When I was revising…there were two nights…where I drank a little gin, listened to nineties hip-hop, and I danced as I wrote and rewrote. I broke night with my poems. In other words, you have to hang out with your book, especially if your book is becoming a living thing.
“It’s a numbers game, folks. The more you try, the more you succeed. The less you try, the less you succeed. This is true for everything. If you write more, you will write better. If you think about line length more, you will think about line length better. If you submit more, you will publish more. If you submit better, you will publish better.”
—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)
When I find myself in the writing weeds, I have finally learned to pay attention to the warning signs: Stop. Go back. Do not push farther in. I resist the urge to soldier on, to muddle through, to fix a line here or there, to delete whole paragraphs that make no sense at that moment, to get to the end of the page….I give in. I nap. Conk out. Let sleep’s hammer fall. Writers write, we’re told endlessly. Yes, but writers must also stop….You only grow when you are lying down. Lie down—the body knits its own plots.
I’d love to see more works in translation published in this country—for more publishing houses to commit seriously to the cultivation and dissemination of international literature. …Even stories as place-specific as [Marcus Malte’s] The Boy have much to reveal about all our lives; and, just as importantly, they illuminate and particularize the vast array of human experiences different from our own. One of literature’s great powers is its ability to act as a tonic against xenophobia; there’s never been a moment when that power has been more urgently needed.
“If we writers have entered into literature hoping for riches and fame, then we probably deserve to be disappointed on that score. There are riches and fame to be had in tech and TV, I hear. Literature, however, both the reading and the writing of it, finds those aspirations obscene precisely because they run counter to how literature works: by the facilitating of our silent realms, those inner reservoirs of stillness….”
—William Giraldi, in “Author Envy: The Art of Surviving One’s Own Personality” in the May/June issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2019)
I’m writing a novel, and have been for over a decade. I’ve had periods of great productivity, days when one thousand-word quotas turn into four thousand words….But working on a singular project for years isn’t easy. Some days the writing rushes like the Rio Grande, and sometimes, weeks, months, or even years pass, and my pages don’t budge. Instead, they buck against my will. When those days arrive, I refuel my well, the headwaters supplying my creative stream. I visit historic archives and museums, galleries and art shows, movies and talks….
Another thing I like to do is find one theme in my previous writing that still has juice, that feels like it hasn’t been fully explored yet, and follow it into the rabbit hole. In a way, my second collection came about because of this method. I took one phrase from a poem in my first book, ‘cowboy theme park,’ and started collecting everything I could that seemed related to that idea. It was like finding a loose thread, tugging, and instead of everything unraveling, discovering that it was tied to a very interesting monster.
We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true…depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains…our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other and ourselves—the stories we continually re-categorize and refine.
Terrance Hayes relayed the Thelonious Monk quote, ‘A genius is the one most like himself’….It truly resonated with me because…I think writing should be connected to the constant ever-evolving work of discovering, (re)imagining, and (re)claiming one’s own selfhood.
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.