybe more importantly, I work with them on the emotional challenges of writing. This is closer to life coaching. Every couple weeks we talk about what came up emotionally for them, what doubts they had, what kind of useless thoughts chased them around their workroom. This is what I wished I had when I was in my darkest moments. It’s one thing to work with a therapist or coach, but it’s another thing to have someone who really knows what happens when you face that blank page. It’s very particular, and guiding people through it is my passion.
RJJ: You've literally done thousands of Author2Author interviews with numerous literary luminaries for PNWA and Author Magazine. What are some of the biggest surprises and lasting memories from a few of those interviews?
WBK: One of the biggest surprises that really shouldn’t have been a surprise at all is how everyone is interesting. Everyone has a moving story to tell about what happens when you face that blank page. I also learned that it’s important not to prepare much for an interview, to allow it just happen, to show up and see what’s interesting in that moment. It does take a bit of faith, a bit of trust, but it’s very worth it. I never really know who someone is until I hear their voice or see their face for the first time. Then as soon as I ask my first question I learn a ton more. People reveal themselves to you if you listen, if you’re alive in your responses, if you care about what they’re saying. It’s been great. It taught me to like people even more than I did before.
RJJ: On a more personal note for you, Bill, here is my final question. The New York Times published a truly moving and enlightening article you wrote, titled My Autistic Son’s Lesson: No One Is Broken. Will you please recount a few of the challenges and successes that you, and your family, have experienced in raising, and home-schooling, your youngest son, Sawyer, who at age seven was given a diagnosis of being on the autism spectrum?
WBK: I learned exactly what the essay says: that no one is broken. It’s true. I couldn’t be Sawyer’s father if I believed in broken people. If I believed in broken people then I would just try to fix him, which I did try to do. It never worked because you can’t fix what isn’t broken. But I couldn’t seem him as whole, as not broken, if I believed my father was broken, or the president was broken, or, most importantly, I was broken. It’s all or nothing. If anyone could be broken, including these kids we call autistic, than anyone of us could be broken, and no one wants to be broken, no one wants to believe there is something irreparable about themselves that stands between them and the life they would like to lead.
Everyone really is the author of their own lives, it’s just everyone’s books reads a little different.