Michelle Kuo Recommends...

“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.

This is what I do: I consider taking a walk but then climb back into bed. I read a poem (in bed), memorize a couple of lines (still in bed), and drift off feeling bad. After days or weeks of arising at X but failing to finish by Z, the reason I feel bad dawns on me: I’ve become attached to an idol—one must write every day!—and forgotten myself. I take stock again, this time of myself. I stop insisting on awaking at X. I try to remember the right things to worship. I notice birds and call old friends. I give up the idea that writing is special and good. No—people are. I think about the loved ones I have let down. ‘Writing is an act of contrition,’ a poet friend said to me. And when I feel I understand what he means, I come back to the page.”
—Michelle Kuo, author of Reading With Patrick: A Teacher, a Student, and a Life-Changing Friendship (Random House, 2017)