“My bicycle’s name is Gertrude Stein, short for ‘Gertrude Stein, my personal Argot’ (because I keep needing to replace parts on it) and shortened, often, to Gertie. Perhaps that is the first thing I can recommend when you are stuck: name your bike. Develop a close personal friendship with it.
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.
“When writing, I like to channel little ecstasies that fill me daily, bits of pleasure and pain I pick up from my immediate environments. But, as Niedecker’s poem ‘Laundromat’ notes, ‘After all, ecstasy / can’t be constant’—what would it be otherwise?
“A benevolent seizure, this is how the writing begins for me. A seizure and a pouncing tiger—and this in the shape of a dream. To be sustained, they demand that I pay close attention.
“Writing is wrestling. With time, with space, with memory. With confidence, sentences, syntax. With children, pets, partners, dinner. Essays have either gushed out of me, fire hydrant style, or I have coaxed and pulled at them painstakingly, like a parasitic worm from my ankle.
“I started dream journaling under lockdown, recording dreams because they seemed to be getting more vivid. Even though very little of this writing made it into a poem or anything I’d put into a book, it was a good way to keep my writing muscles ready.
“I’ve guided rafting trips for twelve seasons during my summers off as a writing professor. Guiding has taught me to seek the balance between pressure and calm, both on and off the river.
“There are many avenues I turn to when I’m stuck in my writing—music, Edgar Allan Poe, the work of Gustave Doré, going for a long walk by whatever body of water I can find—but my main inspiration comes from immersing myself in mythology.
“When I hit that point where a wall is met with my writing, the sensation is gone and the train is gone, and my immediate environs lose their contemplative harmony. My focus is broken, so I find some pleasure.
“When I’m stuck, my breath becomes shallow. My shoulders and back stiffen. I squint and try to force my brain to produce the correct words. My brain refuses, and I become frustrated. I reach for distractions—my phone, the hunger I don’t feel but insist upon. I make elaborate sandwiches.
“What I try to focus on most during the process of writing is a sense of pleasure, especially in the early drafting stage. Sometimes I take a walk or listen to music, which helps the visions. It starts with an image or vision. I like to walk through the desert.