“I am writing a serialized novel in the form of a Korean drama right now. If you aren’t familiar with them, Korean dramas are sort of all the rage in Asia. They’re melodramatic. They’re romantic. They have end points and clear arcs. When they are working well, they’re like watching sixteen-hour movies. Sometimes, I feel as if they are the perfect length to adapt a novel. I am doing the opposite. I am writing a book that will appear in sixteen episodes, twice per week, on the schedule these shows usually run, with illustrations.
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.
“Each of my novels has been unlocked by a song. Early on in the first draft I’ll hear a song—often one I’ve already known for a while—and there’ll be a sort of clicking into place, a physical sensation, and just like that I’ll have a much deeper understanding of a character or of the book as a whole. For The Revolution of Every Day it was “Stevie Nix” by The Hold Steady. For my new one, it’s “This Tornado Loves You” by Neko Case. I love that, the way art feeds art. A conversation, all of us in it together.”
“German composer Hauschka, a.k.a Volker Bertelmann, is a practitioner of the ‘prepared piano,’ a technique where the player places objects on the strings of the piano so as to alter the sound. Hauschka will wrap the piano hammers in aluminum foil, for example, or attach binder clips to certain strings. For some performances, he tops the strings with ping-pong balls, which pop and bounce within the hollow of the piano.
“I have lots of writing rituals, but the most important time for me is late at night, when I have no business being up. Night is when the children are asleep and only insomniacs are sending e-mails. I turn on Self-Control, so I can’t compulsively check e-mail, and I listen to electronic music. Every Boards of Canada album has been a backdrop to every book I’ve ever written, but I also really like the IDM channel on Pandora. Burial or Disclsoure on Spotify—music drowns out the crazy voices in my head that try and derail me.
“I’ll sometimes sit at my writing table and watch the trees outside—the play of sunlight and shade in their leaves. It instantly takes me back. Back to afternoons as a kid, walking home from school down a leafy street. Back to the half-year I spent in the Oregon woods in my twenties. And somehow that momentary plunge into memory puts me in touch with the mystery that compels me to write in the first place. I feel ready. Receptive. What words do I want to send tumbling down through the years like sunlight in a red maple?”
“I’ve had numerous writing rituals over the years. They’ve tended to change as my life circumstances have changed, but they always revolve around two key ingredients: silence and geography. I cannot hear my own voice when my mind is cluttered, and what constitutes clutter could fill a small book. It includes, at its most basic, people, dogs, telephones, televisions, construction equipment, sirens, and the Internet (by which I mean the whole mind-numbing-soul-sucking-time-wasting thing).
“When I’m stuck, I paint or I draw. Or I cook. Or I garden—or I redecorate a room. I get away from words, but not away from creativity. It’s a way to keep those energies moving and alive, without the particular worries about content that writing can carry. And also, because none of those activities are my profession, they help me relocate the playfulness and pleasure that disappear when I feel creatively anxious or empty.
“Nothing helps my writing, or makes me want to write, more than driving alone on lonely roads. That’s when I turn up the music—radio, scanning the stations for the surprise of what might get played. Something about this combination, the driving, the music, the landscape, feels generative. I’m currently working on my second nonfiction book and I’m pretty sure it started in the car, Howard Jones singing ‘No One Is to Blame,’ bringing me back, like it or not, to the sorrows of seventh grade.
“When I need to reach that pool of possibility within, I get something cold to drink and sit next to an open window—no matter the season. Listening to instrumental acid jazz from the late 60s and 70s gets me in a good zone—Freddie Hubbard’s Red Clay Suite, Herbie Hancock’s Maiden Voyage, Pharaoh Sanders, and many others (I can’t listen to singers or vocalists because I surrender to their soaring).
“‘If you don’t stir your soul with a stick every day, you’ll freeze solid.’ Rutger Kopland, the Dutch poet, uses this sentence from Gerrit Krol as an epigraph to one of his books. I often read poems as my chosen stick in preparing to write: usually poems from earlier generations, or poems in translation or from other languages and historical periods. I want quiet voices and the perspective of distance, avoiding the flash-bang of current poetics and contending fashions.