How I write: Kimberly Kafka
Published: August 27, 2004
|According to Kimberly Kafka, a distant relative of Franz Kafka, "there are three things that will keep your back straight and your butt in the chair: ability, willpower and desire." Kafka, who lives on a Wisconsin farm with her husband and also works as a substitute rural mail carrier, carves out writing time despite life's other demands. To date, her self-discipline has resulted in two critically acclaimed novels: True North, set in the Alaskan bush, and Miranda's Vines, set in Oregon's wine country. She is currently at work on both her third and fourth novels, set in Wisconsin and Florida, respectively.|
Because, sick or sublime, writing is a compulsion. Ability and willpower are a lethal combination, but it is the compulsion that makes you ill at day's end if you have not written, in spite of the mountain of other things you have accomplished.
For me there was never any decision to write, unless you count the time I finally got a reaction to one of my first stories. It was a first-grade effort about fishing with a family friend and catching a wee bass. My mother read it and actually looked at me--really looked--and said, "I felt like I was there with you." I figured I'd better write another one so she could hang out with me again, even if only in our minds.
I am fortunate in my place of work, however little time I get to spend there. It is a small study, filled to bursting with my grandparents' desk, books (no surprise there), talismans, photographs, art--and from where I sit, I can look out over the oak savannah and dry mesic prairie my husband and I have been restoring in all our spare time.
Process implies progression, usually an orderly one, in which something is accomplished. Since my life consists of jobs that are mostly "on call"--animals to tend to, animals that fall ill or escape without thought to my schedule, crops that require tending as they see fit, old and raggedy vehicles that fall apart (also without my permission), weather that slams in without the grace to consult me, causing damage that must be remediated--my writing time is always stolen, never planned. Depending on those vagaries, I can sometimes steal five days a week, other times none.
These are the obstacles I face as a writer, and I don't reckon there's any way to overcome them short of having the money to pay someone else to deal with the daily fracas of life. But certainly there is one thing to be said for this shortness of writing breath, which is that I never have writer's block. By the time I can rope down a writing day, I'm ready to blow. Of course, I get stuck from time to time, hung to dry on a plot point, but that's when an outline comes in handy. My outlines tend to read more like a miniature script treatment: written in present tense, short paragraphs and spattered with salient dialogue or descriptions.
There is no blessing greater than friends who will read your stuff and give an honest critique. Not everyone can read your work and "get you," as they say, but you'll know when you've found the person, or several, who do. They are not necessarily the ones who will say what you want to hear, but they invariably show you what you need to see.
[Also,] writers should read everything they can rake their eyes over, especially contemporary work. If nothing else, it teaches you the market.
--Posted Aug. 27, 2004