“It can be hard to show up to a long-term project on a difficult topic. Who wants to dive into grief and mourning and loss every day for years? To experience grief and write about it is to exist in two cities—one in which you actually live and the other in which your previous life exists and your dead are still alive. Writing can sometimes feel like floating somewhere between these two spaces without being able to materialize either landscape fully.
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 the past decade, a relationship formed between my living and my writing. Over the years, I questioned and tested this relationship—for its reality and then its boundaries. For example, right now, I am stuck in my writing. Whether it’s poetry, translation, or prose, the next words won’t come, and if I try to force the words, the doom will grow with ferocity. It’s not that I’m stuck in my writing; I am stuck somewhere in my living. Then I do what I fear doing.
“When I’m stuck writing fiction, I sometimes take a walk through my neighborhood—the Garvanza section of Highland Park in Los Angeles. I’ve lived here for more than thirteen years. What inspires me? Kids having birthday parties, adults playing baseball, and a ranchera band performing in the park across the street. The slope at the edge of the parking lot of the Korean church, where teenagers make videos of each other doing high-flying skateboard tricks. The man and woman who set up a grill in their front yard and make carne asada tacos, which they sell to passersby. Ice cream trucks.
“My problem isn’t writer’s block—it’s writer’s doubt. I sit down but I often doubt that I can finish what’s in front of me. So, I’m not a writer who typically experiences dry spells—a block, for me, is an overwhelming number of pages and little idea which direction to go in. If I feel overwhelmed, I listen to William Basinski’s ‘dlp 1.1’ from The Disintegration Loops, the 2012 reissued box set released by Temporary Residence.
“For a jolt of creative energy I often leave my small apartment in Harlem and ride the subway to an area of New York City I have not previously visited. Some days I find a spot to take in an expansive vista—a long canyon of buildings in Midtown Manhattan, the wide East River running toward one of the ancient bridges. In Brooklyn, I might study a piece of outdoor art or the weathered front of a two-story clapboard house.
“To me, the way millennial distractibility has been cast as inattentiveness is unfair. Distractibility gives me access to experiences I wouldn’t have without the internet, and these varied experiences make up the foundation of my writing. Being distractible allows me to encounter things that I wouldn’t with a higher attention.
“I’m a software developer by trade. When I become stuck in my novel writing, and it’s something that has become less frequent over the years, I find myself turning to a developer trick to get things going again. In my case the issue is almost always that I’m trying to tackle something—a conflict, a character motivation, a shift of emotional state in the story—that is simply too large and knotty. It’s as if my intellect is a small snake working at swallowing an ostrich egg; try as it might, it just can’t quite get it down.
“I listen to Bach’s Goldberg Variations when I am making something new. I listen to his toccatas when I am revising and refining. (The recordings by pianist Glenn Gould have always helped me keep my energy and attention steady.) If there’s a momentary slowdown, a glass of water and the chance to do something with my hands can be a valuable distraction. That may mean folding a load of laundry or washing a few of the dishes in the sink.
“I’ve heard the arguments against writing in public, and I’m compelled by them: There’s no real way to concentrate in a library or café, people tell me, and maybe they’re right. Sometimes the distractions are pleasant ones (the other day, a conversation about a Marlon James novel I listened to on the walk over to the café). Sometimes the distractions are unpleasant ones (the arrival of the afternoon-shift barista, whose iPod never fails to sour my mood). Either way, it’s hard to get much done.
“Usually when I decide to write a poem, I immediately begin a fight with myself over whether I actually have something to say. This argument can often turn into a capitulation of my creative self to my practical self, resulting in my opening up my checkbook, changing the cat litter, emptying the dishwasher, or simply filling my day with the tasks of a so-called productive life. If I still feel tugged by a desire to write but can only allocate a few minutes, I turn to punctuation.