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!)