Sally Wen Mao Recommends...

“Every writer’s universe is a museum—there’s a permanent collection of concerns and obsessions and themes, then there are temporary rotating exhibitions, and then there are inventories of objects and curiosities that the writer has yet to employ. I led a writing exercise once where students listed the themes that pervade their work (their ‘permanent collection’), some present fixations or obsessions (their ‘rotating exhibitions’), and future topics they were interested in (their ‘inventory’). The students researched one image or obsession from their ‘inventory’ and used that list of facts as a jumping-off point for a poem. Instantly they began discovering new things about their subjects and drawing connections that perhaps they hadn’t noticed before.

Reading for research is fundamental. There are so many things in this world that we don’t know, that we can learn more about. You can start with an object you use: What is its history? The story of its invention? How did it evolve over time? Going down the research rabbit hole has never disappointed me because it provides so much raw material for potential projects. One of the biggest pleasures of being a writer is that process of becoming engrossed in a subject, harboring that inquisitive curiosity.”
—Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019)