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? Second year MFA in fiction Gina Chung gives her Brooklyn closet a magic nook makeover that transcends time and space.
Where do you write?
Like most New Yorkers, I live and work out of a small space, but I do have a relatively spacious closet. So in the fall of 2020, after binging a series of interior design videos on YouTube, I decided to take the plunge and turn my closet into a cozy nook. I bought a blue scalloped armchair, pink rug, side table, lamp, and twinkle lights and never looked back. Now my closet nook is where I sit to write (sometimes by hand, if the words are coming a bit slower than usual), read, or just relax with a drink. If whatever I have to get done that day requires more precise, detail-oriented attention like revision or proofing, I’ll write at my desk (which I covered in gold contact paper during the early stages of the pandemic), but I love drafting new work in my closet nook—maybe because there’s something about that space that feels a bit outside of time and space, which I find freeing.
Stand, sit or other?
I usually have to sit in order to write. I’ve experimented with standing desk setups in the past, but since I also like to listen to music when I write, I could never get over the weird feeling that I was DJ-ing for no one while I was standing and writing. Plus, when I stand, I find that I’m more tempted to stare outside and get distracted by imagining the lives of my neighbors or the emotional entanglements of the pigeons that congregate outside my window.
What is your writing practice?
As much as I’d love to be a daily writer, I find it challenging (and not always that productive for me personally) to write every day, unless I’m nearing the end of a particular stage of a project. I prefer to write at night, when I don’t have to worry so much about the pressures and to-dos of the upcoming day. I also like walking around outside and listening to podcasts or music while thinking about what I’m working on, especially if I’m stuck on a particular character or scene, which I think counts as writing too. I like to craft specific playlists for whatever it is I’m writing, especially if it’s something longer, and so I find that putting on that playlist helps signal to my brain that I am now entering the world of my characters, like I’m going incognito among them. I’m a big believer in sitting with a story and asking it for whatever it needs next.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
Putting things into online shopping carts and (usually) not buying them; trying to decide what to eat next; catching up on the latest literary gossip or goings-on on Twitter.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
One book I return to often is Chemistry by Weike Wang, which really changed my life and my ideas about what a book could do when I first read it a few years ago, and which I felt represented so much of my own experiences as an Asian American woman in a way I had never seen before. Two other writers I’ve come back to frequently during this time are Alice Munro and Shirley Jackson. Alice Munro’s knife is so sharp you don’t even realize she’s cut you until you’re bleeding, and Shirley Jackson’s perfectly impeccable and eerie prose comforts me. In a world as twisted and awry as ours can be at times, I find that I crave the work of writers who aren’t afraid to stare their worst fears in the eye and say, “So what?”—which both Alice and Shirley do, in very different ways.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
I don’t know if this qualifies as a skill, but prior to the pandemic, I hated the cold in all forms and rarely ventured outdoors for longer than it takes to get to the subway, walk to somewhere warm, or run a quick errand. But over the last year, my tolerance for the cold and for inclement weather has gone up exponentially, to the point where on a day when it’s below freezing, I’ll still willingly venture out and layer up to like, go stare at the ducks in the water at Prospect Park. I’ve become a total nature girl and I love it.
What is your dream writing space?
I love small nooks (see above re: my closet), but I also like the idea of having a writing space that is expansive and airy. I think my dream writing space would be something like this treehouse, where I’d be able to store all my books and notebooks, while being able to stare out at a view of treetops and distant mountains for inspiration. And while, like most writers, I prefer to write alone, I’d also want the space to feel warm and social in the off-hours when I’m not writing, so I’d love for it to feel like a cozy haven for friends who might want to drop by for a glass of wine or whiskey in the evenings.
Gina Chung is a Korean American writer from New Jersey currently living in Brooklyn, New York. She is the communications manager at PEN America and an MFA candidate in fiction at The New School. Her work appears or is forthcoming in Catapult, The Kenyon Review, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, F(r)iction, Fugue, Wigleaf, Waxwing, Split Lip Magazine, Jellyfish Review, the VIDA Review, and LIT Magazine. Her stories have been recognized by the Black Warrior Review Contest, the Los Angeles Review Literary Awards, the CRAFT Elements Contest, and the Ploughshares Emerging Writer's Contest, as well as named Longform Fiction Pick of the Week. Find her at gina-chung.com.