When my motivation to write wanes, I listen to Stefan Rudnicki read George R. R. Martin’s story ‘The Lonely Songs of Laren Dorr.’…Something about hearing the recurrent description of a purple sun brings me back to my school years of reading fantasy, and suddenly it becomes easier for me to rebuild the motivation necessary to keep writing.
I’ve been terrible at everything I’ve ever wanted to be good at—dating, tying my shoelaces, athletics, writing, driving, math, drawing, fashion, parenting—the first time I tried it. But years ago, my father, who’s a musician and public-school teacher, told me about how much better his music had gotten when he’d just made it a point to commit to doing it—with focus and intention—on a daily basis. Even when it’s terrible. Especially when it’s terrible. Intentional, focused practice: that’s it. Maybe some people are phenomenal enough to not need it, but for me there’s no shortcut. Not for anything.
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.