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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.

Sarah Bruni

posted 6.19.13

“I read aloud. This can make writing anywhere besides at home nearly impossible. I envy those who write in cafés, but each time I try it myself, I only eavesdrop. Reading aloud, I become more emotionally invested in the moment I’m trying to create; I feel present in the dialogue, so I’m more likely to hear the response to something a character has said, rather than force it. I read aloud slowly and deliberately. If I have a particularly productive morning writing, I’ll often have a slightly sore throat in the afternoon from all that talking to myself. When hearing fragments from something I’m working on doesn’t help guide me, I read aloud the work of writers I admire—Raymond Carver, Lorrie Moore, Italo Calvino, George Saunders, Roberto Bolaño, Joan Didion—writers whose language offers a kind of borrowed rhythm to embrace and articulate for a while. And when that doesn’t work, I go for a walk, a run, a bike ride—some outside activity, preferably in the sun and surrounded by the movement of other people, and I try again the next day.”
—Sarah Bruni, author of The Night Gwen Stacy Died (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013)

Royal Young

posted 6.12.13

“I grew up on New York’s derelict Lower East Side in the early ’90s when it was still a neighborhood full of dangerous beauty. Hydrants blasted jets of water into the streets in summer heat and rap music pumped from project windows. I fell in love, but was also scared by the rugged poetry of hip hop. As one of the only white, Jewish bookworms in my elementary school classes I found I could impress my classmates with poems and drawings. My father was an artist turned social worker and I learned early that art and writing was about thrilling escape. Memories of cars blasting bass-heavy beats into the wild downtown nights never left me. Those violently longing, lounging, laughing lyrics about making your own luck the hard way infused my early short stories. Rap like Mobb Deep, Nas and 50 Cent still inspires me. The hustle, intensity, and ferocity of these New York ghetto heroes who have made their lives into myths are constant reminders to me to take no prisoners with my words.”
—Royal Young, author of Fame Shark (Heliotrope Books, 2013)

Jessica Francis Kane

posted 6.05.13

“I recommend writing in libraries, and I highly recommend changing the table, reading room, and even library you’re working in often. Change of venue is a powerful and perhaps under-appreciated creative force. I don’t know why it should be this way, but if I’m stuck on a project I find that if I pick myself up and work somewhere new, the words begin to flow again. I’ll work in one place for a long time—for two years I worked on the 8th floor of Bobst Library overlooking Washington Square Park; I finished and edited my first novel there. I loved that space and knew everything about its moods and shifts of light during those years. But now that room is entirely associated with my novel and I’m much happier these days on the first floor near the reference desk, or in a different place all together. I read once that John Updike had a room for writing fiction and a different room for writing nonfiction. I suppose what I do is a version of that, but I don’t have enough space in my apartment. I make due with public spaces and whether it is the different walk to get there or the different people I see and overhear along the way, I find the change of venue always refreshes and inspires me.”
—Jessica Francis Kane, author of This Close (Graywolf Press, 2013)

Fiona Maazel

posted 5.29.13

“I don’t actually look for inspiration. I look for ways to recoup the joy of writing when that joy is lost to me. Whenever I find myself stuck or just without any ideas, it’s because I seem to have forgotten how incredibly fun it is to mess around with words. So to remind myself, I read. But not just anything. I have to read fiction that is exuberant—not in content but style. Writers who howl on the page so loudly, you can hear them for miles. Barry Hannah and Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor and Angela Carter. Jose Saramago and Denis Johnson. Cormac McCarthy. Faulkner. Joy Williams. Annie Proulx and Nicholson Baker. Writers whose work feels alive and fresh and a little nuts, so that before long, I'll start to feel more alive, too. Alive to possibility, which is generally when I start typing.”
—Fiona Maazel, author of Woke Up Lonely (Graywolf Press, 2013)

Rich Ferguson

posted 5.22.13

“Prominently displayed on my writing desk is an index card on which I’ve written a quote by my dear friend, and boss at the Nervous Breakdown, Brad Listi. Some years ago, when I was at a creative low point—allowing the criticism of others to question my abilities as a writer—Brad told me: “Refuse to be denied or broken.” I often return to those words. They remind me that to be a poet or writer is not a passive act. Every day we must break through walls of self-doubt and denial. Stand our ground. Let our voices be heard. Not so much to challenge the caustic critics, but to tell a damn good story, write a heart-seizing poem. And in the process, perhaps battle and tame a few of our demons along the way.”
—Rich Ferguson, author of 8th & Agony (Punk Hostage Press, 2013)

Leigh Newman

posted 5.15.13

“I’m pretty much a workhorse. I write everyday whether I’m inspired or not. Getting started is never the problem; it’s getting finished. When I get stuck mid story or essay (a regular occurrence), I put on my running shoes and head out. I’m a terrible runner—awkward, slow, and sweaty. But I run my guts out, as fast as I can for a far as I can. During this very labored experience, I picture something from childhood: My dad used to practice bow and arrow in the backyard. He felt I had to know how to do this too, so I spent a not insignificant amount of Alaskan summer evenings trying to manage a compound bow sufficiently enough to hit a bullseye nailed to a bale of hay by the shed. As I run and run, that old childhood arrow shuttles though my mind and hits the target with a satisfying thunk. I have no idea what this daydream/memory does or what it cleans out, but usually when I come back to the story or essay, I have some idea that will permit me to avoid the boring, embarrassing path I was about to take before leaving the desk.”
—Leigh Newman, author of Still Points North (Dial Press, 2013)

Amy Shearn

posted 5.08.13

“The other day I saw a headline that suggested climate change meant the end of coffee, and I had to close my laptop and do some deep breathing. Coffee! Each morning my kids vie to scoop grinds into my Melita filter cone. This is not about civic duty, this is about survival. I write at my local coffee shop, where the coffee is Stumptown and the children can’t find me. After two (or THREE!) cups my brain is clear and alert and focused and brimming with ideas. But if a coffee famine is indeed imminent, I will have to find another profession. Or, possibly, sleep more.”
—Amy Shearn, author of The Mermaid of Brooklyn (Touchstone, 2013)

Cherryl Floyd-Miller

posted 5.01.13

“I once had a blind friend ask me to close my eyes and describe a restaurant for him. I tried descriptions from memory, using only my sense of sight. With my eyes closed, though, I could describe fork metal scraping against teeth, crunching paper napkins and snippets of conversation in the room. I realized my entire life has a soundtrack with layers of sound. It's the same as when I see any Romare Bearden collage or witness the building tensions at a dinner table. Everything—poem, story, character, conflict, silence—has its own sound. You sometimes have to close your eyes to hear it. Then write to get it out of your head.”
—Cherryl Floyd-Miller, author of Exquisite Heats (Salt Publishing, 2008)

Sean Ferrell

posted 4.24.13

“Write toward your fear. That memory or worry or idea buried inside, that truth about you that you hope no one discovers. The thing you wish you could forget about yourself. Write directly to that. Repression, sublimation, fear, denial. These are creative energies, but they feed only cruel creations: Writer’s block, thin writing, clichéd ideas, and self-criticism. Hiding your painful truth is a wall without mortar. It takes work to maintain. Hold the stones in place, it might not fall. But good luck, and don’t forget to worry worry worry. That effort saps all others. Let the wall go. Rush at the painful secret, write toward it, then through it. Rein the energy, direct it, feed yourself. Your work will show the vigor of it, and the revelation of the secret pain will turn into something better than simply a story. It will become acceptance and salvation.”
—Sean Ferrell, author of Man in the Empty Suit (Soho Press, 2013)

Jessica Grose

posted 4.17.13

“Whenever I’m in a rut, there are a few women writers whose voices I return to: Lorrie Moore and Anne Lamott come to mind first, but I know there are others. It doesn’t matter if it’s fiction or nonfiction, the tone must be wry and honest, which in turn (hopefully) inspires me to be wry and honest. I find I am sharpest in the first two hours of the early morning after a strong cup of coffee. If I’m writing fiction and I’ve found myself in a plot cul-de-sac, the only way for me to get out of it is to go for a longish run outside. The treadmill just doesn’t cut it.”
—Jessica Grose
, author of Sad Desk Salad (William Morrow, 2012)

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