When I started to work on my first book, The Balcony, I took down the painting that had been hanging on the wall by my desk and replaced it with a taped photocopy of Judy Dater’s 1974 photograph ‘Imogen and Twinka at Yosemite.’…By the time I finished the full manuscript, that lone piece of paper had been joined by many others: handwritten notes, a chapter outline, drawings of vegetables that grew in one character’s garden, a map of a forest like the one another character walked through, brochures and newspaper clippings, an evocative movie ticket. Currently, I’m doing the same for another book project. Slowly, a new world is colonizing the wall, finding its own logic, becoming its own reality. On days when I feel stuck or overwhelmed, I turn from my desk and look.
“These days I’m just trying not to rage too much at the world while still staying active and aware and working toward truth. On a good day, I just work on being a real person who wants to make real living things and give them to the world.”
—Ada Limón, in Carrie Fountain’s “The Poetry of Perseverance: An Interview with Ada Limón,” featured in the September/October issue of Poets & Writers Magazine (2018)
In a system that doesn’t value writing, but only the marketing possibility of the writer and the written object, to write is the ‘success’ itself.
When the writing gets away from me, it’s rarely something creative that brings it back. Feeling stuck for me usually means being in a state of creative surfeit, where I want nothing to do with stories at all. In these moments I like reading articles filled with statistics….
The machine said the man should eat tangerines.
I write every day, usually first thing in the morning until lunch, unless there are extenuating circumstances. Writing regularly has always been the primary way I’ve avoided a nervous breakdown, so it’s unclear to me whether it’s a joyful or medicinal activity. It’s probably both.
If I’m in a rut, I’ll go back to the outline and toss in some wrenches. What happens if I remove a character, or add one?…I don’t need to write all of these new wrinkles out, just thinking about them gets me to reinvest in surprising myself with the story. Or, it reinforces choices I’ve already made and gets me to commit to them, often with a new perspective….All of this keeps me engaged, and makes the writing process a breathing thing, rather than transcription.
Sonja is sitting in a car, and she’s brought her dictionary along.
I can’t tell you how often I’ve been consoled or encouraged by that old line from E. L. Doctorow: ‘Writing a book is like driving a car at night. You only see as far as your headlights go, but you can make the whole trip that way.’
I have to listen to music while I write, and usually I play just one song at a time. I repeat it all day, often for weeks on end. Months, even. There’s one song that I replayed up to 30,000 times….By obsessively replaying a single song at a time, I can, if I’m lucky, set the pitch. It gives me a place to start. The ritual of it, the repetition, lulls and quiets my anxious, everyday self. The ego goes silent, which lets my writing self emerge, and begin to sing.