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In an essay published recently in The Guardian, award winning author of Homegoing Yaa Gyasi talks about her “writing space.”

The essay opens with a story about her ordering a desk that never arrived. After a number of frustrating customer service calls and an hour of tears and trying to figure out why the absence of the desk bothered her so much, she came to the realization that a big part of being a writer is having what might appear to some as an irrational connection to certain objects, spaces, or habits. Every writer’s life is defined by certain “irrational bargaining and ritualizing,” as she calls, that inspire creativity. For her, it’s all about her “writing space” and the things, such as the desk, that make this space a sanctuary. 

It is a beautiful essay, written with a lot of heart and honesty. It has lots teachable moments for the aspiring writing, some of which we have compiled for you. 


1. The irrational bargaining of a writer. Gyasi describes a very relatable dilemma for every writer:

“I write a sentence. I read it aloud. I delete the sentence. I look at the clock and wonder if it’s too early to think about lunch. I tell myself that, if I can make it to 300 words, I can break for lunch. I write another sentence. This one I might like. If I’m lucky it leads to a second sentence. I think: “What’s the point of this? Is anyone truly happy?”

We’ve all been there! Picking apart your sentences, rewarding yourself for getting to a marker you’ve made for yourself, then inevitably starting from scratch. She even included the mini existential spiral that comes with this innate writer’s perfectionism.

2. Balancing the work that comes with writing/being a writer. As many ‘how-to’s’ there might be on how to balance work, life, and sifting through a plethora of emails on the daily, it will never feel manageable or convenient to do so. Ever.

3. Secret superstitions. It may seem minor from the outside looking in, but all the books Gyasi sits on her desk are important contributors to the energy of her successful writing. You cross your fingers during airplane take offs, some keep books on their desks for good luck. Don’t judge.

4. The sanctuary that is your “writer’s space”. Gyasi defensively mentions her “writer’s space” and how vital it is in her creative process. Some, fortunately enough, don’t need a physical writer’s space and just need to be in the headspace to write. This is why some writers just aren’t always able to write in hotel rooms or airplanes, (as Gyasi bemoans). Sometimes your writer’s space is a special dungeon.

5. The Writing Well.

“So much of my writing day feels like well-digging. Sometimes I dig 200ft down before coming back up, dry. Every day I search for water.”

This was just as comforting to read as it was true. Many times, even for the award winning writers, you will come back up dry while digging for the perfect words. But we must still search, persistently.

Read the full essay here.



Post image by John Midgley via

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2 Responses to “5 Take-aways from Yaa Gyasi’s Essay on Writing and Space” Subscribe

  1. Williams 2017/12/04 at 12:13 #

    This article was amazing! Very inspiring not only for creative writers but for those who are in school constantly writing essays (psy majors included!) very well written!


  1. What’s on Your Nightstand: December 2017 | Zezee with Books - 2017/12/30

    […] 5 Take-Aways from Yaa Gyasi’s Essay on Writing and Space ( […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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