Book Review - Fearless Writing by William Kenower

I discovered William Kenower by stumbling upon his podcast, Author2Author, where he talks to writers of all genres about the books writers write and the lives they lead, and how these two are one in the same. I was initially intrigued by this line or motto that he delivers at the beginning of each episode:

"What it takes to write the book you want to write is what it takes to lead the life you want to lead."

William Kenower

I wasn't quite sure how to interpret that statement, but something about it intrigued me - especially since I had just recently "retired" from twenty-two years in software to persue my life-long dream of being a writer. I had just made a big, scary, audacious, and possibly stupid change in my life because I'd finally gotten to the point where I could no longer stand NOT living the creative life of an artist. I had decided that I was willing to do whatever it takes to lead the life I wanted to lead, no matter what. Damn the world, because I'd be no good for it anyway if I were dead and the status quo was sure as hell killing me. But how do you write the book you want to write, exactly? I'd risked everything to find out and yet, one year into my new life as "a writer" my results were pitiful. I had gotten nowhere near the consistent daily output that I knew was necessary to finish my first book and become a published author in reasonable time. I knew in my gut that my problems were primarily psychological and probably had a lot, if not everything, to do with fear. So, when I saw that Kenower had published the book called Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, I figured it could help me.

Just fourteen pages into the book, I felt compelled to dig an old yellow highlighter out of my junk drawer so that I could start spotlighting sentences. I could already tell that I would be keeping the book for life - referring back to it when I needed reminders and inspiration. Only halfway through the book, my first highlighter had been exhausted and I had to find another.

As far as I am concerned, this book belongs in the pantheon of great books about writing. It belongs right up there with Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, and On Writing: A Memoire of the Craft by Steven King. It is deeply meaningful like those books, but unique in its own way. It's much more philosophical and a lot less technical than I expected, which was refreshing. In fact, as far as where I had been in my journey when I read it, I would go so far as to say that it was even spiritual.

Kenower begins with the problem and the solution: fear and love. He begins by discussing love in terms of "the flow" - that hallowed state of effortless productivity that creative people always want to return to. It's a blissful place to be, not just because it's where time disappears and writing actually gets done, but because it is the experience of love - made of a very personal and profound curiosity. In simple, but eloquent words, Kenower suggests that love is what draws us toward a thing while fear is what propels us away from it. With its early start exploring the yin/yang duality of fear and love, I was very quickly impressed with a sense the book was not just about the craft of writing, but also life itself. And yet, then again, that it could only be true about writing precisely because it was about life itself. Suddenly, the motto from his podcast started to make sense.

Oh, and you know how they say that when the student is ready, the teacher(s) will appear? Well, wouldn't you know if I didn't just then hear the best-selling author of Eat, Pray, Love, echo the sentiment. She said:

"Creative living is any life that you live where your decisions are based more strongly on your curiosity than your fear."

Elizabeth Gilbert

Anyway, after providing some concrete tips on how to get into the state of flow, Kenower then goes on to talk about feelings and how, as writers, they are ultimately what we're delivering when we are doing our job well. "This is what I'm selling in my stories," he writes. "I am a feelings merchant." He teaches us how to "feel first and write second" because "art is about sharing feelings, and you cannot share what you don't have." This was helpful in reminding me to get in tune with my feelings about a topic as a prerequisite to the writing or to reconsider the angle or the topic when I can't quite find "the feeling".

Kenower goes on to discuss a great variety of topics with relevant examples from his own experience as a writer, from what he's learned from the many writers he has interviewed, and even from what he has learned from an autistic son who becomes a sort of charming little hero in the book with his own lessons to teach about life, the inner world of the imagination, fear, and love.

The book is full of great advise, inspiration, and quotable quotes. It's totally worth the price of a paperback (and a couple of yellow highlighters). While Kenower touches on many of the things you've heard before about the craft, things like "Show, Don't Tell," the way he does it brings a deeper meaning: deeper feelings about the craft, and really good ones at that. Overall, for me, it is the feeling of empowerment for having learned some secrets that are beyond the technical surface of things; secrets closer to the heart of life itself, of creativity and curiosity. Thus, I have troubled to share my own feelings about this book with you because I think you might feel it too - you know, that feeling you have felt for only a few other writing books? The ones you love?

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