“I feel weird when I don’t write” – Creative writers in the English Department (by Becca Souza)

Annesha Sengupta
Creative Writing and Business Studies minors
Short Stories

If you ever catch Annesha Singh with some down time, you might see her writing scraps after class, hurriedly typing away to pin down a new thought, or getting lost in a new story idea while walking down the street.

Annesha says she chose short stories to focus her technique. By using a tighter space for experimentation, she feels can hone her tone and style before moving on to a bigger project. Her current collection of short stories revolves around the mother/daughter relationship and is largely drawn from her time spent with her mother and grandmother in Calcutta, India. She uses writing as a processing tool, intertwining snippets of her mother’s stories and daily interactions within a scene. For her, writing is a way to make sense of her thoughts and experiences within a fictional setting. “I feel weird when I don’t write,” she says. The ideas flow easily to her, and often she feels compelled to preserve them on paper.

But for Annesha, getting her first words down can also be one of the hardest parts about writing. It’s easy to wait until you feel “good,” or in the right mood to write. “As a student, it’s either you’re sick or you’re tired or hungry,” she says, which makes it difficult to find the time to think creatively. And after finally writing that first sentence and feeling pretty good about it, she thinks a writer might look back and “feel like it’s the worst sentence you’ve ever written!” Annesha speaks to the challenge of being overly critical of your own work. Because of her own standards, it’s becomes easy to work on something for a while, get sick of it, and put it in the bottom of a drawer forever. One particular thing she’s working on is putting “more time and investment in my first drafts,” and staying committed to one piece of work.

Finding the time to put in that investment is another challenge. Between two minors, an editor-in-chief position at the Minetta Review, and publishing internships, it can be hard for her to find that sweet spot for writing. “I can’t sit down and write for two hours,” she says. Instead she finds herself writing bits and pieces whenever she finds the time. One thing she especially appreciates about being a creative writing minor is how the classes push you to keep writing. Even within the constraints of assignments, in Annesha’s experience the professors usually give enough freedom for you to explore your skills, especially in higher-level classes.

Although not ready for the press quite yet, Annesha says she intends to send out her pieces to literary magazines and test the market. Like many English majors, she craves the “safety net” that is often absent from literary careers. She dreams of finding the stability to be a full time writer and has her hopes set on working at a publishing house or literary agency and perhaps pursuing an MFA. Meanwhile she’ll polish her current collection, perfect her skills, and continue capturing her ideas.

Elizabeth Horner

Elizabeth Horner is a junior-high bookworm turned writer. Now a senior with an interest in the publishing industry, her avid reading and recent experience working at a publishing platform have her attuned to what’s already on the market. “There are way too many fantasy novel covers with a silhouetted woman in a white, flowy dress,” Elizabeth says. Instead, she’s turning her eye to what she hasn’t seen—a novel that spins the idea of fantasy on its head. With the working title For All Life’s Faults, her newly minted book is a reversal of the usual superhero plot line. The world Elizabeth has created is indeed full of magical power—but the heroine doesn’t have any. Disadvantaged, middle class, but with a lot of courage, much of the story centers on the dangerous rescue of her parents, who have been taken as prisoners-of-war. Top it off with an alliance between the main character and a young aristocrat, and Elizabeth’s novel is full of both political and interpersonal intrigue.

When she first started brainstorming almost a decade ago, the idea for her novel originally included a love triangle and an extensive list of characters. Yet as Elizabeth grew older, her work grew and adapted with her. By the time she came to university, she wanted to focus on a story that doesn’t rely on overblown conflict. “So many TV shows have a couple that breaks up over and over in just one season,” she explains, “I wanted to do a story where there aren’t un-overcome-able challenges.” She’s not interested in a story dependent on one big event (like the slaying of a dragon or the death of the hero’s family) but one that zeroes in on the real stuff, the “in between moments” with conflicts that are not insurmountable. After graduation, Elizabeth hopes to seek an agent to get her book published, continue her work in the industry, and keep staying up way too late writing.


Haley Neil

For Haley Neil, writing fantasy is an exercise in imagination and creativity. “One of the most exciting (and challenging) parts of writing is creating a believable world,” she says. “With fantasy, world building is pushed to the extremes.” Like many authors, she started with a passion for reading her genre. Haley has loved reading fantasy and making up stories since she was a kid. But as she’s grown older, writing has brought “a way to express, to imagine, to create something distinctly my own,” she says.

Her current project is a long worked on novel with the potential title Gray. The story begins with a seemingly ‘normal’ heroine, but later exposes her as a key player in the battle between Heaven and Hell. Except in Haley’s version, she’s the savior for Hell. “A lot of it has to do with questioning destiny,” Haley explains. “Does she have to be evil? Is there another way?” The story gets even more complicated when her heroine meets the quirky gods and goddesses on Heaven’s side. In addition to the other themes running through her book, from here “a layer of questioning the reality of the whole situation” begins to emerge.

Haley might be looking forward to finishing this project soon. “I’m in the midst of a pretty intensive edit on the beginning. On the other end, I have about 3 chapters until I’m done with my first draft,” she says. She’s working on tying it up while studying abroad in London this semester. Haley thinks the experience has had a positive impact on her work. “I think it’s given me a greater wealth of inspiration,” she says. Other than completing her first draft of her novel, she is also applying for MFA programs and thinking about where her writing career will take her. “My dream is to teach creative writing and (fingers crossed!) get published,” she says.


Stephen Smith
Dramatic Literature major

With his plays, Stephen Smith is tackling the big questions. His last play, an alternative Jamestown narrative, was Stephen’s ways of addressing “what it means to feel authentic in one’s own skin” and how people are “claiming a space in life and history.” He says he likes to explore the big questions without the answers in mind. To him, it’s important to begin “creating from a place of not knowing.”

Originally a fiction writer, he switched over to the stage after taking a playwriting class at NYU. “Like most 17-18 year olds, it was about vanity,” he says of his first experiences with creative writing. As a teenager craving independence, writing for him was about “creating your own space.” Although it’s been a few years since then, finding space is still an issue Stephen tackles in his playwriting. He says a big part of the college experience is feeling “awkward in your own skin,” and that creating a story on conquering space was a way of exploring that.

However, expressing those big ideas in writing brings its own challenges.

Stephen confesses the heartbreak that comes with writing. Often, hours of investment in a piece can end in rejection. Without a drive and a thick skin, it can be tough to withstand the criticism. “If you can live without writing, do it,” he suggests, but for Stephen leaving writing behind is not an option. In order to be a writer, “you have to be a little crazy,” he says. “You have to need it.”

Stephen puts in that investment daily. He dedicates two hours every day to put in the work, and finds that inspiration usually comes with it. One of his favorite places to write is in a museum, or even between classes at the art gallery in Bobst. Being in a space filled with beauty and history often helps spark his imagination. NYU and the city also offer a community of playwrights, which can be a huge source of support for Stephen. Playwriting gives an opportunity to share that forged space with others, both intellectually and on the stage. When he is looking to do a reading or for feedback on his work, he can call on one of the others to help him out.  Because of this, staying in New York to focus on his writing is a big priority for Stephen after graduation. The vibrancy of life in the city and the opportunity to “to be around people thinking about these things,” will keep him in New York. As he says, “there’s no other place to do it.”