I just got back from doing a writing residency on the coast of Washington at the Sou’wester. i had a great time and spending the week outside of my normal routine really got me thinking about the importance of shaking things up. So I wanted to write a post about that here, but first let me describe the place for you. ( A residency is different from a workshop etc. basically there is no structure, you’re time is your own to work as you please.)
It’s this weird little caravan of trailers all rigged up a stone’s throw from what is billed as “the longest beach in the world”. The surrounding country side is breathtaking. Rolling grassy dunes, and nearby wetlands, I have never seen so many varieties of wild birds in one spot: frigates, terns, gulls, ravens, eagles, falcons, robins, shearwater, ducks galore, as well as deer, and a baby seal! The most beautiful creature I saw was, strangely, a big snail with a fancy shell.
That’s a pic of my trailer. The trailers are decked out with everything you could wish for, a shower, kitchenette, and the coolest part a record listening room, with a well stocked collection of great records. I had forgotten how listening to vinyl is such a different experience than listening to something on iTunes. It is hard to explain why, but it is definitely the case. Just as writing with a computer feels different than writing with a pencil and paper. The words come out differently somehow. I now have to track down these three records, as I listened to them kind of obsessively all last week. Also, I feel like you end up enjoying different music than you might normal, when you are listening on vinyl.
1. Mississipi John Hurt – Today!
2. Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy
I spent the mornings working on writing. The afternoon walking around on the longest beach. And the evening staring into a large outdoor fire and listening to records, while enjoying a drink I invented for the occasion: 1 part bourbon to two parts tart cherry juice. A Sou’Wester.
Now here is the point. Did I get more writing done than I usually do in a week? No. My daily output was the same as usual. But the experience of writing in a different location, with different scenery, with the ocean as a backdrop, changed everything. And changed the experience of working for a week in a way that is hard to describe, similar to the way that vinyl is different from mp3s. It is qualitatively different in a way that is hard to put your finger on. The main thing was I think, to get outside of the routine. And I am not saying you should always be trying to break your routine! Because having a daily routine is one of the most powerful things an artist can do. It helps you get into the groove so that you are committed to working every day.
No, I got the same amount of work done while staying at the writer’s residency as I would have working from home. But I came back from my stay feeling refreshed, feeling a new sense of purpose, spending days wandering aimlessly about on the beach gave me a new perspective on big picture stuff. I thought a lot about not just the project of that week ( a short story, which frankly I only half finished) but thinking about the purpose and focus of my work. Which is something that every artists needs to think about from time to time whether they be a writer, a painter, a musician, a poet, a dancer . . .
There are a lot of opportunities for artist’s to do residencies. I think a lot of times people think that doing a residency means traveling abroad for a few months to Paris or something likethat. But it doesn’t have to be, there are plenty of great opportunities nearby, and often they run for just a week. Some of them are 0-40 bucks to apply, while others are free. Here are some resources:
Now if you can’t afford to do a residency or can’t find one near you, I recommend this: just get a tent and a sleeping back and head to the coast, or the desert, or the forest for a few days. Bring your work with you. But remember it is not so much about the work that you get done while you are working outside of your routine, it is about that ineffable something, that you get from thinking about your art, your muse, your project, outside of the day to day routine. Try it and you are sure to come back feeling refreshed and in the groove for working on stuff back home in your regular day to day routine.