Writers Recommend

In this online exclusive we ask authors to share books, art, music, writing prompts, films—anything and everything—that has inspired them in their writing. We see this as a place for writers to turn to for ideas that will help feed their creative process.

Daniel Borzutzky Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 12.1.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Sean Patrick Cain

“For Kristen Dykstra and Marcelo Morales Cintero.
‘There are blows in life so powerful,’ writes César Vallejo, ‘I just don’t know.’ I think about these words all the time. And I think about James Baldwin’s Another Country, a book that crushed me first when I was twenty-two and then when I was forty-two. ‘People don't have any mercy,’ writes Baldwin. ‘They tear you limb from limb, in the name of love. Then, when you're dead, when they've killed you by what they made you go through, they say you didn't have any character. They weep big, bitter tears—not for you. For themselves, because they've lost their toy.’ And I think about Marguerite Duras and I think about Arizona and Ayotzinapa and Chicago and Auschwitz and Juarez and Santiago and Syria and continuums of state and economic violence. And I think about people who die trying to cross borders and I think about how people love each other amid the worst types of pain and violence. And I think about language and love as means of survival. And I think about Chicago and police murder and the economic abandonment of so much of my city and I try to write, always, about the things people do to survive.”
—Daniel Borzutzky, author of The Performance of Becoming Human (Brooklyn Arts Press, 2016)

Jade Chang Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 11.23.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Teresa Flowers

“Two things have transformed my productivity. The first: I made a writer friend! Specifically, one who actually wanted to meet up with me two or three times a week and write. Margaret Wappler (whose gorgeous novel, Neon Green, published by Unnamed Press, also came out this year!) and I met at the Tin House Writers Workshop and once we returned to Los Angeles, we began pulling out our laptops at various coffee shops, bars, and restaurants across town. Having a compatriot in the mucky struggle of getting a novel onto the page was invaluable to me. Of course, this kind of creative partnership, which will ideally last years, only works if you have similar degrees of writing stamina (we generally work for around three to four hours), tolerance for chatting (high-ish), and food/drink requirements. And that takes us to the second thing: Treats. I knew I needed to make a real, concerted push to finish The Wangs vs. the World, so for about a year and a half I spent every single day working my day job and every single evening writing until midnight. Because I can only be disciplined about one thing at a time, I let myself eat or drink anything that seemed appealing—wallet and waistline be damned! Luckily, it worked. (Margaret and I are still writing together, but I’m not sure if my no-longer-quite-as-youthful metabolism will be able to deal with another round of treats!)”
—Jade Chang, author of The Wangs vs. the World (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016)

Rusty Morrison Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 11.16.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
William Bagnell

“’Yes, every man is Noah, but on closer inspection, he is Noah in a strange way, and his mission consists less in saving everything from the flood than, on the contrary, in plunging all things into a deeper flood where they disappear…’ I came across this sentence while reading an essay by Maurice Blanchot. It startled me, its meaning seeming provocatively just beyond my typical means of apprehension, yet just near enough to teasingly, even tauntingly, demand I follow its trajectories. When I feel this kind of disquieting provocation I know that it can be the beginning of a new dimension, a new direction for my writing. Sometimes, my mind rushes past it—maybe because of tiredness, or perhaps fear of what the provocation might ask of me. It needn’t be a passage from what I’m reading. Sometimes the provocation is an inkling—from an interaction with someone, or an event I watch unfold. Though the experiences can be quite different, they each have at their core a sensation that lifts the hackles of my inner attention, and I feel a particular nerve twitch—I call it the ‘provocation nerve.’ If I take the time to jot a few notes, and then, later, write into them, then a provocation can become an invocation. The Blanchot quote invoked a series of poems that spiraled farther and farther. I now have a book of interlinked poems, which I’m in the process of finishing. But it’s important to admit that I still feel a disquieting provocation.”
—Rusty Morrison, author of Beyond the Chainlink (Ahsahta Press, 2014)

Peter Orner Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 11.10.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Pawul Kruk

“I’ve always had a difficult time talking about writing. I’ve never really been able to say the phrase ‘my writing’ without feeling not only self-conscious but also a little bit ridiculous. A lot ridiculous. Even though I do, technically, teach creative writing (and I enjoy it because for me teaching creative writing is teaching literature, and I can never get enough literature) I’ve always had very little advice to give when it comes to how to actually sit down and do this. I mean if people truly want to sit and write something they will sit down and write something and nothing I say, or anyone else says, could ever make much of a difference. I have no tricks to trick anybody—including myself, God knows especially myself—into a chair and concentrate. And yet, and yet, don’t all roads lead to Chekhov? This morning I read a brief story called, ‘In Exile.’ It starts like this: ‘Old Semyon, nicknamed the Explainer, and a young Tartar whose name no one knew, sat on the bank near a bonfire…’ Goddamn, to start a story like this. One guy has two names, the other has none. And I didn’t feel inspired necessarily, but I did feel alive. Alive as if I was out there on the cold riverbank with those two. And I did get back to work, or at least tried to. Needless to say, the Explainer in the story isn’t the one who understands very much.”
—Peter Orner, author of Am I Alone Here? Notes on Living to Read and Reading to Live (Catapult, 2016)

Melissa Yancy Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 11.3.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Trixie Sison

“Intimidation works for me. Not when I’m stuck in the sense of needing to work out a specific problem in a story, but when the quality or ambition of my work has hit a plateau. Nothing pushes me past that like the intimidation factor of doing a workshop with a writer (whether an instructor or fellow student) whose work I really admire or who is known for excellent taste. The first passable story I ever wrote was in a class with the late Hubert Selby Jr. Up until that point, my graduate work in fiction had been pretty appalling; I was skating by on a few decent poems. I wasn’t scared of Selby (it was hard to be frightened of a guy who went by the name ‘Cubby’) but I was humbled by his accomplishments and couldn’t stand the thought of disappointing him. Since then, every time I’ve had a workshop experience that terrified me on some level, it’s made a difference in my writing. In the performing arts, there’s that edge of adrenaline, which—in the right dose—gives live performances an electricity that rehearsals don’t have. Writers rarely get to experience that edge. In general, I don’t think a competitive bent is all that healthy for art-making, but plugging into that part of myself when I need to challenge my writing—to raise the stakes for myself to see what I’m really made of—seems to work for me. Find a way to get in the room with those whose opinions matter to you. Manufacture a little stage fright.”
—Melissa Yancy, author of Dog Years (University of Pittsburgh Press, 2016)

Jason Diamond Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 10.27.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Elyssa Goodman

“This is weird, but I have a somewhat athletic approach to writing. I start my days off meditating, take a few minutes to gather myself after that, eat some breakfast and drink some coffee, and then I put on my headphones and listen to music that gets me sort of fired up, like I’m about to play basketball or something. It’s usually faster stuff, usually something that shares DNA with the punk, indie, and rap stuff I grew up listening to. For my book it was a lot of stuff by the band Beach Slang, also the Weakerthans, Lil Yachty, Kanye’s ‘Ultralight Beam,’ and Jeff Rosenstock. Then when it’s time to write, I pull off my headphones and play something that’s mostly instrumental like Explosions in the Sky, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Stars of the Lid, or even something like Max Richter or Nico Muhly. I just can’t seem to write my own words when I’m listening to somebody else sing theirs, and I’m easily distracted. Having a little routine like this really seems to help, like I’m getting something out of my system before I work.”
—Jason Diamond, author of Searching for John Hughes: Or Everything I Thought I Needed to Know About Life I Learned From Watching ‘80s Movies (William Morrow, 2016)

Vanessa Hua Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 10.20.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Mark Puich

“We all write against the clock: before we have to get to our day jobs, before the sitter leaves, before we have to pick up our children from school. For me, my hours of power are in the morning and late afternoon (the latter a habit formed by working on deadline at daily newspapers), and I reserve that time for the writing most important to me, be it my novel, an essay, or something else. When I’m on the clock but feeling less than inspired, I deal with the administrative tasks of being a working writer: sending and following up on pitches and submissions, getting on social media, or taking care of invoices and paperwork. Going for a swim, walk, or a run is also vital to my writing process—quite often, a thorny narrative issue sorts itself out while I’m exercising, the answers bubbling up from my subconscious. It can be difficult to stay in the fictional dream you’re attempting to create, particularly if you’re working on a book-length project. If I’m commuting or going for a run, I use vBookz PDF Voice Reader, a PDF-to-voice app, to immerse myself in my work-in-progress and listen for clunky or confusing sentences. Do whatever you can to make the most of the time you have.”
—Vanessa Hua, author of Deceit and Other Possibilities (Willow Books, 2016)

Mike Lala Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 10.13.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Kate Enman

“In any form, there are many different people making work, and there are an infinite number of ways to go about doing it. What matters, it seems, is having a method, identifying it, and making it work for you. For me, that's often: moving between projects, delay, dreamy delay, a burst of writing, discouragement, the drawer, delay, pulling it out, then consistent effort and repeating many of the steps above. The unbearably easy part (again, for me) is that the breakthroughs with any piece seem to come not only after consistent, hard work or consecutive hours, but from walking away and having another experience altogether. In a museum, in a conversation or another book (find friends who recommend relevant books), watching a movie, going to the theater, even just going outside I might come across something that suddenly reorganizes the structure of the unfinished material in my head in a way that reveals a path forward. And then I have to note that or remember it, or rush home and start writing. For Exit Theater, these moments came over the course of four years in a handful of places I kept returning to: a few theaters in Brooklyn, one room at the Met, and a gallery in a museum in Houston, Texas.”
—Mike Lala, author of Exit Theater (The Center for Literary Publishing, Colorado State University, 2016)

Sarah Domet Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 10.6.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Sarah Domet

“On difficult writing days, I like to consider writing as much a physical act as a cerebral one, a manual labor versus an art. This doesn’t mean that I devalue the craft, or that I believe typing is synonymous with writing. Instead, I recognize that half the challenge, for me anyway, involves sitting still in a chair for long stretches at a time and moving my fingers across a keyboard. When I’m stuck, I often believe the blank page can sense my desperation; the harder I try, the more the blinking cursor resolves to blink, unmoved. In these moments, I challenge myself to care less, intentionally so. I dare myself to write anything, write badly, write the worst sentences I can muster. Once I’ve set the bar really low—and I’ve written something like ‘She wanted one thing: a Snickers bar’—I realize the only place to go is up. The pressure to write dissipates.”
—Sarah Domet, author of The Guineveres (Flatiron Books, 2016)    

Vi Khi Nao Recommends...

Writers Recommend

Posted 9.29.16

Writer Photo Credit: 
Frank D. Hunt

“I don’t always encourage my students to walk into a classroom without any clothes and the only thing on their body are porcupine quills, in the same fashion that I don’t always encourage neophyte literary beings to become writers. To caution writers from pursuing a career in writing, I tell them that the writing life, the good one that is, is like climbing a mountain, but this mountain isn’t made of rocks—rather it’s composed entirely of razor blades—and one would naturally assume in climbing this mountain, one would be wearing shoes, but the writer’s feet are often bare, sockless. I tell writers to turn to the works of Diane Williams, Forrest Gander, and C. D. Wright for their tenacious light. This is to say, when writers reach the summit of the mountain, I don’t want to be the voice that tells them that the quintessential source of their vocational existence has emerged from ugliness. Even though, how could it not be? The view up top is not that beautiful. And, because it is not that beautiful, the devil wants it and my heart wants it more. What I am trying to say is: Don’t stop writing on my behalf. And an advice is born because I do want you to live this life.”
—Vi Khi Nao, author of Fish in Exile (Coffee House Press, 2016)