While we understand the importance of a daily writing habit, we cannot deny the intense productivity that writing residencies have fostered for us in the last few years. We have written before about Dorland Mountain Arts Colony HERE (including links to other posts) and HERE and about Ragdale HERE. Earlier this summer, we wrote about our self-designed writing retreat in Santa Fe HERE and HERE.
We are, once again, back at Dorland, only we’re doing the same thing differently this time, together and separately. Doug has a professional development leave—a sabbatical—from his work as a librarian. Months ago, as soon as his leave was approved, Doug contacted Dorland to apply for a September writing residency so that he could work on his novel. The Chief and the Gadget. We fought traffic on Labor Day weekend to find ourselves back on that mountainside, the dry, peaceful air welcoming us.
We stocked up on groceries right away, made the bed, unpacked some of our clothes and books, and watched the sunset. The cabin is small but not tiny. One large room houses writing space, a piano, and the kitchen (as well as a fireplace that we won’t need this time), and the bedroom and bathroom are toward the back. Two tables serve as our desks, nothing fancy. The view through the window from one desk is spectacular.
We wrote most of Sunday, taking breaks to peer at the mountains from the porch and to brainstorm through ideas with each other. The temperature outside neared 100 degrees, but the window air conditioning unit kept the whole cabin comfortable. When the sun sets, the air cools quickly, and nighttime temperatures run in the 60s. The environment relaxes and focuses us every day. Our day-to-day lives, including the usual hum of sounds, and the rest of the world feel far removed. All that’s here, really, is time, space, and our ideas and words.
But Anna is not on sabbatical and had to turn around to head home on Monday to dive into a busy fall semester of teaching, coordinating the Tabula Poetica reading series, and learning the ropes in her new position as Co-Director of the Office of Undergraduate Research. She can’t spend the entire month away from home completely focused on her writing projects, one of which is relatively new and big. This writing residency is Doug’s time.
Anna can, however, spend weekends at Dorland, timing her drive to miss the heaviest traffic. We are grateful that Dorland welcomed our plan for Doug to have the residency full time and Anna to stay for a few days each week. Anna has already started compartmentalizing her September schedule so that, when she’s on campus for several days, she can be all in there with those tasks, and when she’s at Dorland for a weekend, she can be all in there with her writing projects.
In theory, this schedule sounds great, not only because it focuses on one thing at a time but also because it offers long stretches of writing time. Will it work in practice? Can such a schedule work for one individual when other people—students, colleagues, friends—are not living by the same schedule, in which each day of the week has been demarcated by location and task? And if it does work, is it possible to compartmentalize in similar ways—Tuesday is a teaching day, Wednesday is a meeting day, Friday is a writing day—without the structure of a writing residency? Or is it better—less stressful, more productive, more sustainable—to cultivate a daily writing habit of shorter stretches?
Of course, Doug’s plan—a month devoted almost exclusively to writing—sounds to us like the best way for a writer to spend a given month. But not all writers have that opportunity. And he, too, will return to his day-to-day job in a few weeks. These questions about how to schedule writing—how not to let writing get squeezed out of one’s schedule—matter a great deal to any writer.
Every writer must figure out how to manage the stuff of life—family, a job, bills, laundry, email, world news, all of it. There exists no set formula for the writing life that we can all adopt successfully. In fact, looking back on our posts about writing, we have no one answer even for ourselves. We’ve alternated our own approaches over the last several years. We’ve returned to Dorland because we had such a great experience here before, but it’s different this time as we embark on it separately and together.