Where I Write, a series of short interviews with current students, faculty, and alumni of the Creative Writing Program. It is a discussion of place in writing. What our writing spaces look like can be as varied as the physical spaces that exist (or don't!) in New York and beyond, and as varied as the mental and psychic spaces we occupy while we write. Write through the noise with MFA in fiction and nonfiction Ola Jacunski.
Where do you write?
It depends. If I manage to block off my mornings like I promise myself I always will, I write in the office I rent in the Flatiron district. If I don’t—and that’s usually the case—I write with my laptop balanced on my crossed legs, curled up in one of the gray chairs, as my last bit of productivity for the day. The TV is usually playing whatever show my husband has fallen asleep to and I can see the Empire State Building from the window. Before the pandemic, I would love taking my laptop to one local bar on weekends and write through the noise; I’ve taken to bringing my laptop to a different one on Fridays, when I’m heading home from the office, and sitting outside to write. That’s been lovely, especially since they make a mean negroni.
Stand, sit or other?
Curled up, bent around itself at all angles, usually. When I’m trying to finish writing on a deadline, though, I’m either standing—my longest stretch of writing in that position is about 5,000 words, in my bedroom during June 2020, with my laptop perched on one of the open drawers of my wardrobe—or sprawled out on the rug in the living room, sometimes face down, my arms outstretched in front of me like a sad superman, half-asleep but still typing (and sometimes, the words even make sense!)
What is your writing practice?
All spurts and stops. I fall into a habit for a few weeks or months, and then my brain rebels and I need to change to something new. I don’t do well with long-term routines, even though I crave (/desperately need) them in the short term. But I try to always set a word goal, something to work towards—I’m stupidly competitive, so most days, I blow right past it; on the days I can’t, I know I've written enough. Once I have a first draft, I have (sometimes) figured out what I actually want to say and end up cutting some 60% of what I’ve written.
What are your favorite procrastinations?
Video games first and foremost. Unfortunately, I’m taking a fantastic class this semester called Game Design as Play Design and our homework always includes a video game for a few hours a week—so, that. I’ve been trying to play a different one each week: Disco Elysium, Dragon Age: Origins, What Remains of Edith Finch… it’s been fantastic to explore so many different creations. I’ve also gotten really into Beat Saber on my Oculus, and that’s been a great way to break away for 15 minutes and get rid of some pent-up energy. And there’s always some kind of game on my phone that I get obsessed with for a few days or weeks until I hate both it and myself and delete it in a fit.
We live in interesting times, which book/author keeps you sane/grounded?
This is going to sound sappy, but it’s really been seeing other students’ work during the program. I think watching people write through all of this—people I’m lucky enough to call my classmates or even, sometimes, friends—has helped immensely because it’s both feeling like I’m witnessing, in real time, the creation of beauty in the world, and being given permission to create on my own. I’m very grateful for that.
What is your new skill learned during the shutdowns of the Pandemic
I’ve learned to say no to both others and myself. I’m not very good at it yet, but I tend to get in over my head jumping into six million different activities and responsibilities. The pandemic has helped me learn to ask myself, Is this something I need to be doing now? What do I have to not do to make time for this? It hasn’t really helped me be any less of a chicken running around with its head cut off, but I think I’m… slightly?... less of a mess than I would otherwise be. Please don’t disillusion me.
What is your dream writing space?
A teeny-tiny one-room cottage on the grounds of some (slightly larger) house upstate. It will be mostly windows and desk and the walls that aren’t glass will be covered with all the art I’ve bought at Comic Con that I don’t have space to hand right now. In the winter, it will be bitterly cold and I will complain about it incessantly until someone complains about how cold it is, at which point I will say, “Psh, that’s nothing,” like a true Canadian. In the summer, it will be far too hot for anyone to want to venture outside and bother me, which will suit me just fine.
Aleksandra Hill (Ola Jacunski) is a Polish-Canadian writer of speculative fiction and the founder and editor-in-chief of khōréō magazine. She earned a Ph.D. in computational biology from Columbia University and is currently pursuing an MFA in fiction and non-fiction at the New School. She is also an alumna of the Odyssey Writers Workshop. You can find her on Twitter at @_aleksandrahill.