Joan Didion said, ‘I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.’ The idea of beginning in not knowing is a comfort to me—there’s so much I don’t understand about the world and our human hearts.
What I like about drawing a single [tarot] card before writing is that it allows me a single place to put my feelings about that day’s words—all my fear that the words won’t come and all my fear that they will….Each card is like a prompt I suppose, except instead of being wacky and contrived, it feels like a prompt I gave myself from the darkest recesses of my unconscious, a shortcut to the place I was trying to go.
The one activity I’ve found that serves as both social consolation and jolt to my stilted writing is reading Transit and Kudos, the last two books in Rachel Cusk’s Outline trilogy….Cusk’s trilogy offers a particular form of comfort, for this writer at least: No matter what happens—death, divorce, disruption—we have these words that we can wield some control over, when there is little else in this world that we can control.
Alexander Chee once said something like, When you put something that actually happened to you in a story, you have to privilege the needs of the story and not merely what happened. I don’t remember the exact quote, but I think about that all the time.
“Poetry is a space where we have the responsibility to acknowledge the power of language—all the violence it is capable of, all the tenderness it is holding, and our need to reach forward toward new language at the same time we are returning to older language, so we can carry one another best.”
—Natalie Diaz, in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2020)
In ‘Personism’ Frank O’Hara writes, ‘You just go on your nerve,’ which isn’t the best advice for everyone—especially the ‘just’ part—but I’ve found it to be useful.
As writers, we must try to keep the reader on their toes. If you start getting bored, there’s a good chance the reader will get bored. Surprise yourself; surprise the reader.
When I am stuck, I walk. I don’t wear earbuds or headphones when I walk, nor when I travel by train or bus, because I want all of my senses to be centrally alive to what’s around: the music that lurks in the crevices of city sounds, forest sounds, desert sounds.
Read. There are a lot of formulations of this, but at the moment, Stephen King’s comes to mind: ‘If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all others: read a lot and write a lot.’ If you followed only the first part of that, you’d already be 90 percent of the way there.
I walk along the beach and look at the sea. I call a friend. I take a train journey and sit by the window. I drink a small glass of red wine. I go to the cinema. I ride my bike fast, so that my hair streams out behind me. I cry. I read Eimear McBride. I make soup. I listen to Nick Cave. I go swimming. I sit in the sun with my eyes closed. I wash dishes. I read Jenny Offill. I write….