My student Allison emailed and asked me for some advice on writing residencies or to do a blog post about it. She is going to a residency in Arkansas and then India. Her questions are below. I’m answering them in a “Here’s what I would do” way.
- Ratio of allotted time: Amount of time to spend writing vs. reading to be inspired vs. wandering the colony/retreat to be inspired
I would write 75% and read and wander 25%. I’d spend my day writing from 7/8a.m to 4p.m. and give myself nights off to read/walk/eat.
2. What to pack and what to leave behind
This is a funny question. Bring your computer, headphones, journal, favorite pen, two books that you want to write towards, (I keep books of essays on my desk while writing a book of essays to remind myself that essay collections are in fact, a thing, and I know you (Allison) are working on an essay collection. Bring comfortable clothes, things that comfort you. When write I usually wear yoga clothes/pajamas all day and get dressed in real clothes late afternoon.
3. Social media: to cut off or not to cut off?
When I was at the Martha’s Vineyard residency I didn’t cut it off, and start posting dire tweets, because I get dark sometimes when I am writing about ‘myself’ for 7 hours a day. So dire that my friend ended up sending me an album called Blue Moods of Spain, an album that meditates on loneliness. It’s great! Anyway, sure, why not deactivate? Both Facebook and Twitter make it easy to deactivate and you can even put in a custom date that you want them to reactivate for you. I think you should deactivate. Unless of course, you want to be the type of person who HUMBLE BRAGS about your residency on Facebook or posts about how productive or unproductive you are being. Boring. Lame. Outdated. Get off that shit and work on your book. You could do this thing my friend Logan does: she takes pics throughout her trips and posts them all at one time when she gets home. It saves you from obsessively posting to IG while within the experience. I did deactivate Twitter when I was working on my book in Portland last month.
4) Is it worthwhile to keep in touch with people from home? Or take the monastic approach and retreat from the world?
I’m a big phone talker. When I was at my residency I spoke with my agent on the phone, my mom while I grocery shopped, and my friend Fran. I think it can be nice, you already have so many hours alone and if you take my advice and cut off social media, you’ll need this! Support is good.
5) Did you start every day with a goal? an outline? Or is it better to put the butt in chair and see what comes?
I hate goals and outlines and plans. I do have goals often but I don’t think of them that way. I just choose something to work on. You’re working on a collection of essays? Choose one to finish and one to start AND finish (at least a draft). Choose the one you’ve been putting off.
Your Q is hard for me to answer because I don’t know how far along you are in your book. But yeah, since you have the space and time, work on the one thing you’ve been putting off, maybe think about the order you want your essays to be in. Maybe read your collection out loud. While do this, you catch errors and often think of more details and anecdotes and changes you want to make to your essays.
6) Is it a good idea to restrict/limit internet surfing?
Yes! We already went over this. ( :
7) What helped you to feel connected to the experience: exercise? journaling? other activities?
My situation was different because I went to the residency with three other close writer friends. I made friends with some of the other women there, and that bonded everyone. Towards the end of our stay we went out to bars together, and we had dinner together mostly every night. It can be tempting to isolate yourself (at least for me) so forcing yourself to do something social is good. Or even going to see a movie. In India go eat food and take pics and walk around. In Arkansas, I have no idea what to tell you.
8) Any other advice would be a gift 🙂
Get sleep. If you can–go to bed and wake up at the same time every night. This helps with structure. I took a hot shower each night before bed.
Choose an essay you’re working on and read it out loud and record it on your iPhone. In the evening take a walk and listen to your essay on head phones. This helps trigger more memories.
Stretch and move. At one point my body was so tensed and shoulders so stressed that I walked into town and got a massage. Total game changer.
Something else but I forget. Good luck!!!!
p.s. Here’s some more epic advice I recently gave: