I have found that when I am uninspired or dissatisfied with a project’s structure, the key to unlocking my brain is almost always to consume great writing by other people. If I am feeling lucky, I reach out for whatever literary fiction is sitting on my nightstand. A few pages in, my creative neurons will fire up, forcing me to pause to jot down a word or paragraph into my phone’s app for notes. Turning to the book I am currently reading can be risky, however, as I am not much of a rereader and thus rarely know the quality or substance of the passages ahead.
When I have no time to waste and need absolute certainty that I will close the book with renewed élan for my own work, I pull out Pulphead (FSG Originals, 2011) by John Jeremiah Sullivan. Although I love this collection as a whole, the opening essay titled “Upon This Rock” stands out to me for its perfect balance of humor, depth, structure, pace, and attention to syntax. It is the one essay I have returned to over the years when I want to remember what the best writing can be and do.
—Vanessa A. Bee, author of Home Bound: An Uprooted Daughter’s Reflections on Belonging (Astra House, 2022)