For a period of time, Jack Kerouac had a ritual of lighting a candle each time he sat down to write, pounding out words by its light until he was done for the night, then blowing it out. Joan Didion would spend an hour each evening before dinner editing with a cocktail. Don DeLillo forces himself to stare at a picture of Borges to restore his focus if his attention starts to wander.
Why do we find the peculiarities and habits of writers so interesting? Perhaps the reason lies in the act of writing itself. E.L. Doctorow said that writing “is like driving a car at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way,” and it’s true. Writing anything—a poem, a novel, a short story, an essay—can feel like a rather myopic exercise. So much of any piece of writing is in the building blocks, the words, that it can be like trying to assemble a forest of meaning out of acres and acres of perfectly seeded saplings. We plant them and place them, and sometimes we’re not even sure ourselves exactly what meaning we’re sowing until they start to sprout and tangle into each other, until we step back and look at the growth from a distance. Eudora Welty described it similarly: “Connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together…And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect.”
Getting at that meaning, whether we see it as a forest or a mountain or some other massive destination, can feel like a procedure only partially understandable, a rain dance we do without ever really knowing the steps. And maybe that’s why we find the idiosyncrasies of other writers so fascinating: we like to see how others arrived at those mountains and forests of meaning, what it looked like to them in bits and pieces along the way, through their own myopia. We want to know what they ate for breakfast to sharpen their senses, what music they played to heighten their awareness, whether they navigated by compass or map or the seat of their pants. We want to know if it was a daily jog or a dirty martini or the jingle of an Oscar Meyer commercial, whether it was the light of morning or the heavy quiet of night, that allowed them to do what they did so masterfully. It’s almost as if each of these details is part of a code, a tiny scrap of paper with foreign symbols scrawled upon it, that when pieced together might form some cohesive message about how we as people best tap into what’s inside us and funnel it out into something tangible and communicable.
That’s why we’ve decided to do something a little different with our second issue of Promptly. Along with producing some truly wonderful writing inspired by prompts from June, July, and August on Prompt & Circumstance, our contributors agreed to be interviewed about their creative processes, both in regards to the specific piece we’ve published in Issue 2 and to their relationship with writing and creativity in general. What that means is that in this issue, you’ll find Lara Eder’s tale of love, loss, and fad dieting along with an oddly-shaped piece of fruit that once inspired Adrian Mangiuca; you’ll learn how Josh Morrey wrote a story set in an airport while in an airport himself, concluding it in mid-air on his flight, and see from the eyes of a character Donna McLaughlin Schwender created from a photograph and placed in her masterful poem. And you’ll find even more poetry, fiction, and creative insight to delve into from Marie Abate, Kelly Ann Jacobson, Robbi Nester, and Ramona D. Pina!
You can check out Issue 2 on our “Current Issue” page under Promptly.
We hope you enjoy this new spin on writing and inspiration, and as always, thanks for taking part in the Prompt & Circumstance experience!
Brandi & Shenan