Author: Lines We Live By

“A good writing day will end with the desire t…

“A good writing day will end with the desire to keep writing—that’s one of the only aspects of this whole process that has remained constant for me.”

Téa Obreht, in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)

It’s necessary to write terrible lines, awful …

It’s necessary to write terrible lines, awful drafts, half-hearted poems. Write ten in a row if needed. Throw pencils, get mad, take a walk. Swear off poetry, read a chapter of a post-apocalyptic novel, wash the dishes. Feel better? Back to writing. Repeat as necessary.

I’ve figured out how to structure a story base…

I’ve figured out how to structure a story based on a common chord progression from a ’90s pop song. I’ve stolen a critical line of dialogue from a tampon commercial. It’s not that everything in life is inspiring—I personally find social media to be a wasteland—but it’s been surprising to see what seeps in and informs the work. For me, being open for business is about being deep in a project even when I haven’t opened the document for a week. It’s about noticing stuff, listening and synthesizing….

It’s easy to sleep too much, spend hours watch…

It’s easy to sleep too much, spend hours watching cake-icing videos on Instagram, and imagine I’ll never write again. Going outside, looking at the world, and talking to people helps me shake off the malaise. Turns out, once my body moves, so does my mind. Then the words follow.

Writers are artists, which means that (in my e…

Writers are artists, which means that (in my experience, anyway) we have to work hard to protect our creative time, our imaginations, in the midst of all the other parts of our lives—not just work but family, bills, laundry, taxes, car repairs, and so on. For me it’s all about creating psychic, emotional boundaries, so that I have time to feel free and unencumbered while I’m working, no matter what else is going on. That’s a real struggle, of course. I don’t really believe in balance; I believe in trying to sustain a feeling of wholeness, which means, in large part, taking care of other things you need to do so that you can feel free in your work, and also realizing that success in your career is only one part of a larger whole, which involves paying attention to your physical health, your relationships, your children and partner, your religious practice, your financial obligations, and so on.

It’s taken years for me to realize what my boo…

It’s taken years for me to realize what my book is even about, years to feel out the full story….When I go back and read old sections, I find things I have no memory of writing. Sometimes, present-me is impressed by past-me. Good job, I’ll think. This thread has been there all along! Other times I think past-me must have been drunk or asleep or that she’s messing with me on purpose. Goodbye, ten-page monologue on Tupperware, I’ll say. Goodbye, bitter side character based on a Subway sandwich artist I slept with in 2002.

I think about the ways that Procter & Gamb…

I think about the ways that Procter & Gamble or whatever makes money off my self-doubt. That usually shifts my determination. Nobody benefits from my fear except the people who want to sell me Lean Pockets and compulsory femininity—and fuck those people. They’re not going to get that dollar, not today!

Every once in a while I’ll get stuck, hung up …

Every once in a while I’ll get stuck, hung up on some fundamental, propulsive element of the story, like I’ve reached the end of the thread….As much as I hate it, the best thing I can do in this situation is pull the problem out of the computer and write it down. All the usual disadvantages of writing in longhand become advantages: It’s slow, it requires more mechanical effort, the words must come in order with no easy erasures.

Taking a spin through the Smiths album Hatful …

Taking a spin through the Smiths album Hatful of Hollow is one of the things I allow myself when faced with troubles on the page. It’s not so much to inspire as to reset. There’s a relaxing familiarity in coming back to songs that were on heavy rotation for me growing up as a teenage misfit in Singapore.

I have a handful of good friends who are brill…

I have a handful of good friends who are brilliant and sophisticated readers too, and sometimes I send things to one of them. But I also feel that no one can really help me with poems, as opposed to essays. Each one is like a trial I get to undergo alone.