Writing Residencies: Five Weeks on the Side of a Mountain (Part 4)

MORE FROM DOUG (Part 4)

If you want to start with Part 1 of this series, click HERE.

Routine

Nearly every writing day at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony was the same as the previous day. Day after day, pretty much the same. This was a good thing.

Sunset at Dorland
Sunset at Dorland

My morning routine was the same each and every day: Breakfast, then coffee on the cabin’s porch with some classical music playing in the background. After that, I spent between two and three hours at the table, writing. This was followed by lunch, another several hours writing, a walk or jog on the hill, time on the porch watching the sun go down, dinner, more writing, and, finally, reading before bed. After a night of sleep, it was lather, rinse, repeat.

Only two days of the week differed from this daily schedule. Every Monday morning, I went into town for email and groceries. On Fridays after Anna arrived for the weekend, we went to Barnes and Noble, a movie, and dinner at Yard House. Friday nights became a comforting and easy reward. While they varied from my usual routine, we established a Friday evening routine that we repeated. We even had the same meal each Friday evening. Ordering the same meal wasn’t exactly an intentional part the routine; we merely became overly fond of the gardein buffalo wings and the ahi poke stack.

At some point, I’d certainly like to explore more of Temecula and its environs, but that isn’t why I was there in September. The daily routine, a ritual, if you will, trained my mind and body to understand what was needed each day and the next. Routine was extraordinarily effective and complemented the quietude I lauded last week. In fact, one of the most difficult parts of my transition from the sabbatical back to my ordinary life has been the loss of daily ritual.

Odd-n-ends

Exercise and reading were each part of my daily routine. People who know me know that I love to work out. Just as in my ordinary life, I found that my daily walking and jogging on the road—the steep hill—that leads up from the valley to the cabins was an integral part of my life. Many of my best ideas occurred on the hill. Just the act of giving myself over to movement and to my physical body freed my mind to explore. It was one of the most important times of the day for me.

I write because I read. A lifetime as a reader is one of the things that convinced me to try my hand at writing in the first place. Like many writers I know, I can become engrossed in a book to the detriment of nearly all of other activities in my life. That’s why I avoided the stack of novels that I have sitting next to my bed at home and, instead, focused on shorter pieces and poetry.

Over the past few years, I’ve heard an impressive number of fiction writers recommending poetry as an important part of any writer’s reading. I decided to redouble my efforts in this area, and the Dorland retreat was as good a time as any to rekindle my love for poetry. I also read a single short novel, Hermann Hesse’s Siddhartha. In addition to being of modest length, Siddhartha has a lyric, poetic quality to it. My reading, then, became a daily reminder that my work was dependent on words and sentences as well as on plot, setting, and character.

Grand Summary

Anna Leaving

I’d like to have some grand summary about the importance of setting goals and tracking progress toward them, but that really didn’t play an enormous part in my five weeks on the side of a mountain. I certainly kept track of my progress via word count and making sure that I was moving from one chapter to the next, scene-by-scene. But I didn’t fret about hitting a daily goal, in part because the quietude and routine kept me writing steadily.

In the end, it was really the one big goal—completing a draft—that I kept present in my mind. Each day was simply another step toward that largest goal. I achieved that goal.

And now I have begun all over again, on page one, to revise.

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