writer's block

In September I started a list of things to write about:

private + public / responsibility as an artist / artifice / artefact / the 'longing' in belonging / monstrous / desire / anonymity / male attention / intimacy / control / obsession / sacrifice / freedom / suppressed [screams] / domesticity / solitude / loneliness / boundary / deceit / mask / skin / performance / reality / surface / submissive / passivity / betrayal / body ! ! ! ! ! / fear / communication / possessed / bruise / curiosity / sanity / ignorance / detachment / survival / violence / trauma / unwanted attention

In November I re-read interviews with Durga Chew-Bose, author of essay collection Too Much and Not the Mood (AKA the book that showed me what was possible...):

Interview with Sarah Galo, The Guardian, March 2015

'The ebb and flow process is especially true for women. Once you write something that picks up steam, there’s this fear you’re going to become a beat writer for some specific topic or that you need to keep producing really strong stuff. I really do believe that the process of writing, whether online or off, isn’t just the writing. There are moments in between our work, especially for longer projects, and we shouldn’t be ashamed of them.'

Interview with Fiona Duncan, SSENSE

'It’s nice to not know exactly why something feels like a favorite. It’s nice to feel abundantly about something, like a color, or a flower, or a painter, or street, or a friend’s jacket, without having the words to explain it. Maybe my relationship to favorites is whatever makes me want to make things. Whatever forces me to look or listen and then feel compelled to dip into my mind and work on something. Isn’t it nice when seeing a great movie makes you want to host a dinner party?'

Interview with Jessica Joyce Jacolbe, Passerbuys

'I guess a collection like this feels more like a tartan of who I am in some ways. I almost feel like there’s a physicality to it. I feel like I was living in a book fort while I was working on it. Keeping those books near that really have inspired me, rewatching those movies, like I said before, remind me why I’m so compulsive about certain topics that I need to write about. [...] I feel so much of my writing is trying to connect ideas or images that I have no idea why they resurface in my mind, but there’s a reason. It’s my job, I feel, to kind of make that connection.'
'I know not everyone agrees with me on this, but not all writing needs to argue a point. You don’t always have to be in search of the right idea. The writing could be just the search, at least in my case. I think that has always been some sort of guiding principle for me.'

On Wednesday I make another list:

beauty / lipstick / vintage dresses / secondhand bookshops / travel / New York City / Canberra / pop music / sleep / social media / intimacy / conversation / friendship / digital communities / reality / illusion / delusion / disillusionment / restlessness / suffocation / claustrophobia / modern Chinese literature / Chinese femininity, identity, language / writing / creativity / 'what next' / silence / domesticity / diaries / Tove Jansson / Sylvia Plath / Eileen Chang / Jenny Zhang / Alice Pung / translation / language / limits / limitations (of language) / memory / Lorde / roses / dancing / independence vs. loneliness vs. solitude vs. selfishness / Durga Chew-Bose / Alexander Chee / poetry / astrology / Twitter / handwriting / letters / flowers / fabric / Dior / glamour / Ah Ma / Mad Men / In the Mood for Love / Lust, Caution / Polaroids / photography / Instagram / time / distance / globalisation / colour / GIFs / emojis / whimsy / fairytales / Han Kang / 'happiness' / fleeting / tea / goodbyes / anticipation / ritual / colour / prints

Today I click immediately on the writing exercise Sally Wen Mao shares:
“Every writer’s universe is a museum—there’s a permanent collection of concerns and obsessions and themes, then there are temporary rotating exhibitions, and then there are inventories of objects and curiosities that the writer has yet to employ. I led a writing exercise once where students listed the themes that pervade their work (their ‘permanent collection’), some present fixations or obsessions (their ‘rotating exhibitions’), and future topics they were interested in (their ‘inventory’). The students researched one image or obsession from their ‘inventory’ and used that list of facts as a jumping-off point for a poem. Instantly they began discovering new things about their subjects and drawing connections that perhaps they hadn’t noticed before.

Reading for research is fundamental. There are so many things in this world that we don't know, that we can learn more about. You can start with an object you use: What is its history? The story of its invention? How did it evolve over time? Going down the research rabbit hole has never disappointed me because it provides so much raw material for potential projects. One of the biggest pleasures of being a writer is that process of becoming engrossed in a subject, harboring that inquisitive curiosity.

—Sally Wen Mao, author of Oculus (Graywolf Press, 2019)

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