Tag Archives: writer

The Life and Times of a Short Story

short-story-draftThe young short story begins with a bang as the author manages to write six thousand words in several non-continuous sittings over the course of two weeks, though the author will later describe it in workshop as a single moment of creative pure truth. The short story matures with each passing workshop, experiencing growing pains, expanding and then suddenly being cut by a thousand words repeatedly, and not just because Rick from workshop said it “felt a little novelish.”

Still young for a while, the short story has a weird look. The story has a lot of split endings and wears a tight title that leaves little to the reader’s imagination, which the author is unaware of for several weeks because the author is too busy trying to understand Rick’s workshop submission, which involves a duck and how great New York apparently is.

Eventually, the story graduates from college with a sense of completion: the story has a clear beginning and ending and a fitting title. The story is submitted to four small literary journals. Like many American short stories, this story waits confidently for six months while resting in the back of the author’s hard drive with several older, wiser short stories.

After the first four rejections, the short story wonders about getting a better title, or if there was something wrong with the cover letter. The author polishes the story a bit with a quick makeover and pedicure to work out the typos and plot holes, then sends the reinvigorated story out to five journals. The short story’s determination is palpable.

But palpable determination is not enough, because after five more rejections, the story spirals into a mid-life crisis and gets two new characters and a new ending and then loses five hundred words after going to the gym. The short story feels better and is sent off to seventeen journals, six of which have already rejected the story as politely as is possible in an email. Meanwhile, Rick from workshop has been coasting on his one probably accidental publication in The New Yorker.

Seventeen rejections later, the short story finally decides to retire out of frustration. The author sees the potential in the story, but understands the difficulty in publication and ultimately thinks that better stories are waiting to be written. The author could dwell on the story for ten more years, but several new ideas have emerged in the author’s imagination, so the short story quietly goes back into a file on the author’s computer, solemnly labeled “Short Stories,” and is never heard from again. But the story lives on quietly in the author’s memory, and the memory of Rick from workshop who said it was pretentious and overwritten, but his characters are all just watered down versions of himself, so he can go lick a brick.

-jk

The Novel That Wasn’t (But Will Be)

library-books-2The last time I wrote anything for NaNoWriMo this year was November 8. After November 9, I mysteriously lost interest in a genre-bending crime-western about four elderly women who witness a murder and can only recall the gritty details of a bad acid trip they had together in their college days in the late 1960s.

I still have that overwhelming disinterest now, as I apply for more graduate schools in the humanities, an area continually asked to justify its existence to university administrators who want higher salaries for themselves at the expense of faculty and student budgets. We’re constructed as the enemy, put on watchlists by paranoid Internet users, and made to be reminded that our pursuit of art is a waste of time in a fastpacedgrabitall economy. What good is an MFA to a post-apocalyptic society struggling to save the last bee colony? What good is a genre-bending novel to a pipeline oil leak? In a few years, will we even be publishing novels?

So I put it aside. I was also busy studying and teaching. I want to enjoy the rest of my education; I don’t know if I’ll have an opportunity to enjoy it again. It’s a lot of work for little, if any, profit. I’m lucky I have no student debts, but every time I look at the news, I can’t help but feel that I’ve squandered my education for a pursuit that now only exists to sustain itself. The power of the written word has betrayed us. The written, texted, tweeted word can be undeniably a lie, and people still believe it. Meanwhile, if a poem goes viral, it only reaches the people who already love it.

I still have the urge to write, though. I enjoy it, when I manage to find the time and peace. Even this meager blog is satisfying. It’s work, pleasurable work, but it can’t exist only for me. The most successful writer, as I’ve heard, is the one who can write a story and put it in a drawer forever. Until I reach that level of inner peace, I need an audience. Maybe this post will reach someone who needs it, or at least enjoys it. Probably not. I want to be realistic about my prospects, but the pleasure I derive from writing propels me forward through this muddy, hopeless, disgusting month.

I’ll get back to my novel soon. I don’t think a genre-bending novel will make a difference, but if I ever stop writing, the anti-intellectuals win. If they want me to justify my existence as a writer, reader, and academic, I’ll have to give them one hell of a novel full of well-written dynamic characters and compassionate portrayals of inner conflicts and meticulous attention to the beauty of environmental and historical landscapes. I’d rather write hopelessly than not at all.

-jk

Nobody Actually Has Time to Write a Novel (But We Do It Anyway)

train-1November 1 kicked off the beginning of National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, the long-standing tradition in which writers and readers alike decide to write a novel (or 50,000 words at least) during the month of November. The idea isn’t to have a novel finished by December 1, but to have written enough of a first draft of a novel (or memoir or novella even) to build on during the next year, something to return to and tinker with at a more casual, realistic pace.

Writing at a bout 1600 words a day, writers might finish. Most don’t. I’ve only finished once, and I was a very sleepless college freshman, full of ideas and not much else. Now, I’m a graduate student in English. Now, I’m full of ideas and stress, and not much else. I have deadlines to meet, books to read, authors to research, research to catch up on, and workshop material to write. I have classes to teach and a full 13 credit hours of graduate coursework to focus on, as well as graduate applications and a brand new hip flask to make proper use of. Do I really want to add the pressure of a novel to that?

The answer, of course, is no. But I’m doing it anyway. I don’t expect to finish, even if I write during all of Thanksgiving break. Even when I inevitably don’t meet the standard 50,000 words, I’ll still have a novel draft to tinker with in 2017. Like many writers across the globe, I’m enjoying more ambition than I can justify having, and the companionship of fellow writers struggling near me.

So, to my fellow November-long novelists, I wish you luck and sudden bouts of free time. Say goodbye to your loved ones and the prospect of having clean dishes. It’s noveling season.

-jk

Apparently I’ve Been Blogging for Three Years

all-skull-and-bibles

A photo I took exactly three years ago.

I don’t tend to celebrate anniversaries. I don’t actively celebrate my birthday and I ignore my country’s independence day. But WordPress insists on reminding me that I started this blog three years ago, and I may as well mark the occasion.

Since my last blogiversary, I’ve attended a rad academic conference in Albuquerque, had poems, a short story, and a nonfiction essay published, and visited multiple national parks. I’ve completed a draft of my creative writing Master’s Thesis, a collection of interconnected short historical fiction stories (is there a more pretentious phrase? If so, I’ll find it), as well as poetry collections and essays. My writing has improved (I think), and I’ve developed a better understanding of literature.

I’ve also been in Nebraska for over a year, and my relocation here has started to set in. I’m finding a community in Lincoln. I’m forming connections with friends and colleagues. Sadly, I may be leaving again for another graduate program. Once again, I’ve decided to apply to graduate programs to pursue either a PhD or MFA program, and once again, I have no idea where I’ll be living a year from now.

But wherever I am, I’ll at least have a blog. It may not be much, but if I leave my friends, colleagues, and relations, if I leave them all behind for another new start in another state and another program, I’ll still have this little journal of my affairs. It may not be much, but it can be a grounding ritual, or a way to kill time. In either case, I enjoy it.

Wherever I am, wherever I will be, wherever I’ve come from, here’s to three years of fairly sporadic blogging. Cheers, peace, and until another autumn.

Peace,

-jk

Useful Tips for Making Time to Write

make-timeStephen King once suggested that aspiring writers carve out time to write every single day, which probably works for wealthy retired people like him. For the rest of us proles trying to be writers, carving out time to write can be a challenge. There are, however, numerous ways one can make time to write.

  1. Give up sleep. Talk to your doctor to let her know that you no longer require the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep; four or three or two should be sufficient. That’s what coffee is for, right? If your doctor protests, just let her know that she can have a free signed copy of your fantastic novel-in-progress, American Noun, once you finally get it written.
  2. If sleep is too difficult to give up, try giving up on friends. Thanks to social media, dropping off the face of the Earth has become quite easy. Delete your Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, Bumble, Thorax, PurpleDeth, and whatever other social media you have. No more notifications from you will quickly let your friends know that you are now and always have been an illusion. No more friends, no more distractions! Now get writing!
  3. If you somehow need friends and sleep, another way to make time is to quit your job. Many aspiring artists have done it. You can call it breaking out of the system, but we all know it’s to make time to write. After a month or so, you can consider more tenable versions of giving up on a well-paying job to pursue your dream, like getting an MFA in something or volunteering with the Green Party.
  4. If you’re the kind of loser who needs sleep, friends, and a job, another way to make time to write is to literally create time. For many writers, this is the most realistic option. Build a time machine (instructions are on Wikipedia) and spend a day writing, then go back twenty-four hours and respend that day working with friends and sleeping. You’ll have a novel in no time, but the problem is that, to the rest of us, you will age twice as fast.
  5. Making time to write is difficult, and you may have to give up a few things: regular TV, some social events, a few good meals. The important thing is to not give up on writing, if you really, really want to write. You can’t have it all, but the parties you get invited to after publication will make up for it.

-jk

Getting Over the Beats

on-the-road

“We’re all golden sunflowers inside, bae.” -Allen Ginsberg, probably

In high school, I took a creative writing elective, and the teacher assigned numerous Beat Generation authors. We read sections of Dharma Bums and “Howl” and numerous Jack Kerouac poems. It turns out that the influence of the Beats on a youngboredsmallwhitemale is that he starts wearing black button-up shirts and fantasizing about expensive liquor. After reading On the Road the following summer, I spent a great deal of time fantasizing about drinking absinthe on road trips through the desert at night while listening to something called bop. I bought used jazz records that I listened to once, maybe twice.

I thought about rebelling, but I was convinced that the key to rebellion was originality, and just about everything had been done before. I learned the value of originality from the Beats, who were apparently the very first people to realize that dharma and karma fall under the category of “hip.” I learned more from various articles summarizing the Beat Generation that I found online to save time, and it was there that I discovered how powerful singleĀ  arbitrary out-of-context half-cited quotes can be, even with no subsequent explanation. I thought about growing out my hair, learning how to sculpt with metal, driving a motorcycle, making out with trees, but they had all been done before.

As time went on, I encountered other writers and poets who influenced me in more nuanced, healthier ways. Had I kept up with my Beat fixation, I might have grown up to the kind of person who uses Kerouac quotes to make myself feel better about spending fifteen dollars on one local IPA at a bar I frequent only because the regular server is an aspiring country saxophonist named Cynthia. Or I could have become the kind of teacher who wears skinny dungarees and Pink Floyd T-shirts with holes in the front and sits on the desk telling his students that Jesus and Steinbeck were both Zen masters who shared some sweet flashbacks to one another.

I still dig the Beats sometimes, but that scene has passed. I’m still not sure what kind of writer I am, but I can’t be a Beat, or any other writer from the past. It’s better to write for and from the present. I’ve almost entirely moved on, man.

-jk

Writing With the Season

graveyard-walkI can’t tell you why I enjoy autumn as much as I do. Apart from the many holidays and the associated consumerism, I enjoy the aesthetic this time of year imposes on parts of the country. In my hometown of Flagstaff, AZ, the leaves on the aspen trees turn whole sides of Mount Elden a new, shocked shade of yellow. In my new home in Lincoln, NE, the season is just as magnificent, minus the mountain. It’s darker and windier every morning as I walk to campus. The nights are cool and toasty.

As a child, I once took a stapler to the woods and tried to “fix” the falling leaves. I was too young to understand the relationship between seasons and change. I liked the color green, and I was mortified that things could curl, turn red and yellow like infections, and fall to the ground. The pine needles, too, browned and plummeted. Before I could begin stapling the leaves back to the branches that I thought (wrongly) I’d be tall enough to reach, I wondered if maybe this change was good. If maybe it was supposed to happen. Maybe the leaves, like fingernails, would grow back to replace what has gone.

Now, I’ve come to prefer orange, red, yellow, and gold, but I still have trust issues with nature. I feel on edge watching it change, wanting it to be the same, but I can do nothing to stop the leaves from falling.

Autumn must be a good season for writers. I associate it with writing, at least. I associate these months with ghost stories and tall tales, and the existential crisis of trying to be static in a changing world. I associate the season with staying inside writing poems while eating pie or writing a novel every November. I want to celebrate the season, when I can, by writing, walking, and sharing. I enjoy the mystery, even the uncertainty. It’s a time to lean on the edge of our seats to see how the narrative will unfold.

Maybe autumn isn’t for everybody, but it suits me. I’m learning to enjoy the change.

-jk