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? Find out what makes second year MFA in nonfiction Elizabeth Kirkhorn Tik and how to avoid toxic perfectionism from her igloo in Midtown.
Where do you write?
I have never been more thankful for the existence of igloos than I am this semester; I inhabit them like an urban penguin whenever I need to write. This is a picture of Blank Slate in Midtown East, my favorite igloo discovery and new “office” of sorts. I’m not the kind of person who can write in the confines of my apartment (I get sleepy just looking at my bed, let alone trying to write in it), so finding hideouts that have Wifi, heating, and space for my books has become just as big a part of my writing process as writing itself. Honorable mentions for this kind of nook include: Remi Flower & Coffee, Five Leaves, and Epistrophy.
Stand, sit or other?
Sitting absolutely, until I reward myself for meeting a minimum word count with a nice, brisk walk. You can definitely find me pacing 48th Street between 2nd and 3rd Avenues at least once a day between bursts of writing. Come visit!
What is your writing practice?
It begins with conceptualization; asking myself, what writing do I want to accomplish today? Once I’ve built the scaffolding for a new essay in my brain, or steeled myself to do some dreaded editing, I reward myself with a cup of coffee. Usually the idea gains a little bit more life while I wait in line or walk to the corner shop. By the time I’m back at the computer, I’ve emotionally braced myself to write. I like to spend an hour doing either writing or editing, take a break, and then spend another hour doing the opposite. Basically, this means rotating between brand new material, and dusting off something old (a practice that Luis Jaramillo recommended to me). I used to be debilitated by editing as I wrote, which fueled toxic perfectionism. Even in the first draft, my need to choose every word exactly became painstaking, and that made revision a major pain. I could never let go of anything! Now, I put my creative energy towards playing on the page, pounding out something new, and then putting it away without giving myself space to pick at it. Then, I switch the revision gears on to fix up a piece where I have distance or perspective. I am religious about following Hemingway’s advice on concluding a session: “when you’re going good, stop writing.” That cliche is sure to get a groan from the writers in the room, but I promise: it helps.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
I barely want to admit this but my favorite way to procrastinate writing is Tik Tok. I find that just watching a few quick, digestible clips jogs my brain, but doesn’t allow me to get sucked into an entirely new activity. If you’re familiar with “sides” of Tik Tok, I tend to linger on female empowerment tok, breakup tok, and relationship advice tok. I’m writing my thesis on womanhood, love, and dating. So, I can really get back in a groove just by opening Tik Tok and watching a 60 second clip of someone discussing her latest entanglement with a flashy investment banker named Todd. I think to myself, “I see her determination and youth, but also her vulnerability and loss. How can I bring that to my page the same way she does to her content?”
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
I always come home to my absolute favorite memoir in essays, Jill Talbot’s The Way We Weren’t when I need inspiration or a little bit of levity. I actually got to interview her as part of my critical thesis project, which was so fulfilling to me as a reader and writer. I also recently read Andre Aciman’s Homo Irrealis, composed of essays on time, art, and our infinite possibilities as humans. I’m a huge fan of his, so of course, this is a shameless plug to invest in his writing. Lastly, I’m about three quarters of the way through Saunders’ latest, A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. I traditionally can’t stand Saunders, nor do I like books about “how to be a writer,” so you know I don’t recommend this lightly. It’s worth the fact that it hasn’t come out in paperback.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
I actually learned how to cook real food for myself. No more lean cuisines and TV dinners for this girl. My current obsessions are roasting the perfect cauliflower and mastering very unexpected ways to prepare gnocchi (pumpkin ricotta, anyone?)
What is your dream writing space?
I want access to a space with breathtaking, can’t-get-this-anywhere-else kind of views. I would settle for the oceanfront if I had to, but I would so prefer mountains or just miles on miles of trees.
Elizabeth Kirkhorn is a Manhattan transplant by way of Washington D.C., and a second-year nonfiction student. She works at the Meredith Corporation as an Associate Editor. Elizabeth would like to thank lean cuisines, Yankee Candle, and her French press for their support throughout the MFA. Check out Elizabeth's portfolio here.