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Magazine » 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.
"I find it easier to follow form to content than content to form
(forgive the false dilemma), which means I depend on discovering an
essential rather than an accidental relationship between the two:
a form that can only sustain that content, and a content that could
only be articulated in that form. So I find inspiration in works that
manifest just such an essential relationship. My paradigm for this for
years has been Jan Zwicky’s Lyric Philosophy. My most recent sighting
of it has been in Dan Beachy-Quick’s A Whaler’s Dictionary."
—H. L. Hix, author of Legible Heavens (Etruscan Press, 2008)
"Something that has energized me lately is this great new site called HTMLgiant.com. They call it 'the internet literature magazine blog of the future,' and I've decided that joking or not, I think they're right. They cover a broad range of what's happening in the indie lit world with an enthusiasm that you would be hard put to find elsewhere. The contributors regularly take to the mat in the comments section, with down-and-dirty brawls of the highest literary order. This is a blog that makes me want to read/write/tear down a few walls."
—Zach Plague, author of Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring Boring (Featherproof Books, August 2008)
"Baffled by my obsession with writing about objects both in poetry and fiction, I discovered The Tears of Things: Melancholy and Physical Objects by Peter Schwenger. Why, I’ve wondered, are objects so tantalizing, collectable, and mysterious, and why do such objects define and unnerve me. This book analyzes poetry, fiction, paintings; it begins with Emily Dickinson; it addresses the way that one’s inability to possess an object gives rise to melancholy. The book has introduced me to a stronger sense of how things invested with memories stand for all that is lost, a stronger sense of my inevitable return to this subject."
—Martha Ronk, author of Glass Grapes and Other Stories (BOA Editions, 2008)
"When I despair about my work, I dig out a book that I discovered years ago in college: Brenda Ueland’s If You Want to Write. Her essays explain how creativity in any form—writing, planting a garden, starting a business—is crucial for leading a good life. The book is anti-critic and anti-publishing world and this is what I like about it. Not because I don’t want to impress the critics (I do), but because Ueland writes so eloquently about what happens at the core—that scary moment when the author is alone at her desk with only a blank page before her."
—Rishi Reddi, author of Karma and Other Stories (Ecco, 2007)
"Go to a museum. Not to find ideas or to seek inspiration from what hangs on the walls, rather to be in a place that’s purpose is for responding to art and artistic thought. The arts, in general, have become more and more marginalized; their value measured by commodity (especially writing, given its obsession with 'publishable'). In the gallery, your relationship to the work is its vision, energy, technique, and, of course, its aesthetic—not its commercial promise. Go to a museum. Breathe in a place that’s only reason for being is art. Then go home. Then make art."
—Adam Braver, author of November 22, 1963 (Tin House Books, 2008)
"When I’m stuck in a poem it usually means my engagement with the subject is lacking intensity, and instead of fully entering the material, I feel like I’m at the doorway tentatively knocking in that lazy way we do when we don’t actually want to be admitted. One piece of writing that can reliably revive me from this state is the title essay in Guy Davenport’s Geography of the Imagination. In the grand finale of this short essay, Davenport looks at Grant Wood’s painting, American Gothic. But here looking is the most active, most adrenalized, most divine activity possible. With an inspired X-ray gaze that feels downright otherworldly, an uncanny reading emerges. Looking passes into seeing, and the figure of the writer is restored to that of seer. Davenport’s fans are passionate, and yet I think too few. I wish more poets would read him!"
—Robyn Schiff, author of Revolver (University of Iowa Press, 2008)
"When I get stuck, I walk to the cemetery and sit by the grave of Polexenia Velicu, on the seat where I wrote my first chapters of The Great Inland Sea. Or I lie in the grass beneath the cypress tree with Grandma Caroline Hidden, as if I’m a sole surviving relative. I dream around my story, meditate on characters, wait. If I get nothing, I move to the headstones of others I've adopted, Mabel Silent or Bessie Slaughter.… Annie Dillard said writing a book is like sitting up with a dying friend: You 'hold its hand and hope it gets better.' For me, I visit the already dead with pencil in hand. I feel the earth and get humble, hope that words might come."
—David Francis, author of Stray Dog Winter (MacAdam/Cage, 2008)
"When reading Bruno Schulz’s The Street of Crocodiles, I get the sense that a very short movie lives inside each sentence. Whether focused on a wall or a person, his sentences contain a whirlwind of movement that culminates in a mini visual narrative, confirming that in Schulz’s world, there is no such thing as an inanimate object. Everything has life, because he breathes life into every thing by using surprising verbs and cinematic metaphors. Nearly empty of plot, the book is fueled by the power of his language alone, which reminds me that if I focus on writing the best sentence, the rest will follow."
—Nami Mun, author of Miles from Nowhere (forthcoming from Riverhead Books in January 2009)
"Theodore Weesner's 1987 novel The True Detective is a book I go back to again and again. The story of a child abduction, seen through the eyes of those closest to the case, it's got the velocity and compulsion of a thriller and the depth and compassion of a great literary novel. Weesner's brilliant at moving from one character's point of view to another's while keeping the action moving. It's been out of print for years now, and every time I see a copy of it in a used bookstore, I buy it to give to someone else."
—Stewart O’Nan, author of Songs for the Missing (Viking, 2008)
"When I’m at my most creative, I call it being 'sticky,' and almost anything at all can help enrich the work. I’ve found a really simple, effective source of inspiration is to just go outside. I’ll settle into a big, old Adirondack chair in the backyard and try to enter my senses as fully as I can as I work. Writers spend their lives holed up at desks, so the 'surprise' of nature can be intensely vivid. Sometimes the details of sky, trees, stone will work their way into my narratives, sometimes they don’t, but the process always helps to move my writing forward."
—Diana Abu-Jaber, author of Origin (Norton, 2007)