“I have an almost religious belief that nonfiction is built from careful observation, which reveals that almost anything—from the tree outside the window, to a horrible sandwich, to a devastating life event—has some kind of meaningful system, or structure, to it. Sometimes that structure is defined by entropy, or resembles a Greek play, or is purely Freudian in nature. I feel like I have remarkable things happening to me all of the time, probably because I’m always looking at everything so carefully and analyzing its structure.
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.
“By 10 AM I’ve been writing for a few hours, and my mind’s muddled with sentences, so I go jogging. Like most people, I don’t enjoy exercising, and I welcome anything that distracts me from the fact that I’m breathing hard and my muscles hurt. I don’t think about individual sentences, but more the overall shape of the text I’m making. I don’t think about the hill looming ahead, and how much it will suck running up it. I think about my character, and how I’m going to get him where he needs to be.
“I reread constantly for inspiration. Seek: Reports From the Edges of America and Beyond by Denis Johnson stokes my curiosity. Lidia Yuknavitch’s The Chronology of Water reminds me to own my fierceness, to conjure it onto the page. I also look for synchronicities and act on them in my writing and in my life. The car radio becomes an oracle: What is this song asking me to write today? I consult my astrological chart or notebooks I organize according to particular themes such as loss, terrorism, and archetypes, among others.
“When I’m stuck or feeling unmotivated, I turn to the drawers near my writing desk. They contain notes from past English classes and old spiral-bound journals. Reading the passionate scribbles of the student I used to be reminds me of the hunger that drove me to literature and writing in the first place. Sometimes, I also pull out an old paperback and revisit my notes in the margins, the underlines I made, the stars I jotted down, and the dog-eared pages. These stories belonged to me as well as the authors. I’m reminded that when we write, we don’t write for ourselves.
“I have a good old-fashioned muse—a brilliant friend who finds me music. His taste is exquisite and he takes the time to discover unknown artists, or rare, forgotten albums from long ago. I’m always hitting him up for new stuff and it’s never disappointing. Sometimes he sends a choppy track sung by two kids in Kenya.
“I sit down in front of my computer with my first cup of coffee before I’m fully awake. I hope that something exciting will come out of these liminal moments before I’m aware of the expectancy and stress of writing. The moment I hit a roadblock, I take a shower. I want to move as far away from my computer as possible so I don’t over-think the problem I’ve encountered and undermine the joy of writing so early in my day. I stay in the shower longer than is necessary, shocking my body into awareness, and calming my mind with the knowledge that I’m not forcing it to work at the moment.
“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.
“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.