Greetings, Boston Court Enthusiasts! I am honored to be visiting the blog of one of my favorite Los Angeles theaters (that’s you, Boston Court) and I’m excited to use this as an excuse to indulge in one of my favorite pastimes: peeping in on other people’s homes.
But it’s peeping with a purpose! Because if you’re at all like me, you’re curious about this elusive thing we call “The Writing Process.” My curiosity is two-fold: As a fan of great plays by great writers, I often find myself thinking, “How do they do it? Like, literally do it.” And as a writer myself, people frequently ask me that same question. I never have a good answer.
So let’s peep in on some great scribes’ writing “set-ups” in hopes of finding out.
Up this week is Stephanie Alison Walker, whose ability to blend the socio-political with the personal I truly admire. Steph is a writer in life-transition— residing in a new city (Chicago) with a new baby (Malcolm). In addition to her fantastic plays, she is the author of an equally fantastic and very popular blog, Love in the Time of Foreclosure. She sent me some photos of her work spaces, and then we indulged in some Google video chat. (Because I know Steph well, I didn’t even feel compelled to style my hair or swap my glasses for contacts. . . That’s my definition of someone being a true friend.)
From The Desk of Stephanie Alison Walker:
Me: Okay, here’s the question I plan to ask everyone: On a scale from 1 to 10, how much did you clean up your space before you took these photos for me?
Me: That’s my first real question for you. You’ve taken photos of two different spaces. This table [Photo 1 and Photo 2] and also a traditional desk [Photo 3]. How does that work?
Steph: I like big spaces where I can spread out. I’ll have my laptop, I’ll have all my research materials, and I’ll also have my notebook because sometimes I write long-hand for first drafts. And then—of course—coffee, water, a snack. And here it’s ideal because I love the light in this room, and it’s so easy because Malcolm goes to sleep and I walk a few feet and plop down at the computer. I can make the transition easily.
Me: And so the more formal desk?
Steph: It’s in an office downstairs. It’s a really nice mid-Century modern desk. And I like having all my stuff in the drawers, the pens are all there, it’s organized. But the dining room table is actually better for research, which is where I’m essentially at with my new play. Writing’s another story. So what I’ve really forced myself to do is write in my head a lot. When we’re on walks. When I’m nursing him. Really trying to get the play in my head. I’m trying to train myself to work that way.
Me: Tell me more about this new play of yours.
Steph: Do you see the collage above the desk? I’ve just made that for this project. It’s about women and magic.
Me: How did that idea come about?
Steph: When I was studying in Spain I put an ad in the paper saying that I was looking to either tutor English or babysit. And I got a whole bunch of weird phone calls. One caller asked me if I wanted to be a Magician’s Assistant and travel around Europe with him.
Steph: Yeah. He wanted to at least meet with me—I knew I wasn’t gonna do that. But I’ve always thought: “What if I really did it? What would that have been like?” I’m just fascinated by the whole dynamic between the assistant and the magician. And there’s just nothing out there about women in magic. It’s a play about what could’ve happened if I had said “Yes.” The glue stick and stack of magazines on the dining room table were from making that collage. And the paper from the notepad underneath the script pages, too. It’s actually a really nice notepad, for drawing with pastels. I’ve had it since college. I would draw with pastels or paint with watercolors as an outlet when my writing wasn’t going well. I’m not good! But there have been different things I’ve done over the years. Like, one thing in college was I took a guitar class. But then I broke my arm—not playing guitar! I also bought a saxophone once on Craig’s List for a hundred bucks. But we were living in a condo then and I felt that was really unfair to our neighbors.
Me: That’s interesting to me, because it seems it’s about drawing a line between creative expression—and unlocking it—versus procrastination. What are your biggest procrastination traps?
Steph: Historically it’s surfing the web. In L.A., I’d go to The Coffee Table, where there is no Internet. However, now that my time is so limited, knowing that I’ll have two hours—at the most—uninterrupted, I have to be so disciplined. I have to be really clear with myself.
Me: On the desk: The Bob’s Big Boy?
Steph: My grandparents used to take us to the Big Boy. And they bought a piggy bank for me. But that one we actually sold before we moved. We were trying to break our attachment to material possessions, which necessitated a lack of sentimentality. But when I blogged about selling it, people were upset. So actually Brian [Boston Court’s very own Brian Polak!] found a replacement on eBay and had it shipped to Chicago.
Me: And I also see a program for “Virginia Woolf.”
Steph: I just went—at Steppenwolf—the other night. It was phenomenal. I keep programs for a few months after seeing something, and I’ll look through it. Especially with something I liked.
Me: When do you find yourself looking through the programs?
Steph: When I’m procrastinating!
Me: There’s something on the dining room table I can’t identify. It looks like a multi-color vial with a green top.
Steph: Oh! That’s bubbles. The table’s a catch-all. I blow these and Malcolm likes it.
Me: And is that a red pen? Do you edit in red pen?
Steph: No, no, no. It’s black ink.
Me: But you make your edits and notes in pen.
Steph: Yeah. I don’t erase my notes. I’ll scribble. I‘ll cross whole pages out. Sometimes in error. I’ll realize later that some of it is actually pretty good.
Me: And let’s not forget Pablo’s appearance in that photo. He’s one of my favorite dogs. Tell the truth, does he actually do all of your writing for you?
Steph: If only he could!
Me: What would Pablo’s play be?
Steph: Oh God. About being replaced by a baby.
Me: (laughing) It would be such an angsty-teen, bitter play.
Me: “Everyone ignores me. . . No one loves me. . .”
Steph: We all have a play like that somewhere in us, don’t we?