Writing Residencies: Five Weeks on the Side of a Mountain (Part 3)

To start with Part 1 of this series, click HERE. To read Part 2 of this series click HERE.


Last week, I wrote about what I accomplished at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in numbers: 76,000 words. I thought generally about how I did that, focusing on one task (completing a draft of my novel) and continually moving forward, instead of allowing myself to revise along the way.

In those five weeks, I learned a lot about myself and how I work. While each writer must find his or her own way through a book project, I find it helpful to hear about how other writers do it and to test out some of those attitudes and practices. With that in mind, I’ve been thinking more deeply about how I managed to write 76,000 words in five weeks and end up with a complete draft (admittedly parts had been drafted earlier this summer during a shorter, self-made retreat in Santa Fe).

I was Alone.

Anna Leaving
Anna Leaving

Although Anna came to visit on the weekends, during the week I was alone. If it weren’t for my evening phone calls with Anna, I wouldn’t have spoken with another human being for days at a time. Dorland is set up so that, if it is solitude you are after, it is solitude you will find.

I knew that being alone would be part of the deal going into this residency. I wasn’t necessarily worried about it, but I was interested to see how I’d handle it because I’m a fairly social person. When you work and live on a college campus, you are typically surrounded by people, and I enjoy a lot of those interactions.

Quiet is a remarkable thing. I don’t just mean the absence of sound, although that is certainly a component of it. I mean to imply the quietude that results from an absence of distractions. Being alone gave rise to a stillness in me that allowed me to create a space where the primary thing in my mind was the work, the novel.

In the end, being alone wasn’t hard at all. In fact, I liked it.

The Internet is the devil.

Dorland Storm
Dorland Storm

For me, one enormous aspect of this quietude was the absence of Internet access. Dorland has cell phone access, but no wifi. While I had my smart phone with me, the size of that device discouraged extensive use for social media, browsing, or extensive research. I purposefully left the iPad, which is more tempting, at home.

When I say that the Internet is the devil, I mean this in the same vein as ‘the devil is in the details,’ and the perhaps greatest source of details in my life—things that I have to schedule and track, generate and respond to—is email. I’ve reached the point in my career, as I suspect many of us have, where answering email only begets more email.

The same is true for all of my various social media outlets. They are self-perpetuating. The more time I spend curating my Facebook and Twitter feeds, the more time I have to spend monitoring and contributing to the outcome of my initial posting.

I understand the importance of these activities in the grand scheme of a writing life, but it was liberating to be free of them for five weeks. In an earlier post, we wrote about Pico Iyer’s notion of ‘The Device Sabbath.’ Iyer takes one day of rest from his devices. I had long stretches without my devices, and it was heavenly.

With these notions as the backdrop, I’ve also been thinking about the role of routine and some other odds and ends. So I’ll wrap this series up next week with those ideas.

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