Category: Ten Questions

I return over and over to this passage—’I didn…

I return over and over to this passage—’I didn’t know it could be done. I had never seen it done. I had, in fact, been told it couldn’t be done’—from Julia Alvarez’s ‘On Finding a Latino Voice.’

As a debut author without a lot of prior publi…

As a debut author without a lot of prior publications, I honestly wondered who would read my book. But then I heard from Korean Americans, immigrants from other countries, war veterans, and mothers who had experienced postpartum depression. The variety of responses was overwhelming in the best way.

I ride a commuter train forty minutes each way…

I ride a commuter train forty minutes each way to work. That’s when I write. Having to come to the page twice a day for short bursts gets me writing very fast; there’s very little wasted time. I’ve never been so productive in my life.

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.

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.

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!

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.

I find that I function best when I’m excited t…

I find that I function best when I’m excited to get back to the writing. If you force yourself to the desk when you’re not feeling it, creative writing feels like a slog. Listen, it can’t feel magical every day, of course, but writing does have the potential to be an act of joy.

I always go to Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail ag…

I always go to Samuel Beckett’s ‘Fail again. Fail better.’ And, Toni Morrison’s ‘A failure is just information.’ Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about Isak Dinesen’s ‘I write a little every day, without hope, without despair.’

My old teacher and friend Andre Dubus would of…

My old teacher and friend Andre Dubus would often say: ‘You got to walk around with it. Walk around with it. You’ll get it.’ He meant, in a sense, that sometimes you got to get up and leave the story, walk around, live a little—and when you least expect it, there’s your ending.