“I love writing that allows for many things to happen at once—writing that involves multiple collisions of multiplying constellations while a cruise ship full of handsome hearts comes pounding through. So, my recommendation is to (re)watch The Magic School Bus and then watch the Netflix series Grace and Frankie, keeping in mind and heart that Lily Tomlin is the voice of Ms. Frizzle. And that the full name of Ms. Frizzle’s iconic pet lizard, Liz, is Elizabeth Savannah Frizzle. One day I will write about all of this, but maybe you’ll beat me to 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.
“I draw my greatest inspiration from my dreams. If we are lucky enough to recover the workings of our mind during the night, then we know that without much effort, we naturally create the most elaborate stories (in rapid succession, no less) while asleep. Though dreams do not always translate easily on the page in a work of fiction, often there is a single vision, either distressing or gorgeously otherworldly, from which I tease out a scene.
“Writing progresses from a selfish act to a selfless act. In your first draft, the work should be an undertaking of pure selfishness—you are writing only for yourself. Don’t trouble yourself with anyone else—they will all come later. If the writing is difficult, and often it will be, take pleasure in the difficulty because it will remind you of why you’re writing. The difficulty is never greater than the control you have. In the end, the vitality of the work will overcome the difficulty. Remember this Gerald Murnane quote:
“In my mid-thirties, I started jogging and, shortly thereafter, I began a new novel. My wife, Thisbe, and I had recently bought our first house in the Catskills, some three miles from Woodstock. I’d finished but failed to publish three earlier novels. I always hated jogging. I found the slog dull. Nevertheless, the new novel centered, at first, around a runner. A middle-aged ultra marathoner inspired by Diane Van Deren.
“Because so much of the writing life takes place in the mind, where risk taking requires acts of mental and emotional bravery, I am inspired by people whose work requires physical courage and endurance. This includes professional athletes, ballet dancers, and the increasingly long list of friends and family members who train for marathons and triathlons. But topping this list of superheroes are first responders and emergency workers who live and ‘wage peace’—as one organization, Preemptive Love Coalition puts it—in war zones and refugee situations.
“That Ornette Coleman’s music is not for everyone is the whole point. Because sometimes the most liberating thing of all is remembering that you can’t please everyone. So whenever I’m feeling especially burdened by imagined responses to some of my less conventional on-the-page moves, I listen to the man who with every breath urged us, in his own words, to ‘break away from…convention and stagnation,’ to ‘escape!’ But sometimes it’s also a matter of figuring out who you absolutely shouldn’t try to please. Like my college suitemate, Christian, for instance.
“In times of struggle, sadness and turmoil, personal or political, I find it hard to concentrate on writing. Writing feels useless and indulgent at the same time. It is precisely at that moment when I am hurting the most that I try to remember to take a breath and give myself a moment to grieve. Then I read and write to cast off the pain (or worse, the numbness) that comes with the realization of the limits of my power. Reconnecting to art and to writing helps me believe in the goodness of other people.
“Staying fresh and inspired as a writer can be as simple as hopping in the car, driving around, and maybe even getting into a little adventure. A meaningful moment can be had anywhere if I surround myself with the inspiring beauty of, say, a Kentucky swamp, or by grabbing an earful from the local color at some corner bar. The idea is to stay fascinated with everything—everything in the world. I even let those quiet, philosophical moments seep in too. Random musings. They provide an unexpected foil to my ‘southern gothic’ writing style.
“Three years ago I picked up Marjorie Welish’s third book of poetry, The Windows Flew Open (Burning Deck, 1991), in a used bookstore in the Midwest as I was preparing to move away. I’d never read a word by her nor had anyone recommended it to me. I was searching for one last shard of mystery in a town that had been formative to my understanding of myself as a poet, and had become perhaps too familiar. In that moment for no particular reason the universe emphasized this book. I took it to Brooklyn, unpacked, read it on the subway.
“One of the hardest things about daily writing is getting back in, reconnecting with the page and your work. Far easier to fall down some Internet rabbit hole, and avoid it all. Meanwhile, your dog isn’t going to write your novel for you (if only). This recommendation can help you dive back in, almost fooling you into that deep, necessary level of engagement: