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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.

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John Reimringer

posted 11.03.10

“Place is important to my writing, and one of my best practices is to get in the car and drive. Images from those drives—a janitor in a lighted skyway at night, two cop cars in an empty parking lot, a woman dressed for the office waiting at a bus stop in Frogtown—inspire scenes and form the whole tactile underpinning of a piece. When I wanted to set part of my novel in small-town Minnesota, I got out a map, picked an area that looked like it had interesting landscape, and spent a day driving around that particular county, taking notes on what was being farmed, the kinds of trees, church architecture, area businesses, how long it took to drive from one town to another. A whole section of the book grew out of that day’s drive.”
John Reimringer, author of Vestments (Milkweed Editions, 2010)

Tina May Hall

posted 10.27.10

“When I’m stumped, I often go to the library stacks and look at old science treatises. The scientific language of the 1800s and early 1900s is so filled with longing that I start imagining stories in just a few pages. For some reason, educational films from the 1940s and 50s have the same effect on me. The Internet Archive is a great resource for these (this film on the benefits and dangers of fire is one of my favorites). Maybe it is the inherent tension of scientific discourse that enchants me—the way it navigates that strange border between empiricism and awe.”
Tina May Hall, author of The Physics of Imaginary Objects (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2010)

 

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Benjamin Percy

posted 10.20.10

“When I push weights around, I push words around. I usually hit the gym in the afternoon, and when I do, I think about the story or chapter I was working on that morning. I rewrite sentences. I realize metaphors. I excise characters, rearrange paragraphs. And sometimes I come up with what I’m going to hammer out the next morning. Maybe I’m listening to the Avett Brothers or maybe I’m listening to an audiobook, but inspiration always strikes, and when it does, I hit pause, switch over to the notepad app on my iTouch and punch out my idea.”
Benjamin Percy, author of The Wilding (Graywolf, 2010)

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Carol Moldaw

posted 10.13.10

“On a narrow strip of cork board, among news clippings and postcards, is a small vellum-colored paper square, printed by the artist Tom Ashcraft, that has inspired me for many years. It has a black circle on it, and inside that circle, curving around the diameter, are four words: ‘EXPLORE,’ ‘EXAMINE,’ ‘DISCOVER,’ and ‘REPORT.’ One of the things that appeals to me about this circle of words is that, like a wheel of fortune, you can start anywhere on the loop and keep going round, but in a way that both disciplines and frees the mind.”
Carol Moldaw, author of So Late, So Soon (Etruscan Press, 2010)

 

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Jacob Ritari

posted 10.06.10

"As a rule of comedy combining something cute with something sinister is good for a laugh, and the logic is the same as the real-life behavior—the cuter you are, the more you can get away with. I love writing bratty little girls, between the ages of six and sixteen. Only very recently some impulse from the Spiritus Mundi recalled my long-forgotten model: Rugrats, that old Nickelodeon cartoon, and the character of Angelica Pickles who holds her parents hostage by holding her breath (you’re hemorrhaging brain cells, Sweetie, you’ll never make Harvard!). And it’s immensely gratifying to know that all those hours in front of the TV set weren’t wasted."
Jacob Ritari, author of Taroko Gorge (Unbridled Books, 2010)

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Aimee Bender

posted 9.29.10

“Rules. I'm a big believer in structure, and the idea that creativity loosens up when constrained a bit. I like to set a firm time for my writing; you could make a word count limit, (250 words today and I cannot leave the computer until it is done!) or set a timer and write for thirty minutes, or make a rule that you can only write from 8 to 8:30 and you must stop at 8:30. No email. No Internet. No getting the phone. No snacks. No working on that other piece of writing that is for work and not related to your fiction/poetry/memoir. No yoga. Take an hour and just sit there and it may be so uncomfortable that something will eventually happen. I often have to sit through a lot of restlessness to get to the work, but the restlessness, in my mind, can be a clue that there's something interesting and unknown up ahead, something unfamiliar. Or as Adam Phillips, a British psychoanalyst, has said: Boredom is just the process of waiting for oneself. The rules are arbitrary but they must hold firm. I find this incredibly helpful.”
Aimee Bender, author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake (Doubleday, 2010)

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Brando Skyhorse

posted 9.22.10

“Never start writing in a bad mood—makes it too easy to quit before you get going. A former writing instructor told me, ‘No fun for the writer, no fun for the reader.’ What she meant was if you aren’t enjoying yourself while you’re writing, your readers won’t enjoy the finished work. But I take this one step further: To ensure your head's in the best place possible, do something for five minutes that puts you in a good mood. It can be listening to a song, watching a silly YouTube clip, reading a passage from a book that makes you smile in admiration (or bite your lip in envy, if that works better for you). When the five minutes are up, sit down and start writing. Of course, writing itself may put you in a good mood, but I find that feeling often comes at the end of a session, not the start of it.”
Brando Skyhorse, author of The Madonnas of Echo Park (Free Press, 2010)

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Patricia Engel

posted 9.15.10

"I've been reading the journals of Albert Camus since I was thirteen years old and his words have become my most faithful and intimate companions. I return to them during and between projects, whenever I feel I'm losing my way in my work, in my life, or when I'm simply struggling with the solitude of writing. I particularly love his early journals from 1935–1942 and his collected Youthful Writings from which I learned one of my first and favorite literary lessons: 'Art does not tolerate Reason.'"
Patricia Engel, author of Vida (Black Cat, 2010)

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Joshua Ferris

posted 9.08.10

“I take inspiration from the subtle daily forecasting of death. This should be impetus for anyone to get off his ass. Work is why we're here, and to waste an hour of any day, fretting or worrying or procrastinating, is to release into the air the odor of death. Emerson said, ‘To fill the hour—that is happiness.’ I try to fill the hour. And by filling the hour, the ones that follow come easier. Inspiration, then, is its own inspiration. But I must beware of why I work. ‘You have the right to work,’ it’s written in the Bhagavad Gita, ‘but for the work's sake only.’ And a little later: ‘Those who work selfishly for results are miserable.’ Here's inspiration, and good advice as well. And should the greatest fear come to pass, that I die in the middle of writing a novel? For that I have the comfort of Rabbi Tarphon's advice in the Saying of the Fathers: ‘It is not necessary for you to complete the work, but neither are you free to desist from it.’”
Joshua Ferris, author of The Unnamed (Arthur Books, 2010)

Jean Valentine

posted 9.01.10

"Sometimes typos can be helpful. Looking at a poem in a language you can't read, and working from the sounds. Taping poems on the wall and leaving them there for days—maybe something will come, just from looking at them, over time. Words from a dream. Within the last few months I heard: ‘Will it solve itself?' And the answer: ‘When you are gone.' I took this to mean: When the ‘I' who is trying to solve it (whatever ‘it' is) backs off."
Jean Valentine, author of Break the Glass (Copper Canyon Press, 2010)

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