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WillapaSunset

Today I’m boo-hooing my way through my final day at the Willapa Bay Artist-in-Residence program on Washington’s Long Beach Peninsula. No more stimulating conversations with my fellow residents. No more falling asleep to the ocean’s muted roar. Above all, no more uninterrupted time and space for the writing, and only the writing. It’s the fourth residency I’ve done (also the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming; Brush Creek Arts, in Wyoming, too; and 360 Xochi Quetzal in Mexico) and each has been equally fabulous and equally tough to leave. I have, however, noticed a pattern. If I’m fortunate enough to get another residency somewhere, at least now I’ll know what I’m in for.

 

The Beginning

  1. IMG_0311I’m in! I’m in! I’m in! The note that I’ve been accepted for a residency triggers a day where every sentence has an exclamation point. I’m generally obnoxious to be around.
  1. Elation squared: Arrival. This beautiful space is my studio? With a desk and a coffeemaker and a sofa/futon for napping? Lunches that arrive on my doorstep, and dinners that are prepared for me? This must be a dream. Please don’t wake me.
  1. Intention: I will leave this residency with a first draft. I will leave this residency with a first draft. I will leave this residency with a first draft. (Because I have a whole month before me, and 30,000 words already written. Piece of cake.)

 

Settling In:

  1. Week 1 – Terror: What is this mess before me? This has no chance in hell of ever becoming a first draft, let alone a polished novel. I should just trash it and slink away to the Land of Trampled Dreams.
  1. Week 2 – Glimmers of hope. Hey, this (word, sentence, paragraph, chapter) does not entirely suck. Maybe it can be salvaged. I won’t finish a first draft, but at least I’ll make some headway.
  1. Week 3 – Wait. It’s time for lunch already? Because I’ve been writing since 8 a.m. and haven’t looked up. Yay, lunch. Now back to writing. Wow, the words are piling up.
  1. Week 4 – Midnight. Still writing. Must sleep. But time is short. Typetypetype.

 

Wrapping up:

  1. Disbelief – Just like that, no more words. The End. First draft – albeit the draftiest of first drafts, more holes than Swiss cheese and full of equally lousy metaphors – completed. As in “completed.” The real work awaits. But the worst is over.
  1. Denial – It’s time to go? WTF? Consider chaining myself to desk. Tears.
  1. Rally – Log into Alliance of Artists Communities to begin applications for next year.

 

Note: I’m fully aware of my good fortune in a) getting these residencies and b) being at a stage in my life where I can take advantage of them, something that was nearly impossible when I had young children or the day job. But if you can swing the time, please apply, even if it’s early in your writing career. I went to my first residency, at Ucross, with a single published short story under my belt. Receiving the residency was welcome affirmation that I was on the right path, and a good kick in the butt to work harder still. Go for it. And when you get one, be sure to lavish your benefactors with praise. Because these residencies are gifts from the gods.

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I got to spend a month in heaven recently—aka an artist residency. For the uninitiated, residencies are retreats—frequently free (my personal favorite word)—where artists can hone their craft free of interruptions and daily responsibilities.

The Alliance of Artists Communities is a terrific clearinghouse that lists residencies around the world, along with their requirements and deadlines. I’ve been privileged to attend three—the Ucross Foundation in Wyoming; the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts, also in Wyoming, and most recently, 360 Xochi Quetzal in Chapala, Mexico.

Residencies come in all types and lengths. Some are just for visual artists or musicians, others solely for writers. All of mine have included a mix of visual artists and writers and, in Mexico, also a musician—a mix that I really enjoy. They typically range for a minimum of two weeks to as long as six months or even more. For years, when I had a day job, I could only apply for two-week residencies because I had to take vacation time to attend. These days my schedule is flexible enough to allow a monthlong residency, which turns out to be the perfect amount of time to take the first draft of a novel, tear it to shreds, then put it back together and shine that sucker up.

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Kruger (left) and Fogel

For this, I have to thank Xochi Quetzal director and fabric artist Deborah Kruger, along with New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice B. Fogel, who judged the writing submissions. And for daily inspiration during my time in Mexico, I owe a debt of gratitude to my fellow residents – writer Luke Dani Blue, visual artists Jenine Shereos and Hollie Thompson, and musician John Hughes. I urge you to go to their sites and check out their work.

Coming back from heaven—we’re talking 80-degrees days and a casita just a block off the haunting beauty of Lake Chapala, with its nightly sunset extravaganza, not to mention all of that blissful writing time—was tough. But I returned with an editor-ready manuscript, along with a renewed sense of commitment and enthusiasm.

I’m aware that residencies, despite the lovely fact of being free, are still an unattainable luxury for a lot of people. Children and day jobs can pose insurmountable barriers. But if you get to a point in your life where you can take advantage of them, by all means do. Everybody deserves a little piece of heaven.