“I watch movies when I want to be inspired. Sometimes I watch the same movies over and over again, leaving them on as company while I’m doing other things. Other times I specifically watch them, looking for small treasures I’ve never noticed before. I love the comfort of the dialogue I know by heart, the music cues, the sounds that have become so familiar. One movie I turn to often is the 2015 film adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy.
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.
“Sometimes I wonder if what brought me to writing in the first place is the same thing that keeps me going. Last year I sat in a large barren field and called my friends because I honestly couldn’t find reason as to why I wrote anymore, I couldn’t find joy in it. I blew my nose, wiped my face, and drove away. I interviewed myself in my journal just to keep my hand moving: —Marcelo, are you okay? —It’s complicated.
“Like so many writers, the activities that once challenged and nourished me have been disrupted by the flood of chaotic daily news. Previously, I might have lifted a volume of poetry from my pile of unread books, chatted to friends about a manuscript, or attended a reading—and I would have been revived. While these kinds of engagements do still inspire, they often don’t provide the same charge they once did. What does revitalize me most now is the solitude of a natural space, a garden or a trail.
“If I am too in sync with the present, I can’t write. Or I can write, but I don’t want to, because too great an affinity with the present, of events currently happening, makes me queasy. This isn’t to valorize the past in any way; it’s just an objection to belonging too much to the assumptions of the now. I try to remedy this with strategic alienation. Physical exhaustion helps; I’ll walk twenty miles just to feel a different sort of rhythm, or clean something obsessively.
“One irony of being a writer is that we work alone, but the purpose of our medium—language itself—is communication. The word communication shares a common ancestor, of course, with common, which took on a snooty connotation in the late 1500s, but has always meant ‘belonging to a group.’ To communicate then is to offer up one’s thoughts to the collective. Solitary, on the other hand (from the Old French soul, meaning ‘only’), is about a hundred years newer than common and its relatives.
“I am inspired to keep writing during times of inertia or busyness by remembering that writing is a way not just to talk back to, but to co-create the world. When I don’t write for a long period of time, my powers of observation might be heightened (as I’m typically reading or watching or listening to more art and media when not writing), but I find myself slightly more quiescent—more willing or able to accept the status quo, or moan about social ills while feeling powerless to ameliorate them. Many activities return me to this space of co-creation—of acceptance of my vocation, too.
“It’s hardest for me to write when I’m too worn out by the day-to-day to slow down and sense where I am in the world. When I’m not writing it’s usually because I’m not listening deeply to what’s happening in and around me. I’ve found a practice that gives me back to my imagination: I return to images, songs, or texts that still unsettle me in some valuable way. They hone in on issues always just beneath the surface of my mind: the complications of masculinity, Americanness (whatever that is!), sexuality, empathy, vulnerability, memory.
“During the week I am busy with my day job as a computer engineer, my children and family. I strive to live a low-drama life with a healthy routine. I don’t drink and rarely go out at night. I don’t even speak much. I live an ascetic life in order to bottle up my emotions for my writing. When it’s time for my creative endeavor, mostly on the weekends, I go to the cave. It is just my desk behind a closed door, but it’s the place where I permit myself to be a writer. I have a nice meal with my family first and ask if anyone needs me.
“In the year leading up to the publication of my debut novel, Everything Here Is Beautiful, I decided to create an archive of ‘beautiful, wondrous, and amazing things,’ posting one item a day on my Facebook page for 365 consecutive days.
“I am not looking, usually, for inspiration. I am looking for an ambulance. I’m looking for a sturdy ladder. I’m looking for something that will make a good sentence seem possible. I read my Janes, Hirshfield and Kenyon, because they know what the dark at the end of the tunnel looks like. I hit my music very hard: Fats Domino, Cécile McLorin Salvant, Dinah Washington, Regina Carter, The Hot Sardines, Esperanza Spalding. I put on my baggiest jeans and my daughter’s coffee-stained Smith College T-shirt and I cook like a meteor is heading to Earth and only food can stop it.