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 nonfiction Azka Anwar serves up slivers of memory, birdsong, and chocolate chip cookies.
Where do you write?
My greatest accomplishment of the last year was managing to squeeze a desk into my shoebox-sized bedroom. Once the pandemic hit and writing (or pretending to) in cute cafés was no longer an option, I realized pretty quickly that I needed a work space that wasn't my bed (writing in bed only ever ends in untimely naps for me). My desk is where I write now, and I've lined it with all the essentials for a productive writing day: brightly colored pens, a scented candle, and a jar of almonds (every Pakistani mom’s snack recommendation of choice).
Stand, sit or other?
Sit (or slouch, or sometimes, hunch over and cry…)
What is your writing practice?
Refuse to write until two days before a deadline. Just kidding. I don't like to know what a piece is going to be about until I've started writing it, so my essays usually begin with an image, or a phrase, or a sliver of a memory. Which means that I'm a very, very slow writer—the first draft is just the story discovering itself, and that process is always at least a little terrifying (but illuminating and rewarding, ultimately). I also need the right music to get into the writing headspace—'dark academia' playlists on YouTube work very well (and Taylor Swift's folklore is even better).
What are your favorite procrastinations ?
South Korean variety shows. Unearned breaks to bake Pillsbury's chocolate chip cookies. And one of the more productive ones is to read books by better writers than myself (ha). Nothing inspires me to write like reading great writing, naturally—right now I'm reading Rebecca Solnit's Recollections of my Nonexistence and hoping that by doing so I can absorb some of her talent. One dreams.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
Anything by Brian Doyle. He's perhaps the first writer who made me feel like the (small, seemingly mundane) subjects I gravitate towards could make for stirring, important nonfiction. His Epiphanies column in The American Scholar is where I go when I need to be reminded of the things that are most essential to me: paying attention, taking my time, letting myself be moved by language. (For the uninitiated, I recommend starting with Joyas Voladoras.)
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
Positioning my mask just so, so it won't fog up my glasses. Managing to somehow kill every houseplant I acquire, no matter how low maintenance. And one I'm quite proud of: learning to make a traditional Eid breakfast without my mother's (in person) supervision.
What is your dream writing space?
My own library with floor to ceiling bookshelves, because I never got over Belle's. With a fireplace, of course, and a hot chocolate-dispenser in some corner. Faint birdsong coming in from the gardens outside the window, and the presence of a muse who refuses to leave my side. Amen.
Azka Anwar is a second-year nonfiction student from Pakistan and an editorial fellow at Guernica and Teachers & Writers Magazine. She lives in Brooklyn with a dead cactus that she refuses to throw away.