25 October, 2021

LitStack’s Recs: Shakespeare’s Sonnets & Writing Inspiration

Inspiration for those struggling with their works-in-progress.lowland

Your story, whether short or novel-length, has stalled. The characters you thought you
knew are strangers, and your latest attempt at rendering this story—the one you’ve believed in enough to spend years creating—appears to have turned to dust in your proverbial hands. These dark days are neither unusual, nor are they a signal your work is proceeding differently than it does for other writers. And if it makes you feel any better, this includes writers who’ve seen their work succeed, who’ve found an audience, accolades and a place in the literary canon. Their daily struggle to complete pages is often no different than yours.

Don’t believe it? Then, my cynical friend, take a break from that latest draft and watch this recent video from the New Yorker magazine. It features Pulitzer Prize winning author Jhumpa Lahiri on the uncertainty, unpredictability, and mystery of producing creative work. And if it makes you feel any better, this includes writers who’ve seen their work succeed, who’ve found an audience, accolades and a place in the literary canon. Their daily struggle to complete pages is often no different than yours.

Lahiri, the author of two collections of short stories and two novels, the most recent of which, The Lowlands was just nominated for a Man Booker Prize, is an exceedingly modest writer, but her breadth of experience can help you through the seemingly insurmountable problems of your own draft.

You know, there’s this romantic notion that one sits down at one’s desk, and picks up a pen or opens the computer, and within a few months the novel is done. [For Lahiri] “it’s always been a series of fits and starts.

In this five minute clip, Lahiri discusses the “dark room” of creativity, a term borrowed from Henry James:

We work in the dark—we do what we can—we give what we have. our doubt is our passion and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art.

Hopefully, madness will not overcome you, but rather, as James instructs, and Lahiri reminds us, you will become accustomed to working in the dark, and become comfortable with those “fits and starts,” and with getting it wrong many times before getting it right.
So take a break from that passage that’s making your brain ache and watch this clip. It won’t get your draft in shape, but it will help you see that the process isn’t just tough for you, it’s tough for even the best writers.

On Storytelling, by Jhumpa Lahiri, here.

—Lauren Alwan

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