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Writers Recommend

In this online exclusive we ask authors to share books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired them in their writing. We see this as a place for writers to turn to for ideas that will help feed their creative process.

Nina McConigley

posted 8.27.13

“Years ago when I was traveling in India, I found a junk shop in Cochin that was filled with random things. In one corner were stacks and stacks of old photographs from a photography studio that had long since closed. There were photos of families posed stiffly in their best clothes, brides and grooms with grim expressions, and photos of children—so many children. Many of them were posing in the odd sets of the photography studio—an oversized paper moon, a large cut-out boat. I bought several photographs and keep them near me when I write. I always wonder what the story is behind each photo; who were these people? Even in thrift stores here in the United States, I always buy old photos. It seems sad that they have been abandoned, and I find the faces of the unknown a good talisman for writing characters I sometimes find equally unknowable.”
—Nina McConigley, author of Cowboys and East Indians (FiveChapters Books, 2013)

Sandra Beasley

posted 8.19.13

“I had an unfettered year to work on my memoir. No excuses. Terrifying. So I watched bad TV and learned six new ways to cook chicken. My house was spotless; my chapters unwritten. Classical music saved me—Erik Satie by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, Yo-Yo Ma’s Bach cello suites, and the Schubert Ensemble of London’s beautiful piano quintets by Ernő Dohnányi. Each became an hourglass, pacing drafting sessions. I listened over and over. Months later, behind on major edits, I realized I’d forgotten the music. I cued up Satie’s Gnossiennes and, in a scene worthy of Pavlov, finally got back to work.”
—Sandra Beasley, author of Don't Kill the Birthday Girl (Crown, 2011)

Kelly Luce

posted 8.14.13

“I spend ten minutes reading poetry before trying to write fiction. Poetry drags my lazy brain toward focus: on language, precision, rhythm. It’s like pushing in the clutch before I can start the engine. I also use an idea box. I scribble notes on scraps and throw them into a Payless shoebox and forget them. Most contain just a few words. If I’m stuck I pull out a few scraps and force them into a story. ‘Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,’ the first story in Hana Sasaki, came from: ‘appliance with a superpower,’ ‘Jehova’s Witnesses’ and ‘so much beer.’”
—Kelly Luce, author of Three Scenarios in Which Hana Sasaki Grows a Tail (A Strange Object, 2013)

Leah Umansky

posted 8.07.13

“Read the news. There are some strange things happening in the world. The New York Times is a huge part of my writing process. I rip out articles; I circle phrases from the science section, the business section, and sometimes (dare I say) the book review. I recently wrote a poem that came from an article Teddy Wayne wrote about Justin Bieber.

“Steal. Steal from the writers you like and the writers you don’t. Share their vocabulary and syntax. It’s good to shake up your nouns and verbs. (All poets steal.) Many of my poems have been appropriated from other writers like: T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Nabokov, and Rebecca Solnit.

“Join a workshop. It doesn’t matter if they are informal, or formal. Being around other writers, and getting feedback, is the best fuel to spark your creative process.”
—Leah Umansky, author of Domestic Uncertainties (BlazeVOX, 2013)

Arlaina Tibensky

posted 7.31.13

“I have a little metal pebble with the word 'success' on it that I slip into my bra (left side) when I go to a literary event, embark on a new novel, or start a new chapter. I always forget about it and at the end of the day it clunks onto the floor as I change into my pajamas, like a bullet that didn’t kill me. I write for teenagers and what that means is I write for the teenager in all of us. On the surface I am an adult. I am married. I have two kids. I have bills and difficult parents and the number 11 wrinkled between my eyes but underneath all that the sixteen-year-old romantic smartass in me always has something to say. I think of her as my true self, my best voice and I access her through music from my post-punk youth, lots of coffee, and fearless passionate remembering.”
—Arlaina Tibensky, author of And Then Things Fall Apart (Simon Pulse, 2011)

Jeff Jackson

posted 7.24.13

 “Sometimes even returning to the favorite books doesn’t work. There’s no inspiration to be found in the pages of Hopscotch, Pale Fire, or My Loose Thread. Words just seem stifling. Reminders of what I can’t seem to do. That’s when I turn to my photography books, cracking open their oversized spines and staring at images that stare blankly back at me. Something happens the longer I look at the static ghostly fashion photographs of Deborah Turbeville, the shadow-swallowed teenagers of Bill Henson, the colorful coke bottles, shower tiles, and oven interiors of William Eggleston. Shards of narrative rise to the surface. Gestures begin to suggest movement and character. It’s a world awaiting syllables that haven’t already been soiled.”
Jeff Jackson, author of Mira Corpora (Two Dollar Radio, 2013) 

Rachel Cantor

posted 7.17.13

“I write fiction but I find inspiration in stray facts, mostly when I’m not looking for it. I wander in books, in magazines; I go to odd exhibits and miscellaneous lectures; I try to stay open and curious. I learned about Isaac the Jew from a book that caught my eye in some library stacks: in 801 C.E. he transported an elephant from Baghdad to the emperor Charlemagne, passing a winter in Vercelli because snow kept him from crossing the Alps. How absurd! How interesting! How lonely. He became a character in one of my favorite stories. I learned about the unreadable Voynich manuscript in my alumni magazine (!)—how cool is that, an unreadable manuscript? The Voynich became a major element in my forthcoming novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario. I file these oddities in my brain or in a notebook, where they amuse me even if I don’t end up using them.”
—Rachel Cantor, author of A Highly Unlikely Scenario, or a Neetsa-Pizza Employee’s Guide to Saving the World (Melville House, 2014)

Alethea Black

posted 7.10.13

“When I lived in NYC, my writing ritual was to ride the city bus. My favorite was the M104, which had both an uptown and a crosstown leg. Sometimes I’d ride all the way to the end of the line and back. I loved being on a journey to nowhere, a little higher than the other cars and pedestrians, completely free of the usual to-do-list urgencies. I think it gave me a sense of timelessness. Also, it helped me see the world with a child’s eyes (when is one more purely a passenger than in childhood?). I pay a lot of attention to beauty and musicality when I write, but I also like plot—stories where something actually happens—and I think I borrowed energy from the act of moving through space. It was funny, though, because I enjoyed it so much that sometimes I’d be out with people, see a bus go by, and think: “I want to be on it.” Now that I’ve moved upstate, writing in a moving car isn’t as easy (or as cheap), but my ever-present tape recorder helps. I also escape pedestrian life with Smith Magazine and their wonderful six-word stories—the narrative equivalent of the world flashing by your bus window—where I’ve placed my own six-word memoir of the writing life: ‘Turned my struggle into my song.’”
—Alethea Black, author of I Knew You'd Be Lovely (Broadway Books, 2011)

Nichole Bernier

posted 7.03.13

“When the well is dry, for me, it’s usually more about attitude than inspiration or lack of inspiration. It seems to me so much of writing is about courage, writing something so raw you don’t want to say it aloud. That’s how I felt writing unmotherly thoughts in my first novel, and feel now writing about desperation in my second. The key to moving forward is breaking through whatever is holding me back, which is usually being a Good Girl, lined up in a multigenerational kick line with Good Daughter and Good Mother. I need to remind myself that being the mother of five in the suburbs might mean being responsible and routinized in a million small ways, but it doesn’t have to define me to the core. The antidote is being a badass in some small way, like sitting up on our pitched roof at night, or listening to “Jane Says” in the elementary-school car line. I have three leather bracelets, black and grey bands that wind around my right forearm, and when I put them on it feels like channeling superpowers. It’s important to find a small way to go off the reservation, even in the car line. Especially in the car line.”
—Nichole Bernier, author of The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. (Crown, 2012)

Jillian Lauren

posted 6.26.13

“This does not count as writing time: e-mail, Facebook, ordering another J. Crew cardigan, watching YouTube videos of that cute heavy metal band of eleven-year-old kids in New York, or anything involving cat pictures. This does count as writing time: lying on the floor of your office listening to Elliott Smith's Either/Or. Poetic, hypnotic, massively screwed-up and beautiful—this album reminds us that even with the most despairing work, creation itself is a light in the darkness. Handle with care because Either/Or stirs up the deepest kind of mojo. I never listen to it when I'm actually writing, because I find the lyrics distracting. For a soundtrack, I prefer Phillip Glass's Etudes for Piano. Try it. Wear your glasses. You'll feel smart!”
—Jillian Lauren, author of Pretty (Plume, 2011)

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