“I think the greatest thing we have at our disposal to write are our eyes and ears. Vanessa Hua has written in this series about writing against the clock and I think that kind of desperation and urgency can propel you toward creation. I do almost all of my writing on my commute because I like being in the in-between—you can pick up so much.
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 think of visual artifacts as prompts and as talismans. My book, House A, is a hybrid book—the third section consists of image-text poems entitled ‘How to Build an American Home’—but even in relation to other parts of the book I noticed that I was keeping collections of images close to my writing process. How might a multimodal engagement enrich our work both directly and indirectly? My personal collection of images and photographs for this book: houses with A-shaped roofs, geometric figures, and maps/diagrams/blueprints.
“Two things have transformed my productivity. The first: I made a writer friend! Specifically, one who actually wanted to meet up with me two or three times a week and write. Margaret Wappler (whose gorgeous novel, Neon Green, published by Unnamed Press, also came out this year!) and I met at the Tin House Writers Workshop and once we returned to Los Angeles, we began pulling out our laptops at various coffee shops, bars, and restaurants across town. Having a compatriot in the mucky struggle of getting a novel onto the page was invaluable to me.
“’Yes, every man is Noah, but on closer inspection, he is Noah in a strange way, and his mission consists less in saving everything from the flood than, on the contrary, in plunging all things into a deeper flood where they disappear…’ I came across this sentence while reading an essay by Maurice Blanchot. It startled me, its meaning seeming provocatively just beyond my typical means of apprehension, yet just near enough to teasingly, even tauntingly, demand I follow its trajectories.
“I’ve always had a difficult time talking about writing. I’ve never really been able to say the phrase ‘my writing’ without feeling not only self-conscious but also a little bit ridiculous. A lot ridiculous. Even though I do, technically, teach creative writing (and I enjoy it because for me teaching creative writing is teaching literature, and I can never get enough literature) I’ve always had very little advice to give when it comes to how to actually sit down and do this.
“Intimidation works for me. Not when I’m stuck in the sense of needing to work out a specific problem in a story, but when the quality or ambition of my work has hit a plateau. Nothing pushes me past that like the intimidation factor of doing a workshop with a writer (whether an instructor or fellow student) whose work I really admire or who is known for excellent taste. The first passable story I ever wrote was in a class with the late Hubert Selby Jr. Up until that point, my graduate work in fiction had been pretty appalling; I was skating by on a few decent poems.
“This is weird, but I have a somewhat athletic approach to writing. I start my days off meditating, take a few minutes to gather myself after that, eat some breakfast and drink some coffee, and then I put on my headphones and listen to music that gets me sort of fired up, like I’m about to play basketball or something. It’s usually faster stuff, usually something that shares DNA with the punk, indie, and rap stuff I grew up listening to. For my book it was a lot of stuff by the band Beach Slang, also the Weakerthans, Lil Yachty, Kanye’s ‘Ultralight Beam,’ and Jeff Rosenstock.
“We all write against the clock: before we have to get to our day jobs, before the sitter leaves, before we have to pick up our children from school. For me, my hours of power are in the morning and late afternoon (the latter a habit formed by working on deadline at daily newspapers), and I reserve that time for the writing most important to me, be it my novel, an essay, or something else.
“In any form, there are many different people making work, and there are an infinite number of ways to go about doing it. What matters, it seems, is having a method, identifying it, and making it work for you. For me, that’s often: moving between projects, delay, dreamy delay, a burst of writing, discouragement, the drawer, delay, pulling it out, then consistent effort and repeating many of the steps above.