FemaleThis post is dedicated to the finer gender, endowed with prudence, grace, beauty, and compassion.
May the world mirror your shining example.

Tonight I finished watching the first (and now only) season of Amazon Video’s Good Girls Revolt.

It has been an excellent viewing experience: captivating, fun, poignant, reminiscent, educational, and above all, feminist.

The period drama portrays varied and realistic (if dated) female characters cast against the backdrop of a weekly, national news magazine chronicling the tumultuous end of the sixties, the then-endless Vietnam War, and a historic push forward for the advancement of women. Over the course of 10 engaging episodes, these women struggle, grow, and eventually unite around a call for equal opportunity that, sadly, still rings true 47 years later.

I suppose, then, it is no surprise that Amazon cancelled the series. Read the rest of this entry »

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Yesterday, I hadn’t. But today…I have.

After nearly four years, lots of struggle, pain, heartache, and perseverance…

I just finished my first novel.

A draft anyway—but a damn solid one in my novice opinion. And with a full day to spare before my Christmas deadline.

Sure I’ve got some cleanup to go back and do, resulting from the plot-surgery I did over the summer. But I’ve got my list ready and none of it intimidates me.

I’ve wanted to know what this feels like for a long, long time. Sure, almost four years on this story alone, but it was a full 20 years ago that I truly dove in to my first novel (later abandoning it).

For the record (and for all you aspiring novelists out there), it feels really incredible. Inspiring. Liberating. Powerful.

Today, I am (technically) a novelist.

Can’t wait to start the next one.

Write on! And on, and on, and on…

Back in November, as I was savoring the last mild temperatures of the year, I finally sat myself down and dug in to sort out the rest of my plot. Ever since I shook things up, I’ve just been treading water. Unable to write much further without plotting a course (pardon the pun), and uninspired every time I tried to think my way through to a new ending.

I got it all sorted out that day (at least enough for this first draft) and once again felt invigorated to finish this beast. I finally set myself a deadline, and let my two writing confidants know what it was.

I’m proud to say that Read the rest of this entry »

I’ll admit I know very little about the machinations within the House Democratic Caucus. I have no doubt the strings and chains of its internal workings are beyond my comprehension and it would likely disgust me to understand them.

That said, I’m really upset that Pelosi has retained the post of Minority Leader. Even more so that my congressman, a ranking member of the Progressive Caucus, supported her in her bid.

So I wrote him today. Read the rest of this entry »

Psssst…I broke a hundred thousand words today. By a lot.

It fritzed the “Word Count” window in the status bar on Word for Mac. It’s just an empty box now, which if ever there were an indicator that this draft is going to be too long, I guess that’s as good as any.

One hundred thousand. 100,000. 100k. Cent mille. 100 Grand. Mmmmmm…I should eat one of those tonight as a reward.

327_100Grand

I know it’s just a number, like any other, a pointless milestone on this road to mastery or madness. But I can’t help feeling like I’ve gotten somewhere. Like this story of mine is actually becoming a novel.

It’s weird. I know it’s nothing, but somehow it’s something.

Anyway, just thought I throw that out there.

In answer to Karen Rawson’s recent gauntlet throw-down, I managed to sneeze out this, my first attempt at flash fiction. So here’s the 98-word “Drowned Out” which I based on the photo below.

DrownedYard

“Guess the party’s cancelled, huh?” he jeered.

“It’s nothing to smile about!” Kim snapped, hating him even more than the night before.

Her daughter’s 6th birthday party washed away in minutes. Streamers, croquet, cookout, slip-n-slide—all gone before Sandy had even woken. Kim’s tears welled as sandbox toys swirled in a darkened eddy by the grill.

“I guess I’ll call the moms and let them know.”

“Ya think?” he assed while she pondered his funeral as a suitable birthday gift. “Whole day’s free now! What to do…”

Drop dead, she thought and thanked God she’d hidden the whiskey.

I quit my job after nearly 14 years with the company.

It was time. I wasn’t happy there, despite my best efforts. Fortunately, my lovely partner is in a position where we could afford to do so. So I broke one of the cardinal rules of novel-writing: Don’t quit your day job.

Things are much better. Been knocking things off the life list, doing some freelance work when I can find it and, thankfully, I’m writing again after sitting at the 3/4 mark for half a year. I’m told that’s normal; I don’t know how it can be. But I’m not going to dwell on it. Ever forward.

So I’m walking the dog the other day, after the most productive day of writing I’ve had in six months, and I’m pensive.

One of the things that has been bogging me down is knowing that my plot intentions seemed to be Read the rest of this entry »

I finally broke 300. And it’s been a hard-fought 30 pages.

The closer I get to the end, the further away it seems. Not in terms of actual pages or plot points, but in all the holes and unresolved, unrefined, unrealistic details that pop up and needle me as I keep trudging forward. Which is disconcerting since I’ve been following this outline for almost two years.

I push this awful beast ahead; it pushes back. I make it through a tough chapter; three revisions stem out of what I wrote to be implemented at a later date. I’m starting to lose details I wrote months, even years ago. I know I have something to say, I just don’t think I’m saying it and I don’t even trust myself right now to be able to judge.

Unlike earlier in the process, any long day of writing ends with more misgivings and inconsistencies than when it started. I don’t hear my story, hear my characters…I don’t even hear my voice anymore. And while I may be sluggishly plodding toward a finished draft, with each page I become even more confident that it’s a giant pile, that the story is complete garbage, and that no one, NO ONE is ever going to read it.

I want to quit.
I mean I really want to quit.
But if I don’t finish this monster, I’ll be damned.

“The best way out is always through,”
                                                                            -Robert Frost

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me, and I know I can never do it. Then gradually, I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate.”
                                                                           – John Steinbeck

I hate that I want this.

No matter what our plans or best intentions, life somehow always has a knack for getting in the way.

It was a tough summer. A lot of stuff went wrong. A lot of sh-stuff got in the way. Life’s been handing me a lot of lemons lately, and I’m rather sick of drinking lemonade.

Nevertheless, I managed to make some good progress on the story and work my way through a number of difficult chapters that I’d been avoiding.

I’d be lying if I said that all of the life challenges this summer hadn’t influenced the story. Amazing how that happens. I always figured I’d dream up a story and write about it. I never realized how much the course of life, or love, or hopes and dreams would play into the crafting of said story.

Just as this blog is chronicling my process of writing this novel, so has the novel become a private chronicle of what transpired throughout the course of writing it.

No, it’s not becoming autobiographical. But there are enough reflections of the happenings of my life throughout the telling (at least in this draft) that I think it will almost serve as a sort of chronology for the time I spent writing it. Just to me, of course. I’ll be the only one who knows which bits were pulled from reality and which ones sprang from my mind.

I think I like knowing that.

My workflow has been sporadic. Some of my writing days were spent actually writing. Some were organizational, retracing the scenes of my outline and restructuring where necessary. Some days were just spent editing, when the words weren’t flowing but the story was still captivating. I’ve been told I shouldn’t do that. But hey, it’s better than ignoring the story completely and feeling like a failure at the end of a “writing” day where I didn’t write anything really.

This, however, I found most interesting. In the thick of the lifeload of crap that was being thrown my way this summer, where things had completely hurtled out of my control and I was cast adrift in a perfect storm of happenstance, misfortune, and bad timing, I found respite in an unlikely place.

At times, it seemed the only sense of control I could conjure up came from when I was writing.

It never really occurred to me how empowering the crafting of a story is. After all, it’s mine. Really, truly, wholly mine. I drive the story, I drive the dialog, I drive the action. MINE!

The next time things go south in my life, I’ve got to remember that. When I’m feeling out of control, I should spend more time at my keyboard: more time in control. Win-win.

When life hands you lemons, write.

Look out writers, Karen’s talkin’ truth again.

Source: If You’re Like Me, Then You Hate John Green or How to Quit the Deadly Comparison Game

I heard my first Bill Cosby album when I was five.

Memorized my first Cosby routine when I was seven (it was the “Noah…Right!”).

Performed it before an audience of hundreds at age eight (I received Honorable Mention).

Once I heard those early stories of reckless go-cart racing and playing buck-buck in the projects of Philadelphia, I was hooked.

I credit much of my interest in performing and comedy to the childhood laughs that overwhelmed me as I sat in my bedroom listening to those 33rpm records on a tiny shoebox turntable with a mono speaker. I recited the routines in my head until they flowed out of me without thought or concentration, at-the-ready for a passing neighbor, my parents’ dinner guests, or a visit from extended family.

I have vivid memories of sitting in my PJs on Saturday mornings, cup of dry Froot Loops in hand, crunching away on sugary mouthfuls, just happy as a clam, while the infectious intro music of “Picture Pages” imprinted itself on my brain.

Picture Pages, Picture Pages, Time to get your Picture Pages.
Time to get your crayons and your pencils!
Picture Pages, Picture Pages, Open up your Picture Pages!
Time to watch Bill Cosby do a picture page with you!

To think of all those boyhood hours spent worshipping—glorifying, even—an alleged serial rapist now sickens me. Read the rest of this entry »

Many writers whom I respect have said they “don’t believe in writer’s block,” and I, with a head full of great ideas that I never seem to have enough time for, have always been inclined to believe them.

They cite the inability to write as being indicative of another issue, such as disclarity of plot, an unexamined character need, a loss of love for your original idea, or perhaps the rising demon of self-doubt. And if the words weren’t flowing for me, I would pair it against this backdrop, search for the delaying speed bump, work through it, and inevitably agree that indeed, writer’s block does not exist.

Well, if whatever I just went through wasn’t writer’s block, I don’t know what is. Read the rest of this entry »

“So it goes.”

It’s a simple phrase.

Three words. A catchphrase, of sorts. Almost insignificant. And yet it perfectly demonstrates the magnificence of Vonnegut’s exceptional “writer’s voice.”

I’m still forging ahead. I took a little time off around the holidays (couldn’t you tell?). And I reluctantly embraced some long-avoided but necessary technological advances—namely a smartphone and a new(er) computer— which brought with them some setbacks to my workflow and productivity. But I’m back.

Story is coming along. Cranked out a long avoided chapter today that wasn’t easy to write. Probably still need lots of work, but it’s written.

Generally speaking, characters are coming along nicely. They are developing in ways that I like and, in turn, they’re starting to carry the story. I’ve had several 5-10 page days and when I do, they happen sort of effortlessly. So I’ll count my blessings.

But then I start thinking about that pesky “voice.” As in, I’m afraid I don’t have one. Or that it’s inconsistent, or undefined. Or that it just plain sucks. Read the rest of this entry »

Writer’s conferences are a double-edged sword. On one hand, you expose yourself to other writers’ sagacity and experiences that you would not otherwise encounter, expanding your horizons and possibly giving you a fresh perspective.

On the other hand, you also open yourself up to the sob stories, tales of woe, and harsh realities of the writing and publishing industry, which can snatch the wind from your sails faster than a slaughtered albatross.

The conference at the Iowa Writer’s Workshop was of the first kind.

The one this past spring in Badgerland was of the latter.

So many of its speakers and attendees were quick to relay the “truths” and statistics that serve only to muddy the waters of creative process: the unlikelihood of finding an agent, the slim chances of getting published, the even slimmer chances of your first book selling well (and the likelihood it will be your last), and of course, the absolute impossibility of ever making a living writing fiction.

One of those painful tidbits is looming large these days. Read the rest of this entry »

Forty.

40. 4-D. Two score. Four dimes. Over-the-hill. The mid-point. Intermission. Halftime. On the flip side. The start of Act II. The third quarter. Entering my fifth decade. Coasting downhill. Past my prime. The dawn of middle age. The beginning of the end.

Yes, it’s true. I recently passed the arbitrary milestone that carries with it enough gravitas and gloom to bring even the most spry and vigorous traveler to at least a brief period of introspection, if not melancholy.

Truthfully, becoming a quadragenarian did weigh on me some. Not so much for the age or the number itself (such trivialities as round numbers do not impress me), but rather in examination of my life and how, on the surface at least, I largely am right where I was a decade ago.

I entered my thirties living in the same house in the same city in the same job with the same company in which I find myself now. I had an unfinished novel at the time, and I still have one (albeit, a different one). And while I have much to show for that same decade—in knowledge, and love, and friendship, and maturity, and wisdom, and experience, and even writing—it is also a stone cold reminder how fleeting time can be and, when our daily schedules and surroundings remain unchanged, how quickly we can lose awareness of its passing.

In addition to that realization, it also was just over a year ago that, creatively charged after my trip to the Writer’s Workshop, I boldly purposed to have this novel drafted as a 40th birthday present to myself.

Well, the best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men… Read the rest of this entry »

My apologies for leaving you hanging, I’ve been away for a while and I owe you an explanation.

Just to put it right out there, I haven’t been writing much. Not here, not on the novel, not on anything (except my day job of course). I’ve got 20 pages since my last post, which is something at least. And no, it didn’t take me four months just to get those 20 pages.

I wish I could say I’ve been “taking a break,” but that would imply a summer spent relaxing. Far from it. I’ve not been idle, mind you; been plenty busy in that time. But admittedly I’ve been away from my story for too long and it’s time to start regrouping.

Truth is, I’m stuck. I’ve been stumbling on one of my main characters and how the story relates to him. One primary character’s arc and story have come into focus nicely. I can see his path points well and was using them to pull myself along for a while. But my second character is just as, if not more, important and his development and plot points have remained blurry and elusive.

As a result, the relationship I worked so hard to establish leading up to the 1/3 mark (back in January, ugh!) lacks half of its density. It feels one-sided, perhaps even unrealistic now. Until I can better clarify the one character, his story, and arc, I fear the relationship and the other character appears hollow, unengaging. So I’ve been stuck; been there for months now, which makes it really hard to move forward.

Adding to my pusillanimity, I’ve had so many other worthy, important tasks in the queue (homeowner stuff, friend and family visits, travel) that I’ve been all too happy to let them distract me from writing, thereby facing my obstacles, for much of the summer.

My sticking points are big enough that I want to avoid them and concentrate on the pile of other tasks, responsibilities, pleasures, and obligations that invariably spring up. The pile of other stuff is so available, rewarding, and seemingly important, it is all too easy to use it to avoid concentrating on those sticking points.

It’s a vicious cycle for sure, and it’s time to acknowledge that and start working on the story again, problems or no.

A year ago, charged and empowered after my visit to the Iowa Writer’s Workshop, I had set an aggressive-yet-confident goal to have a draft in time for my 40th birthday, which by the way arrives, warranted-or-not, next week. Obviously, that’s not going to happen, not without a Rocky-like* comeback and an intravenous feed of espresso for the next six days.

I’ll just have to let that arbitrary, perhaps unrealistic deadline pass by and appreciate this process for what it is…a journey, and not a destination. At least I’ll keep telling myself that in hopes of one day believing it.

Climbing back on this horse is going to take some heaving. But I’ll get up there again.

Write on.

 

* Stallone wrote “Rocky” in two and a half days. Surely a Pulitzer-worthy novel can be cranked out in a week, right?

I’ll admit, it has been a rough winter. I’ve only had a few productive days since the turn of the year as I’ve been ensnared in my own web of hesitation, second-guessing, and the urge to go back and fix stuff.

Last week I took off to watch basketball (a once-a-year guilty pleasure) and the week before my writing time was like chewing on tin foil. The words weren’t coming, my phrasing was crude and disjointed, and after struggling for six hours on two pages, I deleted most of what I had written and then switched to a different project just so I could salvage a little taste of feeling productive for the day.

It was deflating, demoralizing, and depressing and I had more than one thought of throwing in the towel.

I’m happy to say that today I broke the logjam. I worked out a significant kink and it feels like I’ve got my story back on track. It took a while to get going, and I deleted entire paragraphs, even pages, more than once. It was nearly 2:00 in the afternoon when I finally felt I had a hold of something good. Six hours later and I’ve got eight solid pages to show for it and several good hooks to latch on to in my next session.

I really want to hit the next milestone by the end of spring. Here’s hoping that the tap stays open for a while.

Write on.

We hear about the work-life balance. Dedicating enough time and energy to your job without giving up too much of the time and energy you want to spend actually living.

Most people just have to balance the two. Working too much? Your life suffers. Living too much? Your work suffers. Live to work? Or work to live? It’s a tough balance for anyone to maintain, of course.

As wannabe published writers, we have it much, much worse.

We writers have another chunk in there: our writing. It’s not quite life, because it often feels like work, and it’s not quite work, because (at first) we’re not getting paid for it. And if it’s fiction we’re writing, there’s a painfully good chance we never will.

So somewhere between work and life, we have to carve out what moments we can for our writing, adding another variable to the balance equation, another master we hope to serve.

We want to be writing. Our hearts and our minds drive us to. We feel best after a good session, a finished work, and that only contributes to our enjoyment of life.

We also want happy, fulfilling lives, because we can use them to fuel our writing, to give us the positive and creative boost we need to keep going. Plus it just feels good to be happy. Mmmm…happy.

We also need to survive: food, shelter, clothing, and all the things Maslow said come right after that. Unfortunately, that’s why we work.

Very few of the writers I know find much fulfillment from their job-type jobs, even if it involves writing. Yet not one of us has figured out a way to avoid it, short of a trust fund, a sugar mama/daddy, or a winning lottery ticket.

Work is a necessary obstacle, and a rigid one at that, demanding a majority of your time and typically the best hours of it. Which generally leaves us only “life” to cut from to make time for writing.

That makes it twice as hard to do. Harder.

So hard, in fact, that our writing often gets shifted, or shafted, or flat-out trumped when life’s demands simply won’t let go. For every great story idea, or turn of phrase that comes to us, there are blizzards, and taxes, and flooded basements, and car repairs, and illness, and stubbed toes conspiring against us.

Our writing suffers; our spirit suffers; our lives suffer; eventually our work suffers.

It’s not fair, I know. But we’ve got to suck it up. Make time to write. It’s the only way we’ll ever find that true satisfaction.

Work is work, and it always will be. We’ve got bigger plans than the bloated egos, shortened deadlines, lame policies, and office politics that surround us there. Work-Life? That’s not the balance we need to be focused on.

To hell with the cliché; for us, it’s write to live, live to write.

Write on.

I just realized tomorrow will be the 1st anniversary of writing what has become the first chapter of this novel I’ve been chewing on ever since.

I suppose it started as an exercise, a challenge to write a character that needed to be brought to life, if only for one very short story. That brief introduction to him was enough to get me hooked and out of it a story was born.

Twelve months (though really only 5), eleven chapters, and 128 pages later I’ve hit that first major milestone, the one-third mark. My two main characters are alive; they’re real and struggling, and more importantly, I’ve finally brought them together despite the unlikeliness of their meeting. I suppose, not knowing I was starting a novel back then, that’s not too shabby.

Of course, after reaching the milestone, it didn’t take long for the ol’ writer’s curse to set in – doubt. On top of the ever present, “No one will ever want to read this,” and “What the hell am I wasting my time for?” I’m now battling all sorts of story-specific questions like, “Are my characters real enough?” “Will anyone actually care about them?” “Have I shown enough of their struggles and strengths?” “Was their meeting too contrived?”

Shadows of such shallow confidence are darkening the path ahead and I’m not sure what to do. I’m still caught in the quandary of going back or forging ahead. Do I throw it in reverse to add the stuff I know I need to add, to change the things that surely need to be changed, and to analyze what’s there to see if it even holds water? Or do I plod ahead, knowing full well that there are things missing in the first third of the story that I’ll have to go back and add later?

There are arguments for both, and I’m stuck between them. I hoping for an inspiration or revelation to push me in one direction or the other, especially since I really want to finish a draft this year.

Man, I didn’t see this coming.

I finally did it.

Last night I watched my last unseen film on the AFI’s original Top 100 list.

If you don’t know, in 1998 the American Film Institute (AFI) polled “more than 1500 leaders of the American movie community” to establish a list of America’s 100 Greatest Movies (they’ve since “revised” the list, which I don’t understand and refuse to acknowledge for a host of reasons which I’ll not discuss now).

I was 24 and living in near-poverty in glorious Jackson, Wyoming in 1998. With few friends and little money, it was fortuitous that the local video store had dedicated an entire wall to the AFI’s shiny, new list. As I recall, 96 of the 100 films were on their shelf (some of these are hard to find) and I set out to watch them all.

At the time, I had seen 48, so I was starting from a good spot. Another 30 or so I had always wanted to see or thought I should, based on historical significance or legendary status. This left about 20 films that I would likely have to force myself to watch.

I dove in and tore off a big chunk of the “always-wanted-to-sees,” watching fifteen of them over the course of that long winter, which, stuffed in between my three low-paying jobs, was actually pretty impressive.

By the summer of ‘99 I had made more friends; I planned and traveled on a remarkable journey; I met my future partner and, I’m pleased to say, my movie-watching was displaced by good times. Eventually, I left Jackson and have yet to find another video store that houses the AFI’s Top 100 within their walls. My noble goal remained unachieved.

In late 2011, many years after discovering Netflix, callings of the list began to haunt me. I dusted off my printed copy from ’98 and set out to finish the goal I’d set so many years before. Two years and four months later (life does tend to get in the way), I’m proud to say I’ve done it. Read the rest of this entry »

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