The Writer’s Desk features the desks and writing practices of Gemini Ink faculty, visiting authors, teaching artists, volunteers, students, interns, staff, partners and more. Receive new posts in your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter at bit.ly/geminiinknewsletter.
Join Mikaela Simon on Thursdays, Nov 9 & 16, 2023, 6-9pm CST, via Zoom, for her workshop: Introduction to Playwriting. This course is open to writers of all genres and skill level, 18+ and will cover structure, format, dialogue, monologues, characters, dramatic action, and theatricality. Participants will explore these elements and use them to create their own short plays and/or scenes.
Hi Mikaela! It’s great to have you here with us! Let’s dive right into your writing habits. Have you discovered any new favorite spots to write over the years?
When I was in elementary school, all the way through high school, my go-to place to write was my bed. I’d get cozy with a blanket and a notebook and work best from that place of comfort. When I got to college, I realized that I actually work better in public spaces. I wrote all of my plays my senior year from the pub on my campus, drinking free fountain lemonade. Now, my go-to spot to work on my writing is cafes. I’ll sit down with a little treat and a dirty chai and get to work. The ambient noise helps me focus. (I also allow myself to believe that the other people around will judge me if I’m not working hard enough, so that helps keep me on task.)
What is the one piece of writing advice that you value most?
“Limitation frees creativity.”
I use this advice in all of my creative endeavors. I read it in an assigned text for a directing class, A Sense of Direction, by William Ball. I think all theatre students had a similar piece of wisdom handed down to them. The idea that the freedom of choice actually inhibits the creative process–it’s one that seems counterintuitive. But my best work has come when I set a limit, a rule, something that gives me a jumping-off point to create freely. No piece of writing advice has ever impacted me more.
What’s a book or movie that you can watch over and over again and not get tired of?
Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Directed by Edgar Wright. I’ve probably watched that movie a dozen times. I just think everything about it is so intentionally and beautifully done. The cast is phenomenal. The artistry of the movie doesn’t take away from the silliness. The magical realism of the movie doesn’t take away from the heart. I bring it up regularly in conversation. It’s a movie I’m always in the mood to watch. I’m really looking forward to the series that they’re making based on the comics.
That looks great! (We love Michael Cera too:) What about music or podcasts? What are you listening too lately?
I’ve been listening to The Record by boygenius on repeat since it was released in March. Hozier’s new album, Unreal Unearth. I just discovered a string quintuplet that plays contemporary style trad music–Scottish Fish. Can’t get enough of them. I’m someone who finds an album and then clings to it until something new comes out for me to obsess over. If I still bought CDs, I’d be wearing them out in weeks.
To dive back into your work, what recurring themes or symbols do you find often emerges? Why are you drawn to this theme/symbol?
I write a lot of queer characters and a lot of Jewish characters, because I am both of those things. I don’t know if that counts as a theme or symbol, but it’s definitely a throughline. They (who is they??) always tell you to write from life, and so much of my lived experience is based on being part of those two groups. You don’t get to see them intersect often in media, so I make an effort to include characters who reflect my identity, because I know there are lots of other people with the same or similar identities who are also looking for that representation.
Do you have a motto? Does it also apply to your writing?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to curse here–so I’ll censor it.
My motto is “F*ck it, oat milk.”
It’s based on a story from several years ago now. I was in a Dunkin’ and someone came in and ordered something and they didn’t have what he wanted, and so he loudly announced to the barista, (and everyone else,) “F*ck it, oat milk.” To me, it basically means to pivot, to not take things too seriously, to move on if something doesn’t go your way. It can also mean taking a chance and not worrying too much about what happens. It’s kind of become a catchall. My friends and I use it pretty much every day.
Do you like things to be carefully planned out or do you prefer to just go with the flow? Does this also apply to how you lay out a story?
I am a planner. I carry my bullet journal with me everywhere I go, my calendar is color-coordinated, and I would combust without my daily to-do lists. This carries through to my writing in certain ways–I like to map out characters and story arcs and scene breakdowns before I really get into the grit of writing dialogue and scenes. But I also enjoy a good freewrite, with no rules and no expectations. Some of my best work has come from just letting the words flow, and then going back in and finding the useful stuff within the freewrite.
I’m also a fan of a Parking Lot–a document where ideas can exist in list form before I know what to do with them.
I just jot down everything I know about a character or a setting or a plot, all of the questions I have, the problems I need to address. That helps me keep track of everything, so I don’t lose an idea because I took too long to use it.
Are there any words or phrases you overuse?
I use the phrase “jarring” a lot in my everyday vocabulary. Things don’t scare me, I find them jarring. I fall prey to a lot of trends in language as well–I’m always online, so I consume a lot of media slang and find myself using it on a rotation until new slang comes into fashion. Calling everyone “bestie” is a big one right now. By the time this interview is released, it’ll be something else, I’m sure.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve heard or read recently?
I saw a video recently that explained the concept of time as you age. I always wondered how life could feel like it’s moving so much faster as an adult. When I was a kid, time seemed to drag on between birthdays, holidays, school years. Now, I blink and six months have gone by. But it’s time, so it can’t actually be moving faster now, can it? In this video, they explained that, technically, it’s moving the same speed, but our perception of time changes as we age. When you’re 6 years old, a year is 1/6th of your life, so it feels like a massive chunk of time. When you’re 26 years old, a year is 1/26th of your life, so your perception of the speed is altered, because it’s just so much smaller a fraction of your life in total. That’s why it feels like time moves so much quicker the older you get. Maybe this was obvious and everyone else already knew it. But I didn’t. And it kinda blew my mind a little bit.
Let us know what you’re working on now.
I work at a school in Paramus, NJ where I teach playwriting and then direct 8th graders as a part of their Holocaust curriculum. That program runs from November to April–it’ll be my third year running it. It’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever gotten the chance to do. I was also just accepted into a writing cohort of emerging NJ based playwrights, so I’m super stoked to get started with them and get back into the habit of writing for myself, and not just with 14 year olds.
Mikaela Simon (she/her) is a multi-disciplinary artist based in Jersey City, NJ. She graduated in 2019 from Drew University with a BA in Theatre Arts. While in college, Mikaela’s work was performed a number of times in the Plays in Process series, and she was also a recipient of the Robert Fisher Oxnam Award for Playwriting in 2018, resulting in a staged reading produced by the Ensemble Studio Theatre. Since graduating, she has taken on the role of teaching artist for the theatre program at Yavneh Academy in Paramus, NJ. Mikaela is also a multimedia visual artist, and is very involved in the Jersey City arts community with her small business (@doodlealldayy). Writing has always held a special place for her, and she looks forward to getting the chance to share the beautiful craft of playwriting with people who have a story to tell.