“I spend ten minutes reading poetry before trying to write fiction. Poetry drags my lazy brain toward focus: on language, precision, rhythm. It’s like pushing in the clutch before I can start the engine. I also use an idea box. I scribble notes on scraps and throw them into a Payless shoebox and forget them. Most contain just a few words. If I’m stuck I pull out a few scraps and force them into a story. ‘Ms. Yamada’s Toaster,’ the first story in Hana Sasaki, came from: ‘appliance with a superpower,’ ‘Jehova’s Witnesses’ and ‘so much beer.’”
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.
“Read the news. There are some strange things happening in the world. The New York Times is a huge part of my writing process. I rip out articles; I circle phrases from the science section, the business section, and sometimes (dare I say) the book review. I recently wrote a poem that came from an article Teddy Wayne wrote about Justin Bieber.
“I have a little metal pebble with the word 'success' on it that I slip into my bra (left side) when I go to a literary event, embark on a new novel, or start a new chapter. I always forget about it and at the end of the day it clunks onto the floor as I change into my pajamas, like a bullet that didn’t kill me. I write for teenagers and what that means is I write for the teenager in all of us. On the surface I am an adult. I am married. I have two kids.
“Sometimes even returning to the favorite books doesn’t work. There’s no inspiration to be found in the pages of Hopscotch, Pale Fire, or My Loose Thread. Words just seem stifling. Reminders of what I can’t seem to do. That’s when I turn to my photography books, cracking open their oversized spines and staring at images that stare blankly back at me.
“I write fiction but I find inspiration in stray facts, mostly when I’m not looking for it. I wander in books, in magazines; I go to odd exhibits and miscellaneous lectures; I try to stay open and curious. I learned about Isaac the Jew from a book that caught my eye in some library stacks: in 801 C.E. he transported an elephant from Baghdad to the emperor Charlemagne, passing a winter in Vercelli because snow kept him from crossing the Alps. How absurd! How interesting! How lonely. He became a character in one of my favorite stories.
“When I lived in NYC, my writing ritual was to ride the city bus. My favorite was the M104, which had both an uptown and a crosstown leg. Sometimes I’d ride all the way to the end of the line and back. I loved being on a journey to nowhere, a little higher than the other cars and pedestrians, completely free of the usual to-do-list urgencies. I think it gave me a sense of timelessness. Also, it helped me see the world with a child’s eyes (when is one more purely a passenger than in childhood?).
“When the well is dry, for me, it’s usually more about attitude than inspiration or lack of inspiration. It seems to me so much of writing is about courage, writing something so raw you don’t want to say it aloud. That’s how I felt writing unmotherly thoughts in my first novel, and feel now writing about desperation in my second. The key to moving forward is breaking through whatever is holding me back, which is usually being a Good Girl, lined up in a multigenerational kick line with Good Daughter and Good Mother.
“This does not count as writing time: e-mail, Facebook, ordering another J. Crew cardigan, watching YouTube videos of that cute heavy metal band of eleven-year-old kids in New York, or anything involving cat pictures. This does count as writing time: lying on the floor of your office listening to Elliott Smith's Either/Or. Poetic, hypnotic, massively screwed-up and beautiful—this album reminds us that even with the most despairing work, creation itself is a light in the darkness. Handle with care because Either/Or stirs up the deepest kind of mojo.
“I read aloud. This can make writing anywhere besides at home nearly impossible. I envy those who write in cafés, but each time I try it myself, I only eavesdrop. Reading aloud, I become more emotionally invested in the moment I’m trying to create; I feel present in the dialogue, so I’m more likely to hear the response to something a character has said, rather than force it. I read aloud slowly and deliberately. If I have a particularly productive morning writing, I’ll often have a slightly sore throat in the afternoon from all that talking to myself.
“I grew up on New York’s derelict Lower East Side in the early ’90s when it was still a neighborhood full of dangerous beauty. Hydrants blasted jets of water into the streets in summer heat and rap music pumped from project windows. I fell in love, but was also scared by the rugged poetry of hip hop. As one of the only white, Jewish bookworms in my elementary school classes I found I could impress my classmates with poems and drawings. My father was an artist turned social worker and I learned early that art and writing was about thrilling escape.