Writing spaces are as varied as the individuals who occupy them. The range of “space” we enter for our writing practice is a wide, wild field from tidy to random, from Maya Angelou in a sparse hotel room to Marcel Proust in bed, from Jane Austen at the kitchen table to you: what does your writing space look like? Write like mad with second year dual concentration in fiction/nonfiction MFA student Grace Shields.
Where do you write?
I write on the third tier of a bookshelf next to a large window in my apartment. This has become my desk and it feels very cozy. My go-to books are just an arms length away, and whether I’m journaling, working on an essay or short story, or sketching out a comic, I have everything I need here in my little writing nook. I also do a lot of writing from a comfy pile of pillows in bed, with my dog curled up by feet.
Stand, sit or other?
Sit, always. Or, slump, rather. I have terrible posture, but I like to be comfortable when I’m writing and I can focus for much longer when I am. Usually, my notebook or sketchpad is propped on my knees and I’m in a pretzel shape somewhere.
What is your writing practice?
I write best at night, when everything is quiet and the house is sleeping around me. I gather ideas all day, and when the day is over and the distractions have settled, then I feel like I can finally put something down on paper. My writing practice is to write madly when I have an idea—to spend two or three days getting it all out on the page—and then to appear like I’m not writing in the in-between times. That’s when all the ideas are cooking in my brain. When I’m working on a graphic piece, I tend to do the words first and then go back and work on the images after. I also read a lot, all the time, and that way I’m always exploring forms and themes and possibilities for future pieces.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
I definitely procrastinate by reading novels. I tell myself it’s to learn from other writers, but really it’s just pure escapism. I also take a lot of naps and hope that inspiration will find me while I sleep. I always accept a coffee date or drinks with friends as a great way to pass many hours. And, of course, a walk or visit to the dog park with my pup is a reliable distraction.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
I go to the work of Liana Finck quite often, not because it makes me feel better, necessarily, but because it makes me feel less alone. I have her graphic memoir Passing for Human on my shelf-desk. Karen Russell’s short story collection St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves is a comfort read for me, as are Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy, and All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot. When things get too crazy, I like a good thriller to remind me things could always be worse. Tana French is my go-to author for a mystery, and I read her books over and over, especially The Likeness.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
During the pandemic I started writing graphic nonfiction! I felt at a real stand-still in my writing, and changing forms helped me feel excited about creating again. It’s made it easier for me to express myself in a way that feels meaningful. I also started birding, which feels very meditative and gets me outside.
What is your dream writing space?
My dream writing space has lots of light, different places to sit and spread out my work, shelves for all my books to live comfortably and, of course, a view of the ocean that is close enough to hear the sounds of the tide.
Grace, based in Brooklyn, is a second year student with a dual concentration in fiction and nonfiction. When not curled up with a book and a strong cup of tea, she can generally be found skimming the Rockaway Beach boardwalk, taking her dog to the park, or sketching out graphic memoir drafts. Her work was featured in the most recent issue of Sazeracs Smoky Ink.