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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.


Belle Boggs

posted 1.04.11

“I have a small loft in my house where I write; I like being up high with my laptop and a few books. For me, reading is the best way to get excited about writing, but I love to read so much that it has to be something I’ve read before, or something very short, or else I’ll spend all my working time reading instead of writing. Just rereading part of a favorite story can make me feel desperate to write.

“When I can’t make it to my loft because I’m working or because life gets in the way, I’ll think of the end of Tillie Olsen’s “I Stand Here Ironing.” Not the stunning last lines but the dates—1953–1954—marking the start and completion of that story, the first she ever published (in 1955, at the age of forty-three). Or I’ll remember Edward P. Jones’s matter-of-fact description of the ten years in which The Known World lived only in his head while he worked at Tax Notes. Thinking about the struggles of my favorite writers is comforting, giving me permission to struggle a little in my own life and with my work. But then I’ll reread their work, and the desire to write will be just as urgent.”
Belle Boggs, author of Mattaponi Queen (Graywolf Press, 2010)


Shane Jones

posted 12.22.10

"Listen to rap music. There's a certain level of surprise, bright color, loudness, and just plain fun in artists like DOOM (who I mostly listen to, and used to get me going on my last book) that can bleed into your writing in interesting and creative ways. I also think rap culture can be inspiring. I have the word DOLLAS written on a pink piece of paper above my desk to remind me to keep working."
Shane Jones, author of Light Boxes (Penguin, 2010)


Maureen N. McLane

posted 12.15.10

"Music has infiltrated my writing in all manner of ways—most recently I’ve drawn on the ballad tradition (“Lamkin” Child No. 93, and “The Three Ravens” Child Ballad No. 26), troubadour songs (Guillaume de Machaut’s “Douce Dame”), and German lieder. Something about the
rhythms of refrains, their returns with a difference, has proven to be a powerful resource for thinking about memory, repetition, and transformation. Perhaps this is linked with other rhythmic practices I find incredibly mind-clearing and mind-focusing—walking and swimming. Wordsworth and Coleridge composed many of their poems while walking; I find a steady stride really does move the mind along, and the work-in-progress forward."
Maureen N. McLane, author of World Enough (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010)


E. C. Osondu

posted 12.08.10

“I didn’t look forward to the long trek in the sun to my grandfather’s farm which was at least a two mile walk. We typically started out early with the dew still fresh on the leaves. On reaching the farm we dropped off a few things in the farm hut and then off we went to work. Each person had an apportioned area to weed. The sun shining, relentless, an occasional breeze soothing. Someone would start a song, a work song. Another would take it up. The song would fade…work, work, work. Meanwhile Grandfather had disappeared. And then about midday the call from Grandpa. We made haste to the farm hut. Spread out before us was a feast of roasted yams, roasted plantains, vegetable sauce, boiled corn, pears, paw-paw, and clean, sweet water from the stream. Food had never tasted so good. I inspire myself to write by setting up a reward for myself. After the drudgery of writing, something to look forward to, some delight awaiting me at the end of my labors.”
E. C. Osondu, author of Voice of America (Harper, 2010)


Frank X. Gaspar

posted 12.01.10

“I can consider many things that fill me up with writing—my sense of place and personal history, the uncountable wonderful books that have come before me, the love of language and all its sounds—but in the end I simply come to the act itself, to working. I am in love with the work. I work mostly in a small, skylit studio, messy with paper and books. I work on the keyboard and in notebooks, large and tiny. I work in the long hours of the night, when I am alone and it’s quiet, drinking immoderate amounts of coffee and guarded from the shadows by a loyal and somewhat feral cat. I never have to worry about subject or inspiration because I love the labor for itself. It is meditative and redemptive and brings forth what is best in me, and it is its own inimitable, unparalleled reward.”
Frank X. Gaspar, author of Stealing Fatima (Counterpoint, 2009)


Sarah Gridley

posted 11.17.10

“I read recently that if you were to add up the combined lengths of rootlets and root hairs of a single rye plant, the resulting length could stretch almost from the North to the South Pole (The Secret Life of Plants by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird). No wonder whiskey is so intoxicating: It tastes of something deeper than anything we could snatch out of the air. The rye head is the realization of a vastly coordinated underground system, not some rootless gift from the ether. I am not recommending whiskey as liquid muse. I am recommending a prizing of the chthonic, as opposed to the transcendent imagination.”
Sarah Gridley, author of Green is the Orator (University of California Press, 2010)


Michelle Hoover

posted 11.10.10

“What inspires me? Running. Because there’s nothing like having nothing except your own two feet, the sight of some far off point, and a hard breath to keep you going. That’s what writing a novel is like for me—that far off point. When the going is good, the time it takes to get from one place to the next vanishes and you know you’ve gone somewhere. It’s a sweaty slog, but I often wonder why people race to that finish line when they aren’t ready to cross it. Just keep an even pace and enjoy the jog.”
Michelle Hoover, author of The Quickening (Other Press, 2010)


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)



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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