“Since childhood, I wanted to become a writer but was warned against it, so I abandoned my dream. I wasn’t able to return to that dream until I was thirty-three, therefore writing is sacred to me. I set aside time each day to write, regardless of how busy I am. To avoid getting stuck, I work on several projects simultaneously: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translation. If the door to the English language is closed, I open it with my Vietnamese key by writing a scene in Vietnamese, then translating it into English.
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.
“I write in bursts, but when the epiphanic mechanism doesn’t trigger, I write letters. Writing and receiving letters puts me into a holy space. It feels like stepping into that small patch of cathedral light when that beam of light is maybe the only thing you believe in. The reverence I associate with letter writing is also about slow time. I write letters in moments of emotional or linguistic paralysis, or when I’m bored with myself and hate the formula of my insight.
“When my motivation to write wanes, I listen to Stefan Rudnicki read George R. R. Martin’s story ‘The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.’ It’s a high fantasy short story about a world-hopping warrioress and a melancholy minstrel. In only 7,300 words this story manages to create an intriguing mythos, but only in brief glimpses that feel designed to invite the reader to daydream—to speculate about the impossible.
“On most days I am up to run the dogs by six o’clock, so by eleven in the morning when I know for sure there are no new words for the page, I head out to the gym. In the men’s locker room I quickly slip on my bathing suit facing a corner locker, shielding the parts of myself that others might question. My phone is in the locker, there’s a laptop at home, and this trans body, my body, is here at the gym with my restless mind. The pool is posh, like the fitness center that holds it.
“There is and has always been significant talk and essaying about writing that halts as a result of overwork or child-rearing, yet I feel that there’s a lapse in this conversation around the issue of not-writing that happens as a result of heartbreak, or anticipated heartbreak. In heartbreak, I seek the immediate gratification of socializing more than in nearly any other period of living, yet my extroversion remains at a low stasis.
“One of the most important pieces of busywork that I do as a poet is to keep a running anthology of my favorite poems. I have an actual manila folder where I gather these poems, and it contains, at any given time, up to a hundred poems. It’s vital to me to have a hard copy of each poem, even if I own the poet’s book. In this way, at any moment I can sit with the folder and leaf through the poems. The collection in the manila folder feels like an ongoing representation of my poetic affections.
“When I hit a wall in my writing, my first impulse is to try bashing my way through. I hunch and grit my teeth and commence an endless cycle of writing very laboriously, then cross out everything I’ve written and start anew. This is my initial tendency when I encounter most problems: I worry and waste a lot of time and energy trying to fix them, even if they can’t be solved right then and there, even if the situation is out of my hands.
“When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds.
“I walk along the beach and look at the sea. I call a friend. I take a train journey and sit by the window. I drink a small glass of red wine. I go to the cinema. I ride my bike fast, so that my hair streams out behind me. I cry. I read Eimear McBride. I make soup. I listen to Nick Cave. I go swimming. I sit in the sun with my eyes closed. I wash dishes. I read Jenny Offill. I write in my journal. I dance to Northern Soul. I drink coffee. I have a long, hot shower. I read Hannah Sullivan poems. I call my mother. I take photographs of different textures of light. I make a shopping list.
“It can be hard to show up to a long-term project on a difficult topic. Who wants to dive into grief and mourning and loss every day for years? To experience grief and write about it is to exist in two cities—one in which you actually live and the other in which your previous life exists and your dead are still alive. Writing can sometimes feel like floating somewhere between these two spaces without being able to materialize either landscape fully.