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 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 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.
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 & 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 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 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.
Everybody knows how important the first track of a mix tape is, and I wanted to start my collection with my most affable narrator….All my stories deal with similar themes—game playing, escapism, desire—but I had strong ideas about how to move through the different voices of the remaining narrators (urban and rural, child and adult, male and female, queer and straight) in a way that felt balanced and varied to me.
When I get tired of thinking in words, I go downstairs and dig into a list of projects that I’m working on. Or sometimes I’ll just take a few minutes to very carefully put things—drill bits, odd wood scraps, chisels—in their proper places. I am one of those compulsively busy people who thinks with their hands, and something about the process of designing something, or organizing my various tools into drawers and onto shelves, has a way of clarifying the murkiness of my creative process.
The current political moment requires that we speak the truth as much as we can, but truth can be relayed in many ways. We have already seen truth twisted, shaped, and contorted to fit a political agenda. Poetry works against this because poetry has no true agenda.