How I Write – Jess Richardson

fullsizerenderWhen/how/where do you write?

When:  Mornings. When I’m lucky, like I was today, morning extends into afternoon. I stopped at 2:39 today.

How:  Haltingly. Or not.

I need something to start with. A what if, or a dream sliver, a patch of research or an image, a sentence to try to get to, a question or a constraint. Or I need to have left off yesterday in a place where I knew, at least hazily, what was coming next. The halting falls away and flow comes when I know a little something, but not too much that discoveries can’t surprise me. So a lot of the struggle is in designing a little structural dome for myself to get free inside of.

Where:  At this desk, pictured. This is how it looks when I’m done writing. I tried to be dishonest and stage the desk to look nicer for public consumption. On the laptop you can see that staged desk picture opened. I looked at it, then I looked around, and I caught myself in the lie, so I took a new picture. An honest picture of a fake picture. The writer’s whole puzzle!

Sometimes I also write at cafes. I wrote much of my story collection and large swaths of the novel I am still working on at Five in Tuscaloosa. I’m not in a long-term commitment with a café currently, though.

Do you eat while you write? If so, what?

Yes! On the day I first saw these questions, I had eaten some spinach pasta with capers and feta and onions and garlic and artichokes and broccoli and white beans and oil and vinegar right out of the pot, which I thought I should include. It’s one of the more impressive dishes I make, as I’m not all that impressive domestically, but it’s probably unimpressive that I was just forking it into my face with no bowl or plate.

Today I ate one waffle, a bowl of oatmeal, a bowl of salad, and a couple of hearty pinches of almonds and dried cherries.

Do you play music while you write? If so, what?

Yes, though not always. Today I started with Moon Safari by Air. I still love that album after a hundred years. I do have a playlist. Here are the artists on it:

Yume Bitzu

David Last


Kid Koala


Do Make Say Think


William Brittelle

Miles Davis

Godspeed You! Black Emperor

Eric Satie

The Olivia Tremor Control

Explosions in the Sky

George Winston

Sigur Ros



The xx


Dan Deacon

The Caretaker

Hundred Waters

Philip Glass

Judd Greenstein

I also listen to Brian Eno a lot, and lately kashiwa daisuke. The rule is it can’t have lyrics, or the lyrics have to be ambient, not prominent.

What are you reading right now?

I’m doing Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels. It’s all true. If you are, as I was, resisting because of the pastel Hallmark card American covers or because you’re not always super into realism or because of how flat the prose feels in the first pages, just stop. Give in. She can really write. The flatness is just a trick. The covers are too. There is much of the oldest and best tales here, it’s living and it grabs with its hand, and its hand is hot, and its hand is female and strong boned. Also I just started my friend Tom Cotsonas’ story collection Nominal Cases and it gives me chills! His work is so powerfully patterned, it’s sick. Sick in a healthy way. Get ‘em.

I’ve had good luck with books lately in general. Before these two I read Jesse Ball’s A Cure for Suicide, Dolan Morgan’s Insignificana, and Lydia Millet’s Sweet Lamb of Heaven, all in a row and all so satisfying in totally different ways. Next up I have Danielle Dutton’s Margaret the First. I want to read something Irish in Ireland in July, haven’t decided what yet, and I can’t wait for September when Marc Anthony Richardson’s Year of the Rat comes out, which I predict is going to blow everyone away.