I’ve come to some kind of understanding about what it means for me to be in the act of making….If I’m reading a book, I’m not stuck. If I go to an exhibition, a show, have a drink with friends—if I’m out and I’m engaged with the world, I’m not stuck. If I’m staring at a blank page, frustrated that I can’t get a word out, I am still in the act of making—and to be honest those moments where I can’t produce a thing have been valuable to me, because in some ways it gets me to where I need to be. Some days I want to write, other days I just want to get behind my DJ controller.
“I don’t actually believe in writer’s block. I believe in fallow periods. I believe fallow periods are necessary to restore the fertility of a field. I believe that if you’re not writing and you’re worried about not writing, you’re likely to one day write again. That if you’re not writing and not worried about not writing, you may have found new things to do with your time, and that’s okay too.”
—Camille T. Dungy, in “Say Yes to Yourself: A Poet’s Guide to Living and Writing” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
Sometimes writing these poems was a reminder that I was still alive and sometimes I resented the reminder.
When my writing gets stuck, I’ll clear time to sit with my last few months of reading spread around me, copying out my marginalia along with the passages I flagged and underlined. I have this massive document of annotations I’ve been adding to for years, a habit I started when I was an undergrad. I write short paragraphs about how I came across a text, what my major takeaway was, what was happening for me personally while I read it, how long it took me to finish, and what else I was reading at the time….
When the words won’t come, I take my work for a walk. Literally, I put pages in my pocket and take a hike in an unfamiliar place. The idea is that both me and my writing could use the stretch of a new environment. Put your hand on it every day, no matter what, is my philosophy….Most important is faith. Stay close to the story and, ultimately, it will return to you.
One of the most profound things [Mat Johnson] said was to just relax. Readers can sense when you’re tense.
When the writing is slow or when I’m between projects, I pull on my boots and head to an art museum. Museums dilate us. Our job is to stay open and look…. What happens as we look depends entirely on the looker and what is being looked at. But something inevitably happens—you love it and look more deeply, you hate it and wonder why, you remember something, your mood shifts, an image emerges, a line of thinking starts to lead you in an unexpected direction….
James Baldwin told a writer’s group in the women’s prison at Riker’s Island: ‘One can change any situation, even though it may seem impossible. But it must happen inside you first. Only you know what you want. The first step is very, very lonely. But later you will find the people you need, who need you, who will be supportive.’
“People always say the novel is dead. Who knows, but if it is the case, moments of crisis for any art form or any convention are always good. If that’s the case, it will force us to think of different ways of approaching, different ways of writing.”
—Valeria Luiselli, in “Angles of Experience” in the March/April issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
Sometimes, if things aren’t going well, I’ll start reading a book that I both truly admire and, for whatever reasons, can’t get engaged with. After reading for a while, my mind gets pitched into the perfect state for a new creative act. It feels cleansed.