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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 loved that moment at the 2008 Oscars when Glen Hansard closed his acceptance speech with this exhortation to the world: ‘Make art. Make art.' As a writer, I try to ‘make art,' but all too often the twenty-first century's ubiquitous, on-demand distractions interfere and keep me from getting to that place where I can apply a fierce commitment and single-minded focus to the act of creation. When I need a reminder of how essential such commitment and focus are to the creation of a miraculous work of art, I reread Jack Gilbert's The Great Fires, or I listen to Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, or to anything recorded by Joy Division in 1979 or 1980. Then I pick up the pen again and try to make art."
—Dan Albergotti, author of The Boatloads (BOA Editions, 2008)
"I need to feel invested in life to write. So I dance to music that compels life into my body: any from the old hippie Broadway musicals—Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair—any Latin ballroom or belly dance, any Jay-Z, Madonna, Run-DMC, George Michael, Black Eyed Peas and I'm at ‘Boom Boom Pow' with life.
"Being at uninhibited physical ease with the universe creates space in me for the rich interiorities people cart around as they move, in their own ways, in the variously hospitable worlds of our making. If the story is stuck, I let it be and begin something else; the given day is too precious to squander on battling the occasionally intransigent fictions of my mind. Eventually, it becomes possible to return. The trail separation gives us both new perspectives; if the differences are irreconcilable, there's always divorce. Not everything I write must be seen and read, nor every story told."
—Ru Freeman, A Disobedient Girl (Atria Books, 2009)
"The first and most visible source of inspiration for my poems is other poems. A less voluble influence is abstract art. I like seeing if I can hear the visual voice in the colored grids of Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly; in the subtle pink math of Agnes Martin; in the reflective sapphire of an Anish Kapoor floor sculpture; in the regimented presentation of red, yellow, and blue in a horizontal Donald Judd progression. I admire the treatment of Scotch tape by Tara Donovan and Tom Friedman. I look to David Hammons for whimsy and bite; to Ellen Gallagher, Jackson Pollock, and Arshile Gorky for mark making; to Ed Ruscha and Jenny Holzer for making poems when they make art."
—Sally Van Doren, author of Sex at Noon Taxes (Louisiana State University Press, 2008)
"To break from the heavy lifting of writing moderately vulgar dark comedies, first I will turn to Rimbaud's Une Saison en enfer for some light reading. Then I will wander outside to see if there are any important public gatherings. If there are no gatherings, I return to the house and head downstairs to the basement where I will spend a few minutes adding to my bottle cap collage of the Nuremberg Trial. For lunch, I boil one egg and eat it on dry bread. This is a crucial moment in the writing day, for it is now that I remember the jar of orange marmalade in the refrigerator. If I forgo the marmalade, I will immediately return to my desk, put away the Rimbaud and continue writing the moderately vulgar dark comedy. If I give into the marmalade, I will not only not return to the comedy, I will not write another sentence all day; rather I will drift between a greedy ecstasy and a brooding malaise, dreaming of utopian countries in the shape of rectangles—unless, of course, the mail comes—"
—Jessica Anthony, author of The Convalescent (McSweeney's Books, 2009)
"If you're writing a book that no one is waiting for, buy the debut album of an indie band—not the latest darlings, but an underappreciated act—a band like Pittsburgh's Meeting of Important People.
"Listen to the album for its details—a cutting lyric, a defiant high harmony. Let the songs' characters mingle with your own. Keep in mind that few people were waiting for this album while it was being made. But the band made it anyway and, somehow, you found it. Then sit down to write—and believe that, when it's finished, your work, too, will be found."
—Dave Reidy, author of Captive Audience (Ig Publishing, 2009)
"The best advice I ever got about writing was from Stephen King's memoir, On Writing, in which he talks about the writer's need to be ‘willing' to shut the door on the world for a few hours a day. He suggests writing one thousand to two thousand words a day, without editing or planning ahead.
"Similarly, some of my students who've had trouble finishing a book or a story because they keep second-guessing every word they write, swear by the Web application Write or Die, which ‘encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing.' I'm told it's stressful, but I've seen great results in terms of productivity."
—Gina B. Nahai, author of Caspian Rain (MacAdam/Cage, 2007)
"Lately I've been listening to Homer's Odyssey on CD. Listening to classics on CDs is a part of my yoga practice. Because I am taking in this material while concentrating on breathing and physical effort—and also because I'm listening rather than reading—my mind seems to move into a right-brain, nonanalytic state. This piques my creativity, while it also hones my focus and mental reflexes for the long term, much as meditation does. Some yoga friends would argue that concentrating on an audio reading while practicing postures is the yogic equivalent of multitasking, that it undermines rather than cultivates focus. But for me it's a unique way to immerse myself in the world of story while turning off the self-criticizing, over-thinking part of my brain."
—Elizabeth Kadetsky, author of First There Is a Mountain (Little, Brown, 2004)
"(1) Most important, I recommend patience—which I have to remind myself of all the time. So often, I get excited about a poem in progress and start to spin my wheels, which I do for a week or two until it's time to set the poem aside. Then, sometimes months later, I find a new angle or approach and the poem begins to move again.
"Incidentally, the same is true for reading. How often did I read a brilliant writer and think I disliked his/her work when I just wasn't ready for it?
"(2) I like to look at historical photographs of places I know intimately—cities and towns I've
lived in, etcetera. I think it's good for writing to imagine the present moment as just the pinhole in a camera—all that past beyond it, like the boundless world flooding in and through the tiny lens of one's moment.
"Not a bad way to think about one's own writing in the context of literature, either."
—Wayne Miller, author of The Book of Props (Milkweed Editions, 2009)
"Storytellers inspire me. I listen intently then let my imagination take over. Characters need to be fully rendered in my head before they make it into any story. I try to read new writers, but there are a few books I return to again and again. When I want to analyze ways to portray dysfunctional family bonds and relationships, I revisit Alice Munro's Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Pablo Neruda's The Book of Questions is full of delightful inspiration. And I've read Junot Díaz's Drown and Sandra Cisneros's Caramelo several times and always come away sated and in awe of their characters."
—Cecilia Rodríguez Milanés, author of Marielitos, Balseros and Other Exiles (Ig Publishing, 2009)
"I'm teaching a class this term on Dirty Realism, the fiction movement that may or may not have existed twenty or thirty years ago, and my own syllabus has brought me to Jayne Anne Phillips's Black Tickets, an amazing collection of short fiction that pushes hard against the boundaries of what I've typically understood stories to be. Phillips's writing is visceral and shockingly alive; no doubt many readers out there know how incredible a writer she is, but for me, her work is new, and does what all good fiction does: It makes me want to learn more."
—Patrick Somerville, author of The Cradle (Little, Brown, 2009)