“After my book was accepted for publication, I wanted to start a new project immediately. Over the past couple of years, I came up with several project ideas and tried to write poems that worked toward a theme or subject. I thought this would be the way to avoid the ‘first book slump.’ I realize now, after spending months doing this and not feeling very good about my new poems, that this big picture process was not helping me. I was trying to exert too much control over my writing which resulted in me feeling creatively blocked.
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.
“For me, often the origin of a new story or project begins with found documents. I have always been entranced by letters, journals, hastily jotted down reminders. It may have started when I inherited a huge storage unit full of my mother’s belongings and took on the enormous task of going through it. I got rid of almost everything except photographs, letters, art, and journals. I was amazed by the sheer magnitude of writing my mother did—though she never considered herself a writer.
“I know what I’m supposed to write: Get up early and write for two hours before the world rushes in. Yeah, right. Some prickly voice just piped up and tried to make me feel bad for not waking up at 4:00 AM so I could write for two or three hours before the baby wakes up. Whatever, prickly voice, why don’t you try it and report back?
“There’s this crumbling apartment building about five blocks away from my house. Brown bricks, a clearly unsafe staircase, and a permanent ‘for rent’ sign in the yard. I walk around it and imagine a life where I own the building, restore it, listen to the ghosts and all of their conversations, all the music they played and sang in these rooms. And what would those ghosts look like? I also like visiting the art museums that are ten minutes and seventy minutes away. I look at the paintings and try to determine which ones are truly cursed. And what kind of curse would they have?
“Since childhood, I wanted to become a writer but was warned against it, so I abandoned my dream. I wasn’t able to return to that dream until I was thirty-three, therefore writing is sacred to me. I set aside time each day to write, regardless of how busy I am. To avoid getting stuck, I work on several projects simultaneously: fiction, nonfiction, poetry, translation. If the door to the English language is closed, I open it with my Vietnamese key by writing a scene in Vietnamese, then translating it into English.
“I write in bursts, but when the epiphanic mechanism doesn’t trigger, I write letters. Writing and receiving letters puts me into a holy space. It feels like stepping into that small patch of cathedral light when that beam of light is maybe the only thing you believe in. The reverence I associate with letter writing is also about slow time. I write letters in moments of emotional or linguistic paralysis, or when I’m bored with myself and hate the formula of my insight.
“When my motivation to write wanes, I listen to Stefan Rudnicki read George R. R. Martin’s story ‘The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.’ It’s a high fantasy short story about a world-hopping warrioress and a melancholy minstrel. In only 7,300 words this story manages to create an intriguing mythos, but only in brief glimpses that feel designed to invite the reader to daydream—to speculate about the impossible.
“On most days I am up to run the dogs by six o’clock, so by eleven in the morning when I know for sure there are no new words for the page, I head out to the gym. In the men’s locker room I quickly slip on my bathing suit facing a corner locker, shielding the parts of myself that others might question. My phone is in the locker, there’s a laptop at home, and this trans body, my body, is here at the gym with my restless mind. The pool is posh, like the fitness center that holds it.
“There is and has always been significant talk and essaying about writing that halts as a result of overwork or child-rearing, yet I feel that there’s a lapse in this conversation around the issue of not-writing that happens as a result of heartbreak, or anticipated heartbreak. In heartbreak, I seek the immediate gratification of socializing more than in nearly any other period of living, yet my extroversion remains at a low stasis.
“One of the most important pieces of busywork that I do as a poet is to keep a running anthology of my favorite poems. I have an actual manila folder where I gather these poems, and it contains, at any given time, up to a hundred poems. It’s vital to me to have a hard copy of each poem, even if I own the poet’s book. In this way, at any moment I can sit with the folder and leaf through the poems. The collection in the manila folder feels like an ongoing representation of my poetic affections.