“The rituals of being read to, cooking, and showing up for my writing group are go-to cures for writer’s block—which I view as a form of avoidance. Within ritual lies variation and range. I love listening to audio books—especially novels and nonfiction—while chopping vegetables for a sauce or stew. As a kid, I luckily had many teachers and librarians who read to me. This was back in the day when we elementary school students legit felt giddy to be read to—even the so-called troublemakers!
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.
“When I get stuck, I presume that my body is telling me to take a break. When I push myself, I end up hating everything to do with reading or writing. This is permission to put everything away and have fun; isn’t it? To replenish the mind, I hit the nightclubs and dance myself dizzy. I eat out, go to cinemas at ten in the morning on weekdays, I go shopping, and sometimes I jump on the train from Manchester to Edinburgh just to stare at the hills and sheep in the countryside. I spend hours at the swimming pool, sauna, and steam room. The beauty of my writer’s block is the absence of guilt.
“At times, I do believe the idea of writer’s block to be a mythological nuisance, because for me a good book will unblock any block I have if it is able to inspire thought and dialogue between myself and the author, or the larger world. Yet, I do admit, there are times when I need more of a muse, and so during these times, I usually visit my garden in the backyard to become an observer, a listener, and a caretaker for the sake of my [self]. My garden is a muse of creativity.
“When I’m writing but can’t quite put my finger on what I’m after, I often turn to a visual artist whose commitments and practices resonate with my own art—a kind of guiding light, someone whose work is different in clear ways from mine but who nevertheless asks similar questions. This can be a way of filling the creative tank, but also a way to remind myself of the experience I’m trying to create when otherwise lost in the weeds.
“My advice to anyone suffering from writer’s block is, ‘don’t write.’ It may sound perverse, but that’s how I manage to survive those dry spells that afflict us all; it’s often difficult enough to make it through the day’s news cycle without the added ordeal of hammering away at your laptop only to delete everything as it’s written. Better to read, ideally something as far away as possible—stylistically, thematically, historically—from what you’re trying to write yourself.
“In the words of Depeche Mode: Enjoy the silence. Seek out John Cage’s 4’33’’. Or maybe read “Not Writing” by Anne Boyer. Daily, we are inundated with language, content, noise. I don’t always want to join the chorus. But, if the silence is too much (sometimes it is), and if I feel there is something unnameable holding me back, something I would prefer to name, then I try to meet my frustration and consider the conditions of my speechlessness, an aversion to words.
“Our present moment is in turmoil. It’s understandable that I have felt frozen in place, unable to take action, to set my mind in order. What act of creation should I pursue; what matters most to me, to humanity?
“Many things inspire me to write or help to get me out of a non-writing funk. Some are obvious, like reading other writers, especially poets, to get me re-excited about language and wanting to put down words. Some are less obvious, like sadness. I’m not sure I can recommend sadness as motivation, and I don’t imagine it would work for everyone, but I’ve found that I’m most prolific when I’m in an emotionally heavy place. I don’t mean rock-bottom sadness, because when that happens, even reading can feel like pulling myself uphill.
“I am often asked, who are you reading? Although I make a habit of walking around with books when I am working on a poem, I use the writers more as company, carrying them like an ‘in case of emergency’ policy so I don’t ever feel stuck. This makes it difficult to provide an answer that would satisfy one’s curiosity about my sources of inspiration. It’s also a difficult question to answer because the ‘who’ is often not another writer.
“When I get stuck while writing, I change my surroundings. If I’ve been working at the pine kitchen table for a few weeks, I’ll switch to writing on my bed. If I’ve been working on the bed, I’ll migrate to the office. Changing the view from the watercolor on the bedroom wall to the quote ‘Never a Day Without a Line’ (attributed to Horace on the sign, but to others elsewhere) tacked up in my office triggers a new set of associations in my mind. So, too, does reorienting myself toward or away from a window.