“When I’m slowly sinking in the quicksand of writing troubles (I don’t know what to write! This story’s going nowhere! I’m an impostor! I can’t manage all this contradictory feedback!), my tree branch is poetry.
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.
“Poetry has become my daily prayer ritual, my practice, and my religion. Every day the music of R. Carlos Nakai and words of Ntozake Shange bring me to my writing table. There, I fancy myself a vast ocean tumbling as far as the eye can see.
“When I’m stuck, I crave a literal remedy: motion. On days when a character refuses to untangle, or my head feels sunk in a soup of possibilities, I’ll go for a bike ride.
“When I’m working on a book, I’m intensely focused and disciplined. I start at nine in the morning, turn off the internet, and work through until two in the afternoon.
“Recently I read a poem by Leslie Marmon Silko in which she states, ‘the struggle is the ritual.’ I’ve continued to think of this line in regards to my process of writing—what comes before I begin a poem and what helps me gauge that it has worked in some way.
“As a professional book editor, I spend much of my time focused on how a manuscript can be improved, aka what is wrong with it.
“For me, the key to staying inspired enough to come to the page with energy, confidence, and focus is all about my routine, as well as knowing when to break it. Before I go to sleep, I tell myself I’m going to write the next day, so that when I wake up, there’s no question about it.
“When I am struggling with writing, I move to a different medium. If I am unproductive at the keyboard, I pick up a pen and a yellow legal pad. The color alone makes me feel like writing. Or I draw a picture.
“The worst thing I think I’ve done for myself when being unable to write anything is to wait for the feeling to pass. I’m a quitter. I give up easily when I can’t see a clear way out.
“In the midst of a global pandemic, raging wildfires, police brutality, and a deeply unsettling, mind-boggling political reality, the urge to write can be nearly subsumed. Before all of this, I turned to—what else?—books for inspiration. Sometimes the same ones over and over.