“My mother recently gave me two plants (Shel and Roald) as a gift. I didn’t particularly want them, as I don’t like tending to things. But here we are. I find them to be at once demanding and frustratingly sensitive. To water them is to overwater them and not to water them is to involve yourself in a willful act of murder. You get all sorts of advice from people. Everyone is the constant gardener, and will inform you as to why that one leaf is bending this way and that, or why its edges are brown. It can all be somewhat overwhelming, so I simply do my best and follow my instincts.
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 will try to get to the point because I try to be outside always for dusk and it’s time. This is definitely the right place to say this, because you’re here, though I’m not excellent enough to really get to say it, but surely some prolific or brilliant role models of ours would agree—writing and art aren’t the be-all and end-all rewards of life. They’ve got a host of inadequacies and flaws; there’s plenty of ambivalence to be had around these pastimes, daresay careers.
“When writing becomes laborious, I have three methods for trying to work through it. First, I go for a walk, usually with my husband, who is also a writer. (Any good friend will do, particularly one who can assure you that your story is indeed interesting.) We talk about the issue I’m having and re-convince myself that whatever I’m writing will be worthwhile for someone else to read. Second, I remind myself to just write the juicy bits and forego all the boring parts. What stories do I want to tell? What can be cut? What’s most exciting? Just write those.
“When I want my writing to flow freely, I go to the water. I go to the sea. I dive deep: search coral, float, om, purify, cleanse, let go, pray, give thanks, sing to Yemaya, sing the songs of the Jejudo haenyeo, hula, and release all that does not serve me. Then I take long strolls down the shore, to the sun and back to black rocks, and dream my stories and birth new verses to songs on the walk—something in the movement and mind. Body spirit connection is untapped in flow state, I feel.
“When I was a visual artist, I would take a small sketchbook with me wherever I went and draw whatever I saw, which was often strangers in cafés. Now that my creative outlet is writing I still do this but with words, especially when my work-in-progress has stalled. I take my laptop or a notebook into a café or pub, and I sketch someone, with words. I start by describing what they’re wearing, how they’re sitting, and how they eat or drink. The ways someone eats and drinks or the clothes they wear suggests character, and how they are sitting will suggest mood.
“It seems to me that writing and reading are pretty much the same activity, maybe the inhale and the exhale of the same breath. Which is to say that, for me, I don’t do one without the other. Reading a book that enthralls me gets my mind gabbing, which makes my writing fingers itchy. If the poems start coming, I’m desperate to read, to stay immersed in a world of words. This means I consider myself equally productive when reading or writing, which takes some of the pressure off.
“When I feel like I am ‘irritably reaching after fact and reason’ and the writing turns to sludge or sand, I turn to chance operations and knowledge systems such as the I Ching and tarot to get my transmission moving. It was the I Ching that initiated my book A Thousand Times You Lose Your Treasure, providing me with meaning and message in hexagram 51, Chên / ‘shock, the arousing thunder,’ which signals disruption, loss, and chaos, themes around which I found expression.
“My bicycle’s name is Gertrude Stein, short for ‘Gertrude Stein, my personal Argot’ (because I keep needing to replace parts on it) and shortened, often, to Gertie. Perhaps that is the first thing I can recommend when you are stuck: name your bike. Develop a close personal friendship with it. The second thing I can recommend is riding it. But not just any bike ride—a bike ride with a turn you love. By my apartment in Portland, Oregon, there exists a Y intersection that isn’t very busy. It is my biggest, most delicious turn.
“When writing, I like to channel little ecstasies that fill me daily, bits of pleasure and pain I pick up from my immediate environments. But, as Niedecker’s poem ‘Laundromat’ notes, ‘After all, ecstasy / can’t be constant’—what would it be otherwise? To feel stuck, to find oneself in a lapse of intensity, inspiration, or just without the right words, can fuel necessary and powerful reflection, the casual calm before the next spin cycle.
“A benevolent seizure, this is how the writing begins for me. A seizure and a pouncing tiger—and this in the shape of a dream. To be sustained, they demand that I pay close attention. I have come to think that memories, dreams, and the creative impulse are all gifts of Eros and come from the same wellspring. When I lose my way, I ask for a dream to un-puzzle the enigma. Who am I asking? The dream itself. (Not long ago I was delighted to learn that the music of Philip Glass is also informed by dreams and, curiously, his is the only music I can listen to while writing.)