It’s not clear in my memory which love came first—writing or music—but the pair are inextricably linked in a creative process which layers like melody and harmony.
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.
Reading novels by the bucketload is why I became a writer, but it can be limiting when I’m trying to write. I live in danger of overanalyzing instead of feeling my way through the act of writing, down blind corridors that might lead to an undiscovered tomb or a passageway to the sea.
In late 2008, I survived a traffic collision while stopped at a red light. I have no memory of that night, and spotty memories of my life before, though I know the accident—and traumatic brain injury I sustained—changed me and my writing process.
I have found that when I am uninspired or dissatisfied with a project’s structure, the key to unlocking my brain is almost always to consume great writing by other people. If I am feeling lucky, I reach out for whatever literary fiction is sitting on my nightstand.
When writing, I can get lost in my thoughts, which feels metaphorically like darkness: I can’t see my way forward; I feel hemmed in. Most often, my answer is to get outside. I need the counterbalance of movement, light, open air.
For any writer who opens a blank document and feels a gnaw of anxiety or dread, maybe doubts whether to write at all, I recommend meditation. Zazen, the Zen Buddhist meditation I learned, means sitting there without expectations. This is perfect for writers.
The best advice about being stuck in your writing that I recall is the example that Ray Bradbury gave us: “If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful.
When my debut poetry collection, Concentrate, won the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, I moved from a space of writing to one of editing. The book’s release signals a return to my generative space, the creative mode that makes new work possible.
It’s easy to fall into the despair of wanting too much. The decade I was researching and writing my poetry collection, banana [ ], was punctuated by that despair. Old classmates and colleagues published books and won prizes, and I wanted that. I wanted to be farther along in my research.
If, like me, you sometimes find interviews with prose writers overwhelming and envy-inducing—a bit like staring directly at the sun—I recommend listening to other types of artists talk about their work. You get the light at an angle, without the burn.