Writing projects take second place during the school year when I teach at Capital University. I often wish for the spaciousness of creative work in the hubbub of the school schedule. Last the spring I applied for a residency, and received the wonderful news “you’re in!” The following day came this caveat: “You’re on the wait list.” Say what? For twenty-four hours I’d been looking forward to total immersion: long days writing, breaks taken up with reading, and listening to other writers read their work at night.
The wait-list position never materialized. But, for the first time in 22 years, my kids are both in their own apartments. I had the option of creating a writer’s residency here at home.
You don’t have to create two weeks of calm to get the residency immersion experience — even a dawn-to-dusk Saturday will help to re-charge your creative batteries. While the kids were at home, I would sometimes book myself into cheap accommodation from Friday night to Sunday evening to work on my novel The LightCatcher.
1. Download podcasts. Instead of listening to the radio when I have to run errands, I’m plugging the phone into my car stereo for KCRW’s Bookworm, to Writers and Company from CBC Radio, The New Yorker: Fiction, Poem Talk, and The Moth. I have the ear-buds in when I’m doing housework or gardening, listening to interviews with writers on KCRW or CBC. Their intellectual process and their struggles help me when I face the page.
2. Delete the Facebook app on your phone. It takes a person about 10-15 minutes to drop back into concentration after checking social media, and the temptation to whittle away my time is too great. Sorry dear friends! I’m writing.
3. Order books. Consume the written word. Keep excellent writing nearby, craft books, memoir, fiction, magazines that showcase excellent writers and concepts that stretch you — The Atlantic, The New Yorker, Harpers are on my kitchen table, ready to go when I sit down with a sandwich.
4. Bring a journal. I have problems writing, getting started writing, continuing to write. To deal with the internal voices that tell me (essentially) “you’ll never be enough” I write them down in the journal. I’ve acknowledged it, I’ve dealt with it. Then I go back to writing. This is so hard! Looking at my body of work, a person wouldn’t think that sometimes I can spend two hours dealing with those negative voices before I get a word written.
5. Get a writing coach or a writing buddy. I take those negative voices tracked in the little journal to a life coach that I’ve hired for this summer. We’re finding the root of those voices together and setting homework – both emotional and writing goals – for the following week.
6. Approach the juciest piece of writing first. Mark Twain’s method toward memoir was to tackle the most interesting part, leave it when he got bored, and skip to the next most interesting part. Do the same thing. You don’t have a lot of time. The days turn into weeks and months quickly. You’re laying down drafts and crafting. If you keep going, the breakthroughs will happen.
7. At night, when you are alone, pretend you’re at the most fun part of any residency, listening to writers read their work. Turn on your Fiction podcast from The New Yorker and let a writer lull you with an amazing story. Sop up all that language. You have the opportunity to create your dream-writer lineup with those podcasts. Curate the writers that invigorate and inspire your work.
Enjoy your residency! Please leave a comment to let me know what you do in your writer’s retreat to create the residency that nourishes your craft.