Author Photo: Danzy Senna ©Percival Everett
Ten Breaths of Inspiration for the Writing Life
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CORINNA BARSAN
Danzy Senna is the author of two novels, Caucasia and Symptomatic, and most recently, a collection of short stories entitled You Are Free. She is also the author of the personal history, Where Did You Sleep Last Night? She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, the writer Percival Everett, and their two children.
Author website: www.danzysenna.com
The Magazine of Yoga On The Lit Mat Interview
Who or what was your greatest influence in picking up the pen?
Other books. I loved novels while I was growing up, just devoured them. I craved the sensation of disappearing into another world and voice, and wanted to recreate that on the page using my own stories.
In what ways do you make room for the creative process in your day-to-day?
It gets harder and harder since I have two children now. But I try to leave the house and write outside of my domestic space every day for a period of time. I find the house too distracting and always have, even before kids.
I also read every night before bed. It’s one of my favorite parts of the day when I sit down and read a physical book—not a Kindle or an internet article, but a book. I find screen culture to be exhausting and alienating and there’s something very calming to me about the object of the book in my hands.
Which one word, image, sound, feeling, or memory defines the act of writing for you?
Through writing I return to myself.
Where do you find inspiration when the well runs dry?
The well, so to speak, doesn’t run dry for me. I have stories upon stories I’m eager to write. It’s more that my courage falters.
I become terrified that I can’t do it, or that my writing is no good, that I’m not entitled to have a voice. I second guess.
In those moments, I have to go back to the practice itself, and take it, as Annie Lamott says, bird by bird. I have to think small. Today I’m going to write a paragraph about this character eating breakfast.
Is there a tidbit of writing advice that has stayed with you over the years?
Here are a few tidbits:
One of my teachers told me that becoming a writer was ten percent talent, twenty percent desire, and seventy percent discipline.
There are no shortcuts.
I used to have this Samuel Beckett line taped above my work station:
What is something you know now about writing that you didn’t know when you were just starting out?
Plain — or seemingly plain — writing is much harder to pull off than overly-wrought, hyperactive, show-off-y sentences.
I increasingly prefer language that doesn’t distract from the story. I strive now for restraint and believe that what isn’t said in a story is often more powerful than what is said.
Whether you do yoga or another form of physical or spiritual practice, how does it affect
I practice yoga. It has taught me an enormous amount about living and about writing. It has taught me humility. It has taught me about commitment to a practice.
When I first published a book, I was really focused on wanting praise from the outside. If I had stayed locked in that space, I might have never written another novel — or at least not a brave one. Yoga has taught me to detach from the outcome and pay attention to the process, the only part of it I can control.
I once read an interview with George Clooney, of all people, that stuck with me. He was talking about advice he’d gotten. It was something to the effect of, “Don’t believe them when they say that you are great and don’t believe them when they say that you are shit.”
Which goes back to the yoga and the practice element of it: Try not to pay too much attention to reviews. Just get up the next morning and keep at it.
What is your most favorite guilty pleasure?
I like watching trashy low-brow thrillers along with some astonishingly bad reality television with my husband. And I really like a glass of wine in the evenings when I’m cooking for my children.
If you had to pick one book to recommend as a must-read,
which would it be?
I love and am slightly obsessed by The Easter Parade by Richard Yates.
What is on your nightstand now?
Happy Baby by Stephen Elliott.
The pause that refreshes! You can find Corinna Barsan’s musings and discoveries on her blog at Shiny White Page.
We may publish any content, comments or ideas sent to us.
Name may be withheld by request.
© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.