“When I get stuck on a project or between things, my first reaction is to grumble around the house and act like the world has come to an end. Once I’m through that stage, I return to this ever-evolving list of ‘books that matter to me,’ which I keep on a torn notebook page tacked above my desk: Pedro Páramo, the Grimm’s tales, My Ántonia, The Leopard, Darkmans, Sula, By Night in Chile, another dozen or so. I feel like everyone has a list like this, whether they’ve written it down or not. Just knowing what styles and authorial choices and story worlds really matter to you personally can help get you focused and motivated again.
One of my favorite books of all time is Virginia Tufte’s Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style. It’s helpful for writers in any genre, but I’ve noticed that when I’m really stuck, just looking at and thinking about sentences gets me back to writing. It should really be required reading for writers—sort of like learning about color and line if you’re a painter. But I lean heavily on poetry and biography as well when I’m stuck. There’s something about the way poets reduce things to their absolute particulars, and the way biographers weave the whole sweep of a life, that often gets me back into the pattern of writing every day, or as often as I can.”
—Brian Castleberry, author of Nine Shiny Objects (Custom House, 2020)