“What keeps language alive for me is ritual and play. When my pen slows, I don’t treat it as a problem. Stillness is necessary. I listen, let things pass, and try to accept all of life, including the stuck parts. Sitting helps me do that. Fifteen minutes a day. Getting so quiet as to hear the construction and crackle of my thoughts. Often, in that stillness, lines appear. And it takes all strength not to leap up with that ambition to my notebook. I wait until after the fifteen minutes are up—ha!
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.
“Since moving back home to Columbus, Ohio, I’ve had to reformat my writing time and how to make the best use of the moments when I find myself running up against a block, or several blocks. I am someone who now finds myself with less time to revel in the outdoors, but there is a park a few blocks from my apartment. It is a park I know and love well. Much of my time living in Columbus has been spent there reading or dancing or camping or holding hands with someone. I live closer to it than I ever have before, and I walk there once a day.
“When I started university, I wanted to be an art historian and classicist, I thought my first book would be about Greek sculptures, not a work of fiction. The places I love most in the world are museums. I love the tin cans and bits of wrought iron at the Victoria Albert Museum; Sir Hans Sloane’s collection of leaves, shoes, shells, and ancient vases at the British Museum; and this collection of strange Victorian cat paintings at a tiny museum in rural Ontario.
“I was a martial artist before I was a writer. It’s absurd: kicking and punching the air daily, for hours, perfecting your technique for an encounter that probably won’t happen, and definitely not in that sequence. We called it ‘formatting.’ It’s like writing drafts: All those pages in the trash are a practice toward no promised end. So what you train for is purely theoretical—and yet, if you don’t commit yourself to it, if you’re not kicking the air to save your life, then you’re doing it wrong.
“My first semester of college, I took a class called ‘The Psychology of Interpersonal Relationships.’ It wasn’t what I’d expected—we didn’t have a traditional textbook, didn’t have desks. We sat in a circle on the blue shag carpet in the ‘meditation room’ of my dorm and talked about feelings and dreams, sometimes acting them out in the center of the circle. I had always been quiet, but in this class, I shut down.
“Living in the country affords me time and space, along with a healthy cardiovascular system from shoveling my own driveway over the six months that winter lasts. What I lack, however, is a physical writing community I can celebrate or commiserate with during the work’s many ups and downs. When I need to get out of my head (which I mean quite literally because sometimes an entire day can go by out here when I haven’t spoken out loud), I go down to the kitchen, plug my phone into a portable speaker, and cook while listening to podcasts.
“What I say here might be counterintuitive. If I am looking for writing inspiration, I do the opposite: I refuse writing (easy to do if one is busy). In fact, I try and refuse the impulse to write for as long as possible until I feel that I am physically going to puncture and blow up. This ‘process,’ or anti-process, takes a certain amount of patience, and patience is not something we value in our culture of rushing to get published, rushing to make a splash in the literary world, rushing rushing rushing (I’m also guilty).
“Whenever I find myself at a literary crossroads, I reach for my Tarot deck. In my regular life, I’m a staunch scientific materialist (I even contribute debunking articles to skeptical outlets); but in my creative life, I’m an unqualified mystic. Ghosts, spirits, metaphysical forces—when the writing is going well, something supernatural seems to be at work. Connections suggest themselves. Lines appear from nowhere. We’ve all felt it—that sense of otherworldly assistance—just as we’ve all felt it withdraw abruptly, leaving us mired in self-doubt and uncertain how to proceed.
“When I was young, I had a lot of anxiety about getting lost. I asked my mom when we went somewhere if she knew where we were—do you have the map? She’d pat the fuel gauge, tell me she had enough gas and she was sure of where we were going. Maybe it’s ironic then that my favorite way to get back to writing is to do just that. From traveling to new towns to driving a different way home, what these opportunities offer is the unfamiliar. Without the usual trees and buildings, everything snaps into focus. All of it is a possibility.
“In the poem ‘He Would Never Use One Word Where None Would Do,’ Philip Levine says: ‘Fact is, silence is the perfect water: / unlike rain it falls from no clouds….’ I attach to this Denise Levertov’s idea that a poet must be brought to speech—what we write must be felt so intensely, it ‘wakes in [the poet] this demand: the poem.’