As you might already know, I am currently nearing the end of my first ever writing residency. I am taking a break from writing (ha!) and thought I would check in with some other part of my brain for a minute. While I keep typing. It is my fate.
I feel like I could display a postcard here. Bought at a country store and emblazoned with a photo of the Weymouth Center, it would have a scrawl across the front, “Livin’ It Up at the Weymouth Center!” and on the back, in my handwriting, “Wish you could be here! Don’t want to leave! -Devon” Except I do want to leave, if not right this moment, then on Monday. I miss my kids and my husband. I miss my spaces (especially my shower and my bed and my kitchen with all its familiar utensils). It’s not as if I could completely escape everything while I was here… but I am getting ahead of myself.
Among the sprawling historic mansion with its wide, shaded verandah on the lush, manicured grounds (complete with a rose garden, a koi pond, fountains and a “Poets’ Nook,”) I have learned some things about writing residencies. I’m sure not all residencies are created equal, but this is one I will probably return to. It also seemed like expressing my lessons would be a good way to invite you in.
What I learned from my Weymouth residency:
- You go to bed earlier when you don’t have TV. I have a “neighbor” here at the Center. We share a bathroom and we cook our own meals more than the other two residents. She wakes early in the morning and works steady until lunchtime. After that, she eats, showers, jogs, reads, wanders around the grounds, and does research. We joke that we are opposites. I spend my mornings trying to roll out of bed, jogging at the nearby park, scoping out the downtown, making notes, eating, reading, and taking showers. Long about after-lunch, I settle in and write pretty much until dinner. After dinner, I just write (as the house darkens and I only reluctantly visit the far “haunted” end to go out on the verandah.) And write. And write. It’s dead quiet, and my eyes start to sting and droop, but I still have more to write. Long about midnight I have to face it, I must sleep. The point? It feels like two in the morning and also nothing has happened around here since six, so it feels like a whole day has happened in the evening, the time when I am usually squeezing in living, at home. Oh, and watching food shows and Merlin.
- You wake earlier when there are no curtains on your north-facing window. Come morning time, I’m glad that midnight felt like 2am, because the light is streaming in my face and making my small room stuffy and hot at, oh, seven-something. That’s early, ya’ll.
- You can putter away time just as easily when you’ve a whole day ahead of you with nothing scheduled. You may think that getting away to a residency and hiding mostly in your room like it’s a monastic cell will make the hours stretch to encompass every writing aspiration you had for the week, but I tell you, some of it will just chip away and land with a disappointing splat on the ground. Because you will have to go to the bathroom. You will have to text back and forth with your daughter. You will need a cupcake from the bakery in town. You will need a new headset. You will think of that perfume you saw and have to write its name down before you forget. You will write blogs, even if you have no internet and can’t post them yet. You will do some yoga. You will stare into space.
- Driving is time. I feel a little guilty that I’m, like, not visiting the local bookshop for readings and things, but I very quickly noticed that time goes slower if I just stay right here, preferably in my room, but definitely on the grounds. It puts all the driving I do at home into perspective.
- Writers are quiet, introverted people. Boy, is it quiet around here! I’m sure there are loud, extroverted writers out there, but I think they are in the minority. We are an odd lot, snacking on hummus and cucumbers or peanut butter toast (on seeded, whole grain bread), washing our dishes immediately and stacking them gently on the drying rack, closing doors slowly, excusing ourselves as we whisper brief conversations maybe twice a day. We walk past each other in our nooks without saying a word, averting our eyes not to distract whatever amazing world is weaving together in that resident’s hinterland of a mind. We are serious. Our heads are down, and our work is tantamount. If you want to party, this is not the place to be.
- The internet is distracting. Conversely, the internet is useful. I thought there would only be internet in the common area here. However, there is internet in my room. I actually avoided logging into the internet for about 24 hours, and then I needed to check my email for work. Bahr. Since then, it has come in useful for renewing some library books, sending work emails, conducting a work interview, signing my son up for a camp right under the deadline wire, transferring some money, etc. It has also, no surprise, been a distraction. Oddly enough, the common rooms don’t have internet, so sometimes I go there to get away from it. When I do, though, I have to jot down the things I need to “research” for my novel. For kicks, I looked up my search history over the past few days (while conducting said research), and found these beauties for you: babies born with blue eyes; shudder synonym; literary dog names; Phish concerts 2004; classic literature with added science; example of stillbirth certificate; example of 70s death certificate; popular girls middle names in the 50s; list of Nancy Drew books; and the inexplicable, “kids relaxing, beer everywhere.” I’ve used all this info in my book, except for that last one. I dunno.
- You can write too much, at least physically. You may think your mind is the only thing to wear out at a writing residency (so you bring plenty of notes and plans), but you would be wrong. By the third day, there was a searing, burning pain in the center of my palms. (I don’t think this happens to the poets because it takes minutes to write even one word. But as a novelist, I have already written more than 20,000 words.) Also, the computer screen can wear on you, too. I think that is the reason I have had two migraines. I try to take breaks, work out, and have used voice-to-text and handwriting some, but it’s hard not to revert back to typing, no matter how much it hurts. Typing has always been the best way for me to keep pace with my brain.
- There are good days and there are bad days. I’ve heard this from the other residents, as well, with the variation of “there are good hours and bad hours.” Every day I wake up rearing to go. Every day I spend hours and hours writing. But some days the writing is forced out. Some days you tap into something and it just feels like a pleasure. Most days, for me, seem to be somewhere in between. (Note: I still write. I don’t wait for inspiration. I’m no sissy.)
- I’d do it all again, and I likely will.
As in everything in life, the first time is a lesson. Perhaps most times it’s a lesson. Thankfully, this lesson has been fulfilling and pleasant, a dream come true. Next time I pull up the long, gravel drive—with less dishes, different sheets, and my sights cast on the giant room—I’ll know what I’m doing. Until I get a noisy neighbor, or I catch a cold, or my novel just won’t cooperate. This time, it’s been smooth (and quiet) sailing, and I’ve written a whole lot of a pretty solid novel (if I do say so myself). As always, I feel like I could have done more. I’m apprehensive about what happens to the novel once I get back home. And I feel I am leaving behind a reverence for creativity that extends even to the caretakers and board members. But on Monday morning I nose my car toward home and wave goodbye to Weymouth because I am, and have always been, an adventurer at heart.
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Also, when life gives you wedding, make lemonade. Or hide out at a coffee shop until it’s over.