Thursday, November 22, 2012

Ten tips on writing - by Geoff Kirsch (part 2)

Part 2 of our Hurricane Hiatus guest-blog by Geoff Kirsch...

Like I said last week, I was recently asked to share my writing expertise with students in a high school memoir writing class. I thought I’d share the ten tips I offered them to you as well. You know, if you want to take advice from a guy who moved out of New York to become a professional writer.

Here they are: 

  1. Everyone has a story to tell; it’s just a matter of figuring out how to tell it. That might not be through writing at all. Sometimes, the best way is with music, or painting, or molecular gastronomy. However, since I know nothing about molecular gastronomy…

  1. When you’re writing, just keep writing and don’t stop writing, ever. I’m not saying wear a diaper, but you know, if you’ve got an hour to write, spend that whole hour adding words to the page. Editing comes later, and that’s a whole other batch of tips.

  1. Don’t drink and write. There’s a time and place for drinking—when you’re 21 for instance, and even then, not while you’re writing. In fact, be careful of anything you make part of your writing process. It took me 10 years to quit smoking cigarettes and on a heavy writing day, I still drink a good 300 ounces of coffee. Seriously, half my daily calorie intake comes through half n’ half. Don’t even ask what my Splenda habit’s like.

  1. If you can’t beat it, work around it. There’s always a way around it—creative problem solving goes a long way to establishing “voice.”

  1. The world has plenty of writers already, but it only has one “you.” Your experiences, Your perceptions of the life you lead and the world you live in—that’s the rest of what goes into “voice.” Also a trademark punctuation mark—mine’s the “dash;” I also like semi-colons. 

  1. Allow yourself the luxury of a crappy first draft. No one will ever see it but you (except maybe your wife, but honestly, it’s nothing she hasn’t seen before—and, she’s seen a lot worse). 

  1. Don’t set out to make your living as a writer. I learned that the hard way. Write because you love it, not because you’re trying to feed your family with it. In order to get good enough to actually earn money, you need to be able to try and fail and try and fail, and that’s frustrating enough from a creative standpoint, let alone if you’re trying to bring home the bacon or, for vegetarians, the tofu-based bacon substitute.

  1. Show, don’t tell. Except graphic sex scenes. Those are next to impossible to write well, and believe me, I’ve tried.

  1. Appeal to as many of the five senses as possible. More than any other artistic discipline writing is uniquely able to conjure sight, sound, touch, taste and smell. I wrote a short story once in which a jilted wife takes revenge on her ex-husband by stuffing sushi in all the curtain rods of the house leaving him to search in vain for the source of the worsening stench… Anyway, I’ll never forget what my MFA thesis advisor said: “Geoff, your writing smells.” To this day, that’s nicest compliment anyone’s paid me. 

  1. It’s a lot easier to make people laugh than to make them cry. The trick is doing both. When and if you master it, please teach me.

 (note from Pen Parentis - you can read the curtain rod story and several others on Geoff's website at - Enjoy and have a happy Thanksgiving! Collect lots of material for your next story and eat yourself silly. Thank you all for being there for us, and especially Geoff for guest-blogging in our time of need. See you on December 11th for our next Salon, provided you can move by then. Be safe and write well!)

Thursday, November 15, 2012

10 Tips for Writing by Geoff Kirsch (part 1)

While we are on Hurricane Hiatus, Geoff Kirsch from Juneau Alaska, will be guest blogging. See last week's post for his bio. 

10 Tips for Writing

One of my favorite (and most hated) qualities of pre-school aged children is their penchant for bluntness.

Over the past year, my daughter and her little parliament of classmates have called me out on being bald, wearing the same clothes every day and “having claws” (read: grossly unclipped toenails). More than a few have asked me why my belly is bigger than their daddies’ bellies. I’m forced to admit the truth: while their daddies run incredibly long distances for fun—a pastime I will never understand—my hobbies include laying on the couch, laying on the reclining chair, laying in bed and working out schematics for the model log cabin I’m planning to build with all the leftover hotdogs from my son’s birthday party.          

Earlier this week, the apple of my eye point-blankedly told me I didn’t have a job. I said that wasn’t true, that I was a writer, to which she responded: “no, I mean a real job.” So I printed her a copy of my curriculum vitae, which, not to brag (well, okay, maybe a little) has names on it like “Comedy Central” and “Huffington Post,” as well as a “Published Books” section. I still don’t think she was impressed—even after she checked my references.

But it made me think. And I mean stop pondering the feasibility of frankfurter bun roofing panels for a second and really think. Was my little girl on to something? After all, she was right about the toenails.

Do I have a job? Can you call it a job if you do it in your pajamas (and, every once in a while, less than pajamas)? What if you get paid—as I once did (pretty decently, too, actually)—to write jokes for Michael Winslow, the noises guy from “Police Academy”? 

Here’s the answer I came up with: who cares? The IRS considers what I do a job, and that’s all that really matters. Plus, I’ve spent the last 15 years doing it, at the expense of almost every other career I’ve started and subsequently quit to get back to writing (or unemployment, as I said, depending on your point of view).

Like it or lump it, I don’t know how to do anything else. But I do know a thing or two about stringing together words into sentences, sentences into paragraphs, and paragraphs into pages that elicit a reader’s response and, most months, cover the two Montessori pre-school tuitions it takes to get at least a few wakeful, daylight hours in which to do all that stringing.

Anyway, I was recently asked to share some of this dubious expertise with students in a high school memoir writing class—an excellent experience, in all seriousness; those kids produced some surprisingly top-notch writing. 

Those ten tips for writing - both about yourself and in general - coming up next week.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The post-hurricane blog

Remember that old thing you learned in English class about the "types of literary conflict" where one was Man vs. Nature?

Yeah. We're losing that one.

I suppose you've heard by now that the November 13th Pen Parentis Literary Salon was canceled. Our lovely host, the Andaz Wall Street, is not yet open for business after Sandy. (I keep thinking of Sandy as a Tarantino character who initially looks all wild and cool but then kills without remorse for so many scenes that you ultimately can't like her anymore.)

She killed our November salon. It feels like a personal defeat - In four years, I haven't ever canceled. Not when the restaurant "forgot" to tell the new manager that we existed. Not when Arlaina or I had personal emergencies that took us out of town. Not when there was a January blizzard. Not ever.  But this time, the whole neighborhood is suffering and we are just another bit of collateral damage. So okay. We step back and we rebuild. Again.

I know there are those of you out there who have lost more than just an event (my home lost heat but we are bundled up and will be fine) and for you who need them, I have these resources from the Fractured Atlas Blog including very good advice from ArtsReady, a nonprofit that takes care of artists affected by natural disasters.

In the meantime I'm going to work on our December 11th event - you'll recall that our December events are huge and fun and fundraiser-ish...we hope this one with Amy Sohn, Josh Henkin, Robin Black and the author of Triburbia, Karl Taro Greenfeld will blow you out of the water.

So to speak.

While I am off working on this in our unheated offices, I have a huge treat for you. Guest blogging for the next two or three blogs is a really cool member of Pen Parentis - Geoff Kirsch, who is a writer and part-time stay-at-home dad in Juneau, Alaska. He has published one book-length piece of humor, Run For Your Life Doomsday 2012! His work has also appeared in/on Comedy Central, Huffington Post and Adventure Cyclist and other national magazines. I'm really excited that he offered to guest-blog, not only because he's a wonderful writer but also because, well, he's from Alaska and he's a member. That's just...awesome.  

I totally can't wait.