“Notes—on Post-its, index cards, scraps of paper—have saved me as a writer. Because they fade so fast, I’ve made a habit of writing down fragments of memory that arise or images or phrases, sometimes just isolated words. Then I put them in folders, see what belongs together with what, find out where those fragments lead, and build very slowly to an essay or poem. I’ve learned to use writing as an act of discovery, and such small notes are for me the fundamental source.”
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.
“Make a tiny book! At least once a year I write something quickly, in one day—a list poem or found-text piece—arrange it in sections, print, cut, stack the pages, staple, and make a handful of copies. I give one away immediately. It's not about showcasing my writing; it is about the playfulness of ungroomed surfaces and the intimacy of a gift.
“I am inspired to write because for many, many years, while living in solitary confinement, writing was my only means of communication. In the world outside of prison, when we are feeling isolated or alone, we might reach for the phone to talk to someone, or reach for the refrigerator door and eat something. Living at San Quentin State Prison on death row, I reach for my pen. The pen is a form of therapy, meditation, and reflection.”
—Jarvis Jay Masters, author of That Bird Has My Wings: The Autobiography of an Innocent Man on Death Row (HarperOne, 2009)
“I’m an American. My husband is from Ireland. We adopted our daughter from Vietnam. We live in Shanghai, China. During the past four years, I’ve traveled to India, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, France, Ireland, Italy, China, and, of course, the United States. Every time I land in a new country, a new city, I get this crazy buzz...this itch...this urge to see, see, see...watch, watch, watch...listen, listen, listen...and then write, write, write.
“Have lucky things. It doesn't matter what they are. I bought a green cardigan sweater for a quarter at a thrift store in Bennington, Vermont, and wore it nearly every day through the writing of my first three novels, until it was in tatters. Even then I kept it in my closet and wore the tatters for selected moments as I wrote the next book or two.
“I try—and I fail all the time as I am very idea oriented—to leave my desk and take a walk or a drive and just look at the world more closely,
“I’ve been inspired by a whole host of music and writing, as is evident especially in my short stories.
“I take notes all the time—when I watch a movie, when I listen to a talk, when I ride on the subway or sit in a waiting room. I write down things I see, things I hear, things I think. None of it has to cohere at the time but I keep it all in a small notebook and occasionally I look there and some of what I’ve written will cluster and suggest a direction. The park bench, Washington oysters, Vladimir Vodka, and Cher dressed as Cleopatra, will sometimes line up and lead me to a subject.”
—Mary Jo Bang, The Bride of E (Graywolf Press, 2009)
“Seek out influence. When I’m stuck on how to do something, I’ll reread a book that accomplishes what I am attempting—The Quick and The Dead by Joy Williams is one I return to often—and try to figure out how the author pulled it off. Sometimes just looking at a few passages, or reading them aloud, can alter my way of seeing. Also, I like to go to places that inspire me—a bench in my favorite park, a quiet spot in a museum, a seat in the dark back row of a movie theater.
“I am, for the first time in my writing life, consciously taking a break from writing. By which I mean that I’m not involved in a big creative project just now. I just had a book published, and I have another manuscript that I’m about to shop around, so I’m not ready to dive into something new, if only because I have no ideas at the moment. ‘Sometimes,’ as one of my writer-friends likes to say, ‘you need to let the toilet tank fill up.’ So that's what I’m doing. Sort of.