Is a writing residency worth it?
For me, it has been the lifeblood to a career that is crowded out by life as a mother, wife, hobbyist, home school educator, and middle class American (Lord, help us).
This is, true, only my second writing residency. It is also the same residency as the one I participated in last year, though in a different season (fall instead of summer). I’m far from being an expert on writing residencies, then. We can agree on that. But I have been twice to a certain type of residency—the kind that’s not overpriced or even very demanding. They say, “Here’s the room, the grounds, the quaint town with room to roam and a bookstore and coffee shop within walking distance. Now spend most of your time writing and a much smaller amount of time cleaning up after yourself in the small kitchen.” No one’s really checking on you, I guess, but it wouldn’t be hard for the groundskeeper to notice that you were doing something else besides being hushed and roaming the haunted halls with a pen and paper or a half-closed laptop on your way to the verandah.
I have done a LOT of walking, because—let’s be honest—writing is tiring, and staring at a computer screen is also tiring in different ways. Sometimes my butt would actually hurt and I’d think, better be headed down to the Reservoir or at least to the coffee shop. I did go to the one author reading that was scheduled this week, as a bonus to the program (and with the program such a cold mistress, she’ll probably never notice). But I did mostly write, and write, and write, and write, one night until I was literally dizzy and couldn’t see straight. Last time I was here I did the same, and wrote nearly 30,000 words in a week. This time, I finished a novel.
I met a couple writers from the same area as me. In the biz, they call that “making connections,” and it is highly encouraged, which is humorous because we are generally such an isolated, distracted, antisocial bunch that it could make a good Woody Allen film (but that’s a novel that I have to leave in notes for now. The working title is Bleach). I also spent hours researching agents and making lists, and a couple more hours on a handful of regrettably late blog entries. Yeah, sorry about that.
Wait! Let’s backtrack. Did I just cooly slide over the fact that I finished a novel? Maybe. I was busy typing, like my hands are now on autopilot and can’t seem to stop. When I get home, I’ll have to put some laundry and some pots and pans in them and see what happens. So, the same novel that I pitched to the residency last year—The Family Elephant’s Jewels—was what I pitched again this year, only I said I’d be finishing it up. In all that time in between, I only managed a scene on some of the Wednesday nights (in which I tried to get to Cocoa Cinnamon or Saledelia for a few hours). I was amazed at how slowly a novel moves along when you only give it a few hours about every other week. I knew that what it needed was more residency. And I was right.
Yesterday, I put the last sentence on the page and wrote THE END in bold font, centered, underneath. Then I flopped back on the bed, exhausted, and—what else—picked up a book to read it off. I hesitate to say it, but I do believe it’s okay. It has some edits to go through before the actual soliciting of agents, but I think it’ll be good enough not to become a laughingstock. Whether it’ll be picked up and sell is somewhat in the hands of the gods. Can I be proud of it? Maybe. I think so. Sure, why not? Am I relieved it’s finally been exhumed from my mind and splattered onto the page, in its entirety? Darn it, yes. Now, on to the next 30-something books, half a dozen short stories, and dozen non-fiction projects that are waiting for their exorcism.
I actually applied, this very week, to another residency. I’m stepping out of this cozy, little box I’ve made for myself and broadening my residency horizons. (I would like to come back here next year, too, and will be applying when that deadline looms.) The project that I pitched is The Journey of Clement Fancywater, a fantasy novel that is, I would say, half written. (I do have just one more novel that is in process, at about a third of the way done.) Whether I could finish it in one residency is dubious, yet to be seen. I really hope that they will give me a chance, see through how terrible I am at pitching myself and see potential in the work submission instead. Because I need residencies. My career needs residencies. As it is, I’ll be scraping the bottom of the weekly barrel of time just to run a red pen over a binder of Elephant’s first draft. My writing depends on you, residencies! For now, anyways.
And I thank you for it.