Writing Residencies: Dorland and Balancing Projects

ANNA’S UPDATE (See the previous update from Anna HERE.) First, an aside. Please take this post as a reminder to back up your hard drive! Because I was aware of writing new pieces every weekend, I became more cognizant of backing up my hard drive each week. According to one data storage company, more than one-quarter of people report never backing up their data, fewer than that report backing up at least weekly, those over 55 are more likely than the 18-44 crowd to back up data frequently, and men back up frequently at a higher rate than women. If you’ve added stuff you can’t afford to lose, make sure it’s saved in a second place—external hard drive, cloud, emailed to yourself, copied on a usb stick, something. DorlandView

I often have differently sized writing projects at different stages of development. Setting several things in motion, knowing that not all things will pan out, has risks and sometimes makes my progress look slow for a while. Still, I’ve heard other writers talk about the need to juggle projects in order to increase chances of success, and it’s the tack I tend to take.

Usually, I jot a writing project on my list of things to do and, if it has a deadline, jot it on my calendar in a couple of places as well (when it’s due but also a reminder of when to really get working on it seriously). I fit such a writing project into my job obligations and make steady progress. Or, sometimes, I don’t fit it in, maybe I can’t meet that soft but important starting date, or maybe I make tough decisions about how to spend my time, and I let it drop off my list.

Before this month going back and forth between Dorland Mountain Arts Colony and home, I’ve never as consciously thought about and planned ahead how to use my day-to-day-to-day schedule to make steady progress on specific writing projects. The compartmentalization of this month (which I wrote about in a previous post) has given me a way to schedule writing projects more consciously and steadily. When I’m not at Dorland, I don’t work on these writing projects at all, other than to print a draft or pack a book that might be a good reference point. Another long weekend of writing is ahead, and I plan for that time. Dorland Bench for Sitting Calm

What’s great about my current writing schedule is that I’m able to work on the big project—a book I’m writing with a colleague in another field—over the whole month, bits and pieces at a time. Because I rewrote that manuscript on the whole over the summer and most chapters also had edits on hard copy before this Dorland back-and-forth began, I can keep dropping in and out of the revising process without losing momentum. This steady, unpressured pace will get me to the soft deadline I have with my co-author in another week. (We’ll have more work to do, but we’ll be working with something complete.)

In addition to making progress on the big project, my goal for each long weekend at Dorland is to finish the small project I’d started the previous weekend and to start another small project. (I don’t finish even tiny projects in one weekend because I need time and perspective between drafting and revising.) Each small project is something very specific that I can draft one weekend and revise the next, maybe a short essay or a couple of poems. These do not emerge out of a general impulse that I must write. Each emerges from not only an idea but also an assignment of sorts, a particular journal’s submissions guidelines, for instance. Doritos

Writing residencies are great for large projects, and that’s how I’ve treated residencies before and how Doug is treating his residency now—with a book project as the priority, a big risk in some ways. (We always also keep up with this blog.) This time, by figuring out how to balance projects according to my compartmentalized schedule, I leave Dorland each weekend with something complete—an essay, a couple of poems. Once thus far, I submitted a two-weekend finished piece as soon as I made my way through traffic back home to wifi. Journalists work on tight deadlines, and maybe that’s more realistic than I’d led myself to believe all these years.

Also, while I’m at home, I have the in-progress essay or poem in the back of mind, as I teach, wander among meetings, catch up with laundry, and back up my hard drive. In a way, that’s the sort of approach Ernest Hemingway took, ending his day of writing before he’d exhausted the idea or scene at hand, knowing exactly what he’d be jumping back into in the morning. As I make the drive back to Dorland for each long weekend, I know what’s waiting for me there: a specific writing task and, of course, Doug. On those drives, I’m often smiling both coming and going and thinking, How amazing is that!

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