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? Dream a little with first year MFA in poetry Hannah Sawyerr and attain the unattainable.
Where do you write?
I write at a tiny desk (no concert, it’s just that small!) in my apartment in Brooklyn. My friend’s joke that I somehow managed to turn my desk into an office. I keep a BRITA for water and an electric kettle for tea because when I’m really into it I don’t want to move! I then light a candle, (or turn on my wax warmer) allow myself to dream a little and then get to work.
Stand, sit or other?
Oh, I definitely sit. I didn’t even know standing desks were a thing until fairly recently. They seem pretty criminal to me! If I’m working on a longer project, especially one with a narrative arc, I absolutely need to be sitting at a desk (preferably my desk) but if I’m not at home, I can write at a regular table. Shorter projects, including poems, essays, blog posts, or anything I’m certain I will not share can be written anywhere for me. I tend to just use my laptop in bed.
What is your writing practice?
For poetry, I can write anywhere. I have literally pulled over my car while driving to write a poem that came to me. I can write in the doctor’s office, in my notes app during a walk, and I’ve even been guilty of writing poems during class a time or two. (sorry professors!)
For fiction, my process is a bit more organized. I think my fiction tends to be more character driven so I use post it notes for a very loose outline, but my characters are profiled really heavily. I like to let my characters tell me the story, so I develop them as much as I can and then I listen. I also tend to get a lot of writing done in churches. I don’t attend anymore, but when I’m home I attend out of respect for my parents and my roots, or when my friend got baptised I went to show my support for her. I actually think I write some of my best work in churches.
I don’t write quickly, but I do spend quite a lot of time with my work. I usually start and finish my day with a couple of hours of writing. I don’t set hard expectations, but for me it’s fun to set an “unattainable goal” If I make it, I toast with a glass of wine, if I don’t I might still toast with a glass of wine.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
My favorite procrastination is also what tends to keep me the most focused. I love zoom writing sprints with friends. (Which I’m hoping will turn into in-person sprints soon!) Usually we set talk timers, but I can be a talker (and a lot of my friends can be talkers too!) so we’ll set a talk timer but sometimes the poor thing will go off and be ignored. Next thing you know, a conversation about a dilemma regarding food in a scene has turned into a conversation about the time one of us got food poisoning and vomited on the schoolbus in the 3rd grade, which turns into an hour long conversation about embarrassing childhood stories we’ve never shared.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
I love re-reading books. It provides me with the same comfort that rewatching a show does when you already know the ending. I will always return to works by Sandra Cisneros, Tiffany D. Jackson, Elizabeth Acevedo, Maya Angelou and Jesmyn Ward just to name a few.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
I got back into the guitar recently! I used to play in high school, but my mom shipped my guitar to my cousin in Sierra Leone when I moved for undergrad. (Those of us with immigrant parents understand how hilarious this is!) I recently purchased a new guitar and have been teaching myself how to play again.
What is your dream writing space?
I want to be one of those unicorns who can write anywhere. I think with my poetry, I’ve gotten to a point where I can write most places, but I will know I’ve flexed some serious literary muscles if I can take a fiction project anywhere and still continue to write!
For now my dream location is a coffee shop! Because I haven’t written in one in so long. I just got my first COVID vaccine, so hopefully this will be a reality very soon!
Hannah V. Sawyerr is a Sierra Leonean-American writer. She was recognized as the Youth Poet Laureate of Baltimore and her spoken word poetry has been featured on the British Broadcasting Channel’s (BBC) “World Have Your Say” program and the National Education Association’s (NEA) “Do You Hear Us” Campaign. Her written work has been featured in several publications such as Poets.org, ROOKIE, and Sesi Magazine. For her literary work, she is represented by Joanna Volpe and Jordan Hill of New Leaf Literary & Media. Currently, she is earning her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at The New School. You can find her at hannahsawyerr.com.