Interview with Chicago Writers Association board member, Rick Kaempfer

Rick Kaempfer, author of four books and co-founder and publisher of Eckhartz Press, has a wide range of writing experience from writing for radio, hosting a weekly podcast, to writing fiction, nonfiction, and collaborating on novels with fellow writers. Kaempfer has utilized and developed his writing skills across different forms of media and continues to do so by forming important connections and relationships within Chicago’s media.

Q: Would you say your writing process has evolved over time? If so, how?

A: My writing process is probably pretty unusual because of my background. I began my professional career in radio (with Hall of Famers Steve & Garry at WLUP and John Records Landecker at WJMK). That was a very different type of writing than I do now. My process has changed a lot over the years.
When I wrote my first book (The Radio Producer’s Handbook), I was given three months to deliver the manuscript. I’ve written seven books since then on wildly different subject matters, and each one required a different process. For my first novel ($everence), I mapped out every twist and turn before I wrote the first word. My second novel (The Living Wills) was on the opposite end of that spectrum. I wrote it with another author, using improvisation techniques to unlock intersecting storylines. I’ve since written a non-fiction book that took me ten years to research (Everycubever) and that was a totally different process. Another book required me to cull ten years of my newspaper and magazine columns (Father Knows Nothing). I adapt my process to the project, if that makes sense.

Q: How do you handle writer’s block?  

A: I’ve never experienced writer’s block and I think there is a very good reason for that. When I wrote for radio, my job was to come up with four hours of material every single day. There’s no room for writer’s block in that situation. Necessity is the mother of invention. It forced me to find great stories, and they are all around if you pay attention.
Now that life has slowed down a bit from that frenetic pace, there are a few things I do that help. I’ve found that when I am super busy, I must allow myself some thinking time. I sit on the deck in the summer with my dog and enjoy the summer air. I come up with some of my best ideas doing that. If I’m on the other end of the spectrum and spending too much time thinking about a project, I keep myself busy doing something else for a while. Just going to the grocery store can unlock ideas that my myopic mind hasn’t allowed me to think about.

Q: Do you have a routine in place daily, or is it always random how you write?

A: Yes, I definitely have a routine. I write first thing in the morning before I do anything else. The thoughts have been gestating overnight and need to come out of my brain before I do anything else. Once they are on paper (or in a computer file), I can leave them behind for a while. I own a publishing company (Eckhartz Press), host a couple of podcasts (Minutia Men, and Free Kicks), and I’m on four board of directors for not-for-profits, so when my writing is done, it’s time to do my actual day jobs.

Q: What, in your opinion, establishes someone as a “writer”? 

A: If you write, you are a writer. I don’t differentiate between people who write for print (newspapers, magazines, etc) and those who write for other media like I did. I guess I’m not a purist in that sense.

Q: What literary workshops or opportunities do you think have made you a stronger writer? 

A: The only conferences I’ve ever attended are the ones we’ve done for the CWA. I found those incredibly inspiring. There’s something about hanging out with other writers. I have found that collaborating is a great experience. Four of my books are co-written, and they wouldn’t have been nearly as good if I had written them by myself.

Q: What is your role within the Chicago Writers Association?What special projects have you worked on? 

A: My job on the CWA board is publishing our yearly writers journal. I’m the only publisher on the board, so I suppose it was an easy choice to have me handle that. I’m also very connected to the Chicago media after being a part of it for so many years, so I help make connections when we need speakers or publicity.

Q: What’s your favorite quote? 

A: It’s not from a book, it’s from a song. I’ve been saying it to my kids their whole lives. At first I said it pompously on purpose, as if I was going to dispense important wisdom, which instinctively caused them to roll their eyes. I live for their rolling eyes. That’s my fuel. But now I’ve said it so often, I’ve grown to actually consider it profound. It’s this: “Life…is a highway, and I’m going to ride it all night long,” (Tom Cochran). Sounds ridiculous I know, but think about it. Life is all about the journey. You never actually reach your destination. But if you ride it all night long, you’re going to see some incredible things. Like kids rolling their eyes.

Q: Any advice you would give to any new aspiring writer? What do you want them to know that you wish you had known when you began your journey? 

A: Write as often as you can to improve your craft. It almost doesn’t matter what you are writing. I wrote commercial copy for years and it helped me learn to economize my words.
As for ‘what,’ I didn’t know. I had no idea how difficult it was to get published. I consider it a blessing in retrospect. It allowed me to keep on writing without always thinking, “How can I sell this?” or “I’ll never sell this.”. I know myself well enough to realize I never would have finished a few of those early projects if I knew what awaited me when it came to selling them. Finishing those never sold projects taught me so much. Because of that, when opportunities arrived later in life, I was ready to pounce on them

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