Tomorrow, we head together for a two-week writing residency at Ragdale, an artists’ colony outside of Chicago. We’ve each held a residency before: Anna for a month at Vermont Studio Center, and Doug for a workshop at the Norman Mailer Writers Colony (read “Gotta Get Away” HERE). Several years ago, we went together to the Iowa Summer Writing Festival (read “Back to School” HERE), but we took separate workshops and were focused on our individual novel projects then. Now, our bags are packed, we’re officially working on a collaborative writing project, and we’re ready to go. Here’s how we prepared.
SHORING UP & WORKING AHEAD
Because of this impending stint to focus on our collaborative project, January has been especially busy. Doug has worked ahead on his tasks at Leatherby Libraries, and Anna has worked ahead on Tabula Poetica’s AWP Bookfair table and fall Poetry Reading Series. A few weeks ago, we traversed a path to CalTech (see our post about those archives HERE) so that Doug could do some extra research on letters for his upcoming conference presentation, and Anna holed up at home for a day here and there to finish a poetry manuscript. We even queued up February’s guest bloggers. We also put conscious effort into catching up with laundry and arranged for our trusted colleague and neighbor to look after our house and, perhaps, throw wild parties in our absence.
In other words, this month has been a necessary whirlwind and a hodgepodge even though we were between semesters. We’re hoping that Ragdale offers a stark contrast to this past month so that we don’t move from one small task to the next disparate obligation hour to hour. We want to forget about email for a few hours a day and not worry about when we’ll get to the dust bunnies that gather against the floorboards.
SETTING BOUNDARIES FOR OUR UNIVERSITY WORK
We each have some tasks at the university that we can’t ignore for two weeks. So we’ll have to check our email messages, probably once a day. But in order to keep that obligation in check day to day, we’ve established some guidelines for ourselves:
- Lower others’ expectations by setting automatic vacation responses that make it clear that a reply won’t be coming soon. We’ll get to it all, but maybe not until after February 15.
- De-prioritize email by not checking it before accomplishing some writing for the day. Our schedule should reflect our priorities, and California is two hours behind anyway.
- Ignore as many messages as possible until after the residency. We must be discerning and not think everything is important, not think that we’re more important than we are. We may need to set a time limit.
OUTLINING THE PROJECT BEFORE WE GO
Our outline is something broadly defined but organized nonetheless, something we’ve bandied back and forth over dinner since we got the thumbs-up from Ragdale in December, something we’ve typed up and printed out so that it looks serious. We’ve also pulled together blog posts we’ve written that might loosely fit somewhere in this outline. The outline means that we aren’t starting from scratch and that we can schedule our time—separately and together—in relation to the content we know we want to produce.
PLANS FOR CHUNKING UP THE DAY
Because we’ve already drafted some content and agreed upon the basic outline, we’ve decided to chunk up each day into three writing sessions to establish a routine.
- Session 1: Writing Apart. After breakfast together, the first part of each day will be spent writing—organizing, drafting, revising—separately for a few hours before lunch. The goal for each morning is to produce something to show each other.
- Session 2: As the Day Demands. After sharing over lunch together, we’ll write separately or together as the content for that day demands. We need to be adaptable and respond to the project as it takes shape.
- Session 3: Writing Together. The end of our day will be spent together, revising what’s drafted, reorganizing content, mapping missing parts, brainstorming for the next day. We’ll read aloud what we’ve drafted separately, which is something we used to do weekly at Charlie’s Ale House in Wheaton but which we have done only sporadically over this past year. We’ll do some drafting together sentence by sentence, which we really enjoy but which has been more difficult to sync up into our schedules in the last six months.
Working separately smacks of efficiency: twice the work in a given amount of time. With just twelve full days of residency, we want to work part of the time in parallel. The work we do side by side gives us the sense that we are more than the sum of our parts, that collaboration allows us to accomplish more than we could otherwise, and that our individual brains can work a little bit harder, a little bit faster than they do when we’re alone. The happy side effect of this collaborative sense is motivation.
WILL IT SUCCEED?
Writing doesn’t always work the way we think it will. This chunking of days looks good on paper, but it might not work as smoothly as we want. Writing separately may encourage us to stray from the outline, each moving in different directions, the balance thrown off when we bring the parts together and discover we each thought different ideas were important. If we notice that we have fundamentally different perspectives, writing together might involve far more time than we expect. No matter what happens, we’ll need to remember that two weeks of writing time is a great gift and just keep going.