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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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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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Glenn Taylor

posted 8.25.10

“As Jerome Washington wrote, 'The blues is our antidote.’ So I listen. Blues doctors like Neal Pattman inspire something in a writer’s blood. Anyone who can play harmonica like he can, with one arm no less, will get me going. And inevitably my sons will hear 'Momma Whoopin’ Blues’ and start asking questions. I show them the CD cover and they ask more questions and I explain how he lost his arm in a wagon wheel accident as a boy and they ask even more questions. Our give-and-take reveals my sons to be beautifully strange, loving, and profound little fellows, even if they are six years old and younger. The blues is my antidote. The mind of a child is everything else.”
Glenn Taylor, author of The Marrowbone Marble Company (Ecco, 2010)

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Travis Nichols

posted 8.18.10

"To get my mind ready for writing, I try to sit quietly and stare at nothing for ten minutes. It clears away the Salt-n-Pepa lyrics and staircase wit that have been clogging up the channels. After the silence, if I'm at a critical juncture, I then listen to records from Sublime Frequencies—a label specializing in a kind of post-field recording ethnomusicology—and try to transcribe what I hear. This doesn't often result in work for the ages, but it's a good reminder that the best writing comes from outside."
Travis Nichols, author of Off We Go Into the Wild Blue Yonder (Coffee House Press, 2010)

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Sonia Sanchez

posted 8.11.10

“José Martí wrote, ‘In the world there must be certain degrees of honor just as there must be certain degrees of light. When there are many men without honor, there are always others who bear in themselves the honor of many men.’ What inspires me are the men and women who bear in themselves the ‘honor’ of survival—men like the brothers I taught at Graterford Prison, reconnoitering their lives after having fought in Vietnam; young mothers dragging their children around corners of fatigue at the end of the day, looking neither left nor right. What inspires me is how we make one another see ourselves as we rise up to tell our stories. And survive. What inspires me, I guess, are women—from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, the Middle East, Europe, America. So listen to our talk, walk, accents, smiles, silences, songs.”
Sonia Sanchez, author of Morning Haiku (Beacon Press, 2010)

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