“Plot does not come naturally to me. Instead of staring at a blank page hoping for inspiration, I take a long walk and dictate to myself using my phone’s recording app. I pose a single question like: In this scene, how does character A anger character B? Then I talk to myself. My monologue is far from eloquent and includes a lot of hemming and hawing (‘How about.…’ ‘This is just terrible.’ ‘Oh, okay, this makes sense.’). Dictation lowers the stakes because I’m not committing my thoughts to paper yet.
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.
“The world is often too much with us in all its tumultuous glories and calamities. Its whirling, tumbling, and churning can lay waste to our cognitive energies. The only way for me to still and organize the inner chaos is through my journal, which I’ve maintained since my early teens. Like many, I read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl and, though my middle-class existence in 1980s Bombay was nothing like hers, I embraced the journal form like a long-lost friend. We’ve been inseparable since, despite dalliances with personal blogs and ever-present social media.
“The transition to new work after I complete a story or book is the tricky place for me, the liminal space in which I am no longer inside what I just finished, but am not yet inside whatever is on the horizon. I am closing a door and walking away, even as the path to the next work stretches ahead with no definition. That borderland is filled with promise, but also with unease. I leave my completed work spent, filled with doubts about what might come next. But I am not there yet. I am simply moving between. Nothing needs to be defined. I have come to love that scary in-between place.
“Poetry is my way of paying attention. Attention as a form of relational and intellectual rigor, attention as a political action. I’m practicing to trust my body’s signals. When the stuckness comes, I try to turn that attention back inward: What does the block feel like, and why is it there? What is it protecting me from? What is the risk in writing what I think I want to write, and what does my fear tell me about my responsibility as a writer? If I don’t know how to move through the stuckness, it might be because I’m not ready.
“The rituals of being read to, cooking, and showing up for my writing group are go-to cures for writer’s block—which I view as a form of avoidance. Within ritual lies variation and range. I love listening to audio books—especially novels and nonfiction—while chopping vegetables for a sauce or stew. As a kid, I luckily had many teachers and librarians who read to me. This was back in the day when we elementary school students legit felt giddy to be read to—even the so-called troublemakers!
“When I get stuck, I presume that my body is telling me to take a break. When I push myself, I end up hating everything to do with reading or writing. This is permission to put everything away and have fun; isn’t it? To replenish the mind, I hit the nightclubs and dance myself dizzy. I eat out, go to cinemas at ten in the morning on weekdays, I go shopping, and sometimes I jump on the train from Manchester to Edinburgh just to stare at the hills and sheep in the countryside. I spend hours at the swimming pool, sauna, and steam room. The beauty of my writer’s block is the absence of guilt.
“At times, I do believe the idea of writer’s block to be a mythological nuisance, because for me a good book will unblock any block I have if it is able to inspire thought and dialogue between myself and the author, or the larger world. Yet, I do admit, there are times when I need more of a muse, and so during these times, I usually visit my garden in the backyard to become an observer, a listener, and a caretaker for the sake of my [self]. My garden is a muse of creativity.
“When I’m writing but can’t quite put my finger on what I’m after, I often turn to a visual artist whose commitments and practices resonate with my own art—a kind of guiding light, someone whose work is different in clear ways from mine but who nevertheless asks similar questions. This can be a way of filling the creative tank, but also a way to remind myself of the experience I’m trying to create when otherwise lost in the weeds.
“My advice to anyone suffering from writer’s block is, ‘don’t write.’ It may sound perverse, but that’s how I manage to survive those dry spells that afflict us all; it’s often difficult enough to make it through the day’s news cycle without the added ordeal of hammering away at your laptop only to delete everything as it’s written. Better to read, ideally something as far away as possible—stylistically, thematically, historically—from what you’re trying to write yourself.
“In the words of Depeche Mode: Enjoy the silence. Seek out John Cage’s 4’33’’. Or maybe read “Not Writing” by Anne Boyer. Daily, we are inundated with language, content, noise. I don’t always want to join the chorus. But, if the silence is too much (sometimes it is), and if I feel there is something unnameable holding me back, something I would prefer to name, then I try to meet my frustration and consider the conditions of my speechlessness, an aversion to words.