A Writing Residency: Some Things Change

We have returned to the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony for some focused time on writing. In some ways, the experience is the same:


We are not setting the alarm clock. Last time, this un-scheduling created a natural regularity to our days, increased our energy levels and focus, and synced up our sleep patterns with each other and with long writing days.


We plan to take an exercise break everyday, either together for a walk down and up the long, steep hill just outside our cabin door or separately. These breaks allow for literal and figurative breathing time between writing tasks. An hour of physical exertion allows ideas to bounce around in our minds or gives us the chance to talk through a sticking point (though it’s a lot more difficult to talk on the uphill).


DoritosWe allow occasional, motivating indulgences such as a bag of taco-flavored Doritos and, after some additional accomplishment this week, a visit to Bel Vino winery. Indulgences, to adapt the definition from the Catholic Church, help alleviate the severity and length of time one spends in purgatory, where one is serving punishment for sins that have been forgiven. There’s a lot of effort that goes into drafting and re-drafting a book manuscript. That effort is rewarding in the moment and in the long run, but it’s difficult too. The occasional extravagance reminds us that writing is not suffering and a residency is no purgatory.


We are talking things through, then writing through things, then talking and writing some more. Being in this place designated for writing makes us feel like writing. Sure, there are fits and starts, hour to hour. Overall, though, our fingers plod right along, and the pages emerge. We may or may not be as productive as we were last time we were here, but by the end of the first full day, we had six or eight new pages.

Change, though, makes the experiences fresh and makes us newly aware. Some things are different this time, and that’s good.


Camouflage Tree
Camouflage Tree

We are in the upper of two cabins, one designated for composers because it houses a piano. We are closer to the colony’s other buildings—an office, a studio, the garbage bin. The porch faces a different view, one more breathtaking, with a greater presence of mountain and a lesser presence of humanity. No tarantula—not yet.


FireIt is winter, whereas last time we visited in August. We recently spent an unexpected week in Chicago’s polar vortex, so we use the term winter with skepticism here. The temperature during the day may creep into the 80s. The nights, however, are cold, with a sharp drop as soon as the sun sets and lows in the 30s. Every night, we build a fire in the wood stove, the only source of heat inside our cabin, but a mighty source. This makes for cozier, dreamier evenings than we’d expected.


Last time, we arrived at Dorland with a relatively specific plan, an idea for a daily schedule and specific chapters to draft. The intervening time has been somewhat hectic with our jobs and travel, and we didn’t have a specific plan for either the process or the product. While that see-what-comes approach may work for some writers, it’s especially difficult to collaborate without defining the tasks at hand. So we began this residency with a long heart-to-heart evening about where our book project stands and how to best use our writing time. By the next day, we had a sort of map in our minds and a sense of how much we could accomplish.


IndexCardsThe next day, we transformed the map in our minds—or at least part of it—to the corkboard hanging on the cabin’s wall. We picked up index cards (which don’t have the heft they used to when we were kids) and a couple of Sharpies at the grocery store and jotted down chapter titles. We pinned a few of these up, then used other cards for individual ideas, quotes, events, and so on. We rethought some ideas and approaches as we made our plan tangible. We now have a visual, easily shifted chapter-by-chapter outline so that we can draft both individually and together.

There’s nothing quite like an artist’s residency. This residency is quite like our last residency here and, yet, not like it in very important ways. We are grateful all the same and all anew.


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