5 Tips to Make the Most of a Writing Residency
Posted August 9, 2015on:
A Room of Her Own’s nonprofit mission is: To inspire, fund, and champion works of art and literature by women. They host one of only about five or so writing residencies, in the country, exclusively for women.
It is a competitive residency and I am thrilled that I was accepted. There will be over 100 women writers attending (emerging writers to well established authors like Janet Fitch and Tayari Jones!), and I will get to take master classes and workshops with a range of amazing writers including Elizabeth L. Silver, Mary Johnson and Cynthia Leitich Smith. We will also spend our evenings discussing the retreat theme ‘Writing Against the Current’ which is a focus on Virginia Woolf’s novel, Orlando and Maxine Hong Kingston’s novel, Woman Warrior–and Kingston will be there in residence!
Another honor is that I will also be a ‘studio leader’ presenting a one hour version of my popular workshop: ‘Tone Your Creative Core: 5 Secrets for Artists’. This workshop offers strategies in areas where most creative people struggle: time, abundance and prosperity, feeling worthy to create and goal-setting. I’m delighted to explore these issues with women writers.
Writing residencies are structured in various ways. Some provide room, board and solitude, offering uninterrupted time to write with no other requirements. Others, like AROHO are much more interactive, including: providing intensive workshops (sharing and critiquing other participants’ work), hosting nightly receptions and readings, offering craft lectures, and encouraging networking and collaboration. I’ve known writers who have attended each type of residency. We often think the hardest part is getting accepted to one, but this isn’t the whole picture.
I’ve spent the last few months preparing for this incredible opportunity and have noticed that although there are a number of wonderful posts about why one should apply to a writing residency (see Jennifer Chen’s musings), and where to apply for one (here’s a great list from ‘The Write Life’), there is almost no discussion about preparing for the residency and making the most of it while there. Besides of course, to write.
Making the most of one’s residency means giving some thought to hidden challenges.
I’ve seen writers come back from a residency deflated because they had set unrealistic writing goals. Most folks are exhausted by the time they get to attend a writing residency. They’ve been juggling work, family responsibilities, community commitments, etc., often at a frenzied place. It can take a few days, during the residency, to decompress and reconnect to deep creative work. I’ve also known writers whose inner critics got the best of them and consequently didn’t get as much writing done. Or they got so intimidated by the other writers and instructors that they weren’t able to make enduring connections or contacts.
Here’s my five tips for making the most of a residency:
Make Your Goals Inspiring, Not Exhausting
Setting unclear or overly ambitious goals during a residency can lead to a big letdown. Writing residencies are also about allowing inspiration and spontaneity, so being flexible with goals can allow for more enjoyment as the writing process unfolds.
For most of the week, I’ll be taking a master class on ‘Emerging Heroes: Diversity in Young Adult Fiction’ with Cynthia Leitich Smith. I know little about writing young adult fiction and am super excited about stretching myself as a writer. Consequently, given the intensity of learning a new field, getting and giving feedback on others’ writing and the possibility having to work on prompts that Cynthia may assign outside of the workshop, I’m keeping my writing goals modest. From the schedule, it looks like I’ll have a daily 2-3 hours of individual writing time. I’m shooting for 10-20 pages a day of writing. That feels doable. I’ll also allow myself to create fresh material as well as work on current projects.
Give Yourself Permission to Embody Being the Writer of Your Dreams
Writing residencies present an opportunity to practice being a writer in public. Often aspiring writers write behind closed doors and without many opportunities to get publicly affirmed about their writing efforts. This is the time to revel in one’s writing identity. I’m going to take every opportunity to walk, dress and act like I am the writer of my dreams. I’m wrapping myself in an inner shawl of ‘deservingness’. I am holding the intention to attend every nightly reception and meet a few new people. I also hope to meet newly published authors that I’ll want to invite for an author interview for the blog.
Do an Inner Critic Check
Visual artist, Beverly McIver once said at a professional development workshop for artists, “Feeling worthy is a learned behavior.” Inner critics can make themselves known during a residency and derail us. In various posts, I’ve discussed some of the more common inner critics including the comparer, the pusher, the judger, the imposter, the procrastinator and the perfectionist. Inner critics inspire fear, judgement, dread and envy toward our writing selves and writing lives. Spending some time addressing inner critics (and assigning them new jobs where possible), before and during the residency can help quiet draining mental chatter and quell anxiety.
Polish Your Social Media Profile
Social media is often where people will find you first. I’m hoping to make strong connections while I’m at AROHO. I’ve already started to look up some of the people in my master class and have enjoyed learning about them through their social media sites. In the past month, I’ve spent some time updating my bio across my social media sites and beefing up my author Facebook page. You never know when someone is going to look up after making a connection, so it’s important that they can find you. A that what they find out about you inspires and draws them in.
Practice Communicating about Your Work
What is your work like? What are you working on? These are the essential questions to consider when talking about one’s work. Do you have an elevator pitch? Many writers (and artists in general) tend to avoid communicating about their work or freeze up when they do talk about their work. Given the time and emotional investment we have made for our creative pursuits, communicating about it is necessary and part of the creative process. I’ve been practicing my brief elevator pitch and look forward to using it.
Here’s great advice on elevator pitches from the Artist’s Tools Handbook from Creative Capital:
In theater, a rule of thumb is that, for every minute of stage time in a play, you need an hour of rehearsal time–and that’s when the script is already written. So think about spending at least an hour on this. Don’t just repeat your pitch 60 times; it’s more a measure of how long you should concentrate to get something good.
If you have tips to share about your experience at a residency and how you made the most of it, I’d love to hear them.
Photo credit: “Ghost Ranch redrock cliffs, clouds” by Larry Lamsa