“My pre-husband tells me that I am an obsessive person. He is right. When faced with a problem, I will stare at it until it goes away. I will actively try to fix the problem. Planning our wedding, for instance. Not a problem but a growing disaster. Similarly, if I am stuck on a story, a page, a line, I will sit there until I get it right. What helps me most with writing is sheer persistence and also reading writers I admire, wish I could sound like, can’t sound like, fail to mimic, and in that failure I start sounding like myself.
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.
“In secondary school, one of my literature teachers would ask us to attribute lines from a play to the right characters. So, I prepared for exams by revising plays only after I’d covered each character’s name with a tiny piece of paper. My goal was to figure out who said what by paying closer attention to the speech patterns, and I soon discovered that how something was said could reveal as much about the speaker as the words themselves.
“When my son was a toddler, he loved to eat apples while roaming the house. I would find mushy cores stashed in the den toy bin, behind the sofa, in the toolbox or laundry hamper; everywhere but the trash can! One morning, while I was putting away a stack of clothing in my bedroom that had been piled on a chair for far too long, I stuck my hand under a silk ribbon sweater I’d just knit. I loved the feel of the basket weave pattern’s soft, bumpy waves. Except now, the soft bumps were suspiciously moist and squishy.
“Nothing is as alarming to me as being unable to write. Since it feels like such an unlikely, magical offering to begin with, the prospect of its departure is a troubling one. To jolt myself out of those writerly impasses, I like to write something I know will never be read: an obituary for an imaginary person; a dating profile for my eighteen-year-old self; a poem about Lisa Frank stationery.
“It took four years to write my first novel, and during that time, I learned to cook. This was not a coincidence. Before, my eating habits involved anything I could remove from the freezer and nuke in the microwave. Hot Pockets, mostly. My culinary skills were lacking, but like writing, cooking is a craft that requires more dedication than inspiration.
“To write is to have rituals and then break them. Resolve, for instance, to arise at X hour, arrive at desk within Y minutes, drink coffee only in the round blue mug with the thumb handle. At Z hour, stop. Repeat the next morning. In this world, discipline and superstition are the writer’s friends. But at some gloomy moment, mid-ritual, one takes stock. The poem, the chapter, the manuscript—still not right. Dull. Overwrought. Superfluous.
“I recently took adult swimming lessons. I can’t swim, I can’t even tread water, but I knew I had to get over myself and try to learn. I’ve also been trying to write a little bit every single night, and it’s very much the same. That blank page is there waiting for me to jump in, to sink or swim. I end up flailing about and not knowing what I’m doing. But I trust it’s all part of the process. I trust that with enough work and practice, I will be able to do what I need to do. Some fear is necessary to get to new places.”
“We all know that we are supposed to read the greats in order to become great. But who has the time? During the day, I toggle between writing and being constantly distracted from writing: via e-mails, texts, or Twitter. I find it nearly impossible to stop in the middle of the day and pick up a book. I’m never fully present—the pull to get back to the task at hand (or, frankly, to my phone) is too strong. So, as a bona fide night owl, I do my best, most productive reading late at night. After 11:30 PM, I put my phone on airplane mode for the night and dig in.
“I love writing that allows for many things to happen at once—writing that involves multiple collisions of multiplying constellations while a cruise ship full of handsome hearts comes pounding through. So, my recommendation is to (re)watch The Magic School Bus and then watch the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, keeping in mind and heart that Lily Tomlin is the voice of Ms. Frizzle. And that the full name of Ms. Frizzle’s iconic pet lizard, Liz, is Elizabeth Savannah Frizzle. One day I will write about all of this, but maybe you’ll beat me to it.
“I draw my greatest inspiration from my dreams. If we are lucky enough to recover the workings of our mind during the night, then we know that without much effort, we naturally create the most elaborate stories (in rapid succession, no less) while asleep. Though dreams do not always translate easily on the page in a work of fiction, often there is a single vision, either distressing or gorgeously otherworldly, from which I tease out a scene.