For the first twenty years or so of my writing life, I experienced mostly rejection. For the last five or so years, I've experienced mostly acceptance. In the midst of all that rejection, why something was or was not accepted seemed very complicated to me. I have since reduced rejection and acceptance down to this: rejection is always an expression of effort, and acceptance is always an expression of effortlessness.
It takes great effort to force a story to be what I want it to be instead of what it wants to be. Characters must be corralled and directed. Some characters want to be heard while I want to silence them; other characters want to die while I want to keep them alive; some characters want to break up while I want them to stay together. A story's effortless path is always its most honest, compelling, surprising, and satisfying. To follow this path is to accept that the story always knows more than I do. What a relief when I stop trying to build a flower and instead help it grow.
It also takes great effort to tell a story I am not thoroughly interested in telling. Every story is a question and an answer. It takes effort to train my attention on questions that do not interest me. It takes no effort to leave my attention on interesting questions. I don't know why some questions interest me more than others. I don't know why people aren't always interested in the questions I find so very, very interesting. But I do know that I need to trust my curiosity. I must accept that it always leads me someplace interesting and alive, and that is always reason enough to follow it.
It also takes effort to withhold a story. Once I've written a story I love, that story wants to be shared. All its energy is pulling away from me. But I know that to share the story is to give it away, to let the readers make it their own. Tempting to keep what I deem valuable to myself. Too late for that. The story is like a child craving to get out of the house. Our relationship can remain intact even as it forms new relationships out in the world.
It also takes effort to believe you are not good enough when you were born good enough. It takes effort to believe you are not talented when you are exactly as talented as you need to be to tell the story you want to tell. It takes effort to believe you aren't smart enough, clever enough, lucky enough, or connected enough. It always takes effort to reject yourself, to believe you are broken, that you were somehow born without the equipment necessary to complete the journey you most want to make.
If you've lived a lot of rejection, that first experience of acceptance might feel ecstatic, the way simply breathing is so pleasing in those first moments after a fever breaks. Soon, however, the effortlessness of acceptance becomes the norm. There is no effort required to be myself, there is only the determination necessary to remember that nothing else has ever been required of me.
To connect with William Kenower, visit williamkenower.com.
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