Writing the Midwest: On developing small inspirations

“Writing the Midwest” is a recurring series featuring writing advice from today’s most prolific authors. Whether it’s dealing with writer’s block, knowing when a piece is finished, or how and where to find inspiration, we’re delighted to present to you the very best guidance to help you and your writing. You can find links to the authors’ full interviews below.

On developing small inspirations:

Nafissa Thompson-Spires: Often I just have a line or an image in my head. With the titular story [in the collection Heads of the Colored People], the first line came to me, and I pursued it, to figure out who this Riley character was. Sometimes, I have an idea of the shape of a story I want to write, but often the story reveals itself to me during the drafting. There has to be space for both the discipline and organization (outlining, etc.) and the more metaphysical, subconscious parts of writing.

Rebecca Berg: Every piece of writing demands its own process. In one case, that might be a kind of quilting: piecing the story together by laying out lots of fragments and deciding what goes next to what. In another case, a voice tumbles out of me. In the case of “Taki’s,” I woke up at two in the morning, suddenly obsessed by memories of a restaurant. I thought I’d jot a note about it and go back to sleep. Three hours later, I was still writing.

Bruce Johnson: When I start a new story, it often feels like I need to forget everything I thought I knew about writing and figure out a new process that will work for that particular story. Sometimes I have a clear idea of what a story is about before I start it, other times I just have a first sentence I want to play with. Sometimes a story demands a quiet room to write in, other times weird industrial music playing in my headphones. And inspiration can come from anywhere; I have a long list of story ideas written down in my phone, and I don’t remember where most of them came from. I can’t say I experience writer’s block much, though. I’m always writing. It’s not always good, but throwing out bad work is part of the process.

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