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 Ben Franklin in a bathtub, from Marcel Proust in bed to Jane Austen at the kitchen table to you: what does your writing space look like? Second year MFA student in fiction Wilbert Turner III invites us to pull up a storage tub and go mobile.
Where do you write?
Almost exclusively in my bedroom. Before the Pandemic this meant at a rickety black desk in Flushing, but now I’m back at home in South Philly. I don’t have a desk in my room, so I’ve stacked two bins and placed my laptop atop them. I enjoy the near absolute solitude of it. When I used to write in public or in a family room, someone invariable would start trying to strike up a conversation, and honestly, I can’t deal with the distraction. I should however give honorable mention to the notes app on my phone, where I jot down thoughts and sentences pretty much daily, and nobody ever bothers me while doing it. Probably because they assume I’m texting. Go figure.
Stand, sit or other?
I’m almost always sitting when the actual act of typing or writing is done. But I’ve found that the best way for me to overcome writer’s block is to go for walks (with my trusty notes app in hand!) When I lived in Queens I would head out of my apartment at all times of the night, ostensibly for snack runs but really because my brain works best when I can get my blood flowing. Now with the Pandemic and being in Philly, I’ve restricted myself to masked walks and only during the daytime. And now that it’s cold out, I’ve restricted myself even further to pacing in my room or hopping on my twenty-five year old stationary bike.
What is your writing practice?
It always starts with music. I have eleven playlists on Spotify designed specifically for me to listen to while writing (not to mention over 170 other playlists I’ve created over the years). Some of them are six years old, others are barely six months old. They range from movie soundtrack songs to hip-hop to some of the biggest pop hits of the past few decades. Maybe twenty percent of the songs are instrumentals, but usually I’m listening to a song with words while writing. Each playlist is a bit different and inspires a different set of moods while I’m writing. If I don’t have music, I’m probably not accomplishing much. Once I select my playlist, I usually open my novel-in-progress on Google Docs, and pick up where I last left off. For the most part I’m a chronological writer and reviser, unless I’m struck with writer’s block. Although I’ve often found that writer’s block in one section of the novel is writer’s block in every section, and I either need to go for one of my walks or consult the notes app. Now, I would be remiss not to mention at least a few foibles of my writing practice: I’m an incessant word count checker. I probably check my total word count every forty-five words written or deleted. I don’t really know why, but I suppose the ever shifting number comforts me somehow. I also tend to be heavy on the dialogue and light on the interiority, and while I’ve worked on achieving a sense of balance, I’ll always love a good zinger that can be felt by both the audience and other characters.
What are your favorite procrastinations ?
I’m actually obsessed with YouTube million dollar property tours done by either Architectural Digest or Ryan Serhant. I discovered both YouTube channels about a month before the Pandemic and they’ve truly carried me through it thus far. I could watch and rewatch either for a couple hours everyday (and often do). I’m also a big fan of a few writing podcasts like Between the Covers which is the official Tin House pod, or The Maris Review. Other than that you can probably find me watching Game of Thrones (only seasons 1-6), The Crown (Yes even the seasons without Princess Diana) or surfing the greatest social media app in existence: Twitter.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
This was probably the most difficult question to answer. Back at the beginning of the Pandemic, it was undoubtedly Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado which I was actually fortunate enough to have borrowed from our inimitable classmate Kate Tooley. But I’ve since returned that book and had to find other literary worlds. If I had to pick just one author it would probably be James Baldwin and the book would probably be his first novel, Go Tell It On The Mountain. There are other works of Baldwin’s that are more well known by the general public (The Fire Next Time, Giovanni’s Room), but Go Tell It On The Mountain speaks to levels of profound hope and disillusionment that I really feel at the core of my being. Plus I love the ways in which it jumps between POV’s and how its a bildungsroman that gives its characters satisfying endings, even if they’re not happy ones.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
Well I’ve been learning the piano based on a phone app and some YouTube tutorials, but since I’ve only recently ascended to comfortably playing intermediate songs, I’m actually going to say the best skill I’ve learned is podcasting. Over the past couple of months, a fellow student (Jake Steinberg) and I have started up a pop culture podcast called Viewer Digression. We talk about all sorts of topics, from movies, to TV, to books (And in our upcoming episode I give a very special shoutout to Jane Austen and Pride & Prejudice). I think it’s undoubtedly helped me become a better writer, because I’m constantly analyzing why something works (or why it doesn’t). We’re also running social media accounts for the pod, so I’m learning a few things there as well.
What is your dream writing space?
Like I said I’m a mostly solitary writer so my dreaming writing space would be my own private library. I could have access to all my greatest inspirations, a nice view with a little sunlight, and I’d probably keep a stereo system in there for good measure. I’m not really one for vinyls, but if I’m being honest I’d probably have one of those just for the aesthetic. All that being said, I’d probably settle for a writing space with an actual desk for now.
Wilbert Turner III is a writer from South Philadelphia. You can find him tweeting @wil_to_win, podcasting at Viewer Digression or blogging at Halfheartedwisdoms.com