“Once upon a time, I had no habit for writing, and I waited to feel like writing. Recalling the advice of my college psych professor, I decided to invent an association to teach myself to feel like writing. I settled on sound, because I am a stickler for total psychological privacy. At first it was a fan; now, I use the free White Noise Lite app on my iPhone.
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.
“Film is very different from fiction—I’m always reminding my graduate students of this—but every so often a movie comes along that captures with full force what you’re trying to do as a novelist. Kenneth Lonergan’s You Can Count on Me is just such a movie. Quiet and character-driven, it made me want to sit down and write when I first saw it twelve years ago, and it still does that to me.
“There are two visual artists, diametrically opposed in their intent, who I look to for inspiration. First is the photographer Gregory Crewdson. His extravagantly staged photos are mysterious and dark and often suggest relationships or the very recent loss of relationships. Crewdson, the son of a psychiatrist, has said in an interview that his work is driven by a need to imagine and understand what his father was talking to patients about in his basement office.
“Lately, I have been drawing much of the inspiration for my poems from my reading of psychological case studies. I’m speaking mostly about textbooks and other source material that contain actual dialogue between patient and therapist. Some examples from my current reading are Danny Wedding’s ‘Case Studies in Psychotherapy,’ Oltmanns’s ‘Case Studies in Abnormal Psychology,’ and Freud’s ‘The Wolfman and Other Cases.’ Besides being utterly fascinating, they give me a deep insight into the mind of some everyday and not so everyday people.
“For years, I’ve found inspiration by going to museums by myself. Going solo is key. When I’m with other people I’m always wondering whether they’re having a good time, and whether I’m lingering too long in a gallery. One of the first poems I ever published was inspired by seeing Gustav Klimt’s portrait of Mäda Primavesi at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, when I was nineteen and nearly friendless in New York City.
“I write while I run; music and my pounding feet lull me into a self-hypnosis, allowing my mind to wander and compose on its own. A good running route is scenic enough to inspire but not distract, and the music has to fit your mental labors. For The Long Walk, I listened to a lot of jangly ’60s rock (The Doors, Creedence Clearwater Revival) and their modern equivalents (The Black Angels). The prep before the run is just as important: coffee, breakfast, and a truly good book the night before.
“It is my wife’s good graces that allow me to do this work at all, since my writing time saddles her with parenting our five boys. So when I do write—and in a good week I write every day—I want to make sure the writing comes easy.
“Any story I’m working on begins with a mood—a tone, an atmosphere for the story to grow out of—and that mood, for me, is always informed by music. So, very early on, I settle on a soundtrack.
“The thing that inspires me in my writing is chatting with my friends about family relationships. I’ve relished many conversations, over time, with two filmmaker friends: Kim Longinotto and Clio Barnard.
“I draw a lot of inspiration from visual art. One of the early and ongoing inspirations for me is a painter (and happily, a friend) named Michael Brophy whose ironic yet romantic images of western clear-cuts, slash piles, stumps, and domesticated forest scapes opened a whole new way of seeing my own backyard (the Northwest).