“The first and most visible source of inspiration for my poems is other poems. A less voluble influence is abstract art. I like seeing if I can hear the visual voice in the colored grids of Gerhard Richter and Ellsworth Kelly; in the subtle pink math of Agnes Martin; in the reflective sapphire of an Anish Kapoor floor sculpture; in the regimented presentation of red, yellow, and blue in a horizontal Donald Judd progression. I admire the treatment of Scotch tape by Tara Donovan and Tom Friedman.
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.
“To break from the heavy lifting of writing moderately vulgar dark comedies, first I will turn to Rimbaud’s Une Saison en enfer for some light reading. Then I will wander outside to see if there are any important public gatherings. If there are no gatherings, I return to the house and head downstairs to the basement where I will spend a few minutes adding to my bottle cap collage of the Nuremberg Trial. For lunch, I boil one egg and eat it on dry bread. This is a crucial moment in the writing day, for it is now that I remember the jar of orange marmalade in the refrigerator.
“If you’re writing a book that no one is waiting for, buy the debut album of an indie band—not the latest darlings, but an underappreciated act—a band like Pittsburgh’s Meeting of Important People.
“The best advice I ever got about writing was from Stephen King’s memoir, On Writing, in which he talks about the writer’s need to be ‘willing’ to shut the door on the world for a few hours a day. He suggests writing one thousand to two thousand words a day, without editing or planning ahead.
“Lately I’ve been listening to Homer’s Odyssey on CD. Listening to classics on CDs is a part of my yoga practice. Because I am taking in this material while concentrating on breathing and physical effort—and also because I’m listening rather than reading—my mind seems to move into a right-brain, nonanalytic state. This piques my creativity, while it also hones my focus and mental reflexes for the long term, much as meditation does.
“(1) Most important, I recommend patience—which I have to remind myself of all the time. So often, I get excited about a poem in progress and start to spin my wheels, which I do for a week or two until it’s time to set the poem aside. Then, sometimes months later, I find a new angle or approach and the poem begins to move again.
Incidentally, the same is true for reading. How often did I read a brilliant writer and think I disliked his/her work when I just wasn’t ready for it?
“Storytellers inspire me. I listen intently then let my imagination take over. Characters need to be fully rendered in my head before they make it into any story. I try to read new writers, but there are a few books I return to again and again. When I want to analyze ways to portray dysfunctional family bonds and relationships, I revisit Alice Munro’s Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage. Pablo Neruda’s The Book of Questions is full of delightful inspiration.
“I’m teaching a class this term on Dirty Realism, the fiction movement that may or may not have existed twenty or thirty years ago, and my own syllabus has brought me to Jayne Anne Phillips's Black Tickets, an amazing collection of short fiction that pushes hard against the boundaries of what I’ve typically understood stories to be. Phillips's writing is visceral and shockingly alive; no doubt many readers out there know how incredible a writer she is, but for me, her work is new, and does what all good fiction does: It makes me want to learn more.”
“A good soak in a bathtub invigorates the senses, relaxes the muscles and allows the mind to wander. Like Rostand, I often escape the world by hiding out in the bath, and I find that the leaps and associations I make while immersed in warm water are often more surprising than any I’ve made on dry land. I haven’t yet leaped from the tub like Archimedes, crying ‘Eureka,’ but I have on more than one occasion gone straight from the bath to the desk, brimming with new ideas and a (pardon the pun) more fluid sense of language.
“Listen to the soundtracks of Giorgio Moroder. Visit the Rubin Museum of Art. Open to any page of The Mariner’s Dictionary. Sit in churches that watch over cities. Stand in trains that run under rivers. Swim on the Greek island Ikaria, whose hot springs are among the world’s most radioactive waters. Read Virginia Woolf’s A Writer’s Diary and feel encouraged by the fact that a genius worried about bad reviews. Read Pliny the Elder’s Natural History and learn that after lightning strikes, ‘the immediate area of the wound is colder than the rest of the body.’”