A Writing Residency I’ll Never Forget

I’ve recently returned from my first ever writing residency and let me tell you, I’m hooked. I was awarded a residency by the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony (in Temecula, CA) who hosted me in the adorable little cabin pictured below. I was all by myself with nothing to do but work on my craft for nearly two weeks. Amazing!

Prior to this getaway I’d researched writing residencies and kept hearing the same productivity equation:  Two Weeks in a Writing Residency =  Two Months of Work in the Real World. I DID NOT BELIEVE THIS. But then I found myself at Dorland with no outside interruptions. No television, no internet, no humans or pets to care for, and no laundry waiting to be folded. I didn’t plan a meal around anyone else’s needs or tastes. I ate when I was hungry. I slept when I was tired. And I only cleaned up after one person–me!

The result: in those two weeks, I got AT LEAST two months worth of writing accomplished. I’d brought a very tangled novel draft with me and hoped to work through development issues. Not only did I complete that project, but I was able to move on to creating a new scene list and begin the second draft. I also read three novels, read several short stories, edited three of my own short stories and started working a new one (inspired by my beautiful cabin view). I hiked every day, meditated, napped, visited the nearby wine country, shopped for antique books in Old Town, and took myself out for ice cream. I returned home rested and refreshed, ready to work at a new pace for the rest of the year.

If you’ve got a writing project that needs uninterrupted attention, think about applying to one of the many writing residencies available across the US. I found Dorland through Poets & Writers magazine, but even a quick Google search will net you a long list of opportunities. Expect a lengthy application process, similar to applying for grant fund opportunities. You’ll need to submit a specific project plan and sample pages of your best work. Also, have at least two industry-related references and a statement about why the residency you’re applying for is a good match for your work. If yore interested in the darling little cabin pictured below, check out the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony’s Residency page here :)

The Horton cabin at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony

Horton cabin at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony

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Self Editing

I’m working on a personal piece of writing this week, but the go is slow. There’s a dark scowling editor hovering over my shoulder making all kinds of judgements. Every time I get a few sentences down, he rolls his eyes. I’ve hardly got a full page done.

“Don’t tell that,” he hisses. “Don’t even hint or wink a knowing wink about it.”

I delete my words and try again.

“Stop! You can’t tell people about that!”

I try again.

“Put a smile on your face and play nice,” he warns, tapping the delete button for me.

I know better than to listen to my inner naysayers during a creative phase, but this guy has me completely blocked. He’s panicked. For me, or himself, and I can’t tell which.

His hands raise as I type my words now, just waiting for me to step out of his comfort zone. I tense against his criticism, and only let an edited version hit the page where he can see. The rest of the story is stuck in my shoulder area, sharp and brittle.

I keep typing anyway, but soon, something even more unsettling happens.

Those unsaid words begin to loosen up and drift piece-by-piece down my arm to my elbow. I type faster and feel a few of them gather dangerously close to my wrist.

If I don’t stop them soon, they will fly out of my fingers for everybody to see.

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My Literary Legacy

Growing up, I remember Papa telling stories at the dinner table. My grandfather liked to talk about his youth, but avoided his early childhood, which I know he’d spent with thirteen brothers and sisters, few who’d lived as long as Papa. His stories all starred himself as a young teen, as if that’s where his real life had begun.

In all of Papa’s stories, he was on an adventure. He would leave home in these tales, a smoker and a risk taker from a poor family. He’d thumb a ride out-of-town to find work where he could in a Huck and Finn-style escapade. Papa picked crops and cooked for cowboys. He fished and worked in factories. He danced and sang his way across the whole state.

Papa would laugh and gesture and came alive when he was a storyteller, so different from the quiet man he was the rest of the time. I got the feeling he would travel back in time and relive those teenage days in an instant, no matter what he’d lose in the bargain. Some days I think about my favorite years too, and wonder if they’ll be the ones I write about soon, or if I’ll keep those days to myself.

I know that my grandfather joined the army at age 17, but Papa never told me about the 17-year-old soldier he’d been. I never heard about him as a  22-year-old newlywed either, or learned anything about the jobs he’d chosen while he’d raised his small family. Papa clung to his favorite span of time when he told his stories, and never ran out of new things to tell me.

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