A while back, I wrote about ways that we, as writers, can create big chunks of time for our writing. The post was inspired by a day I spent writing at my sister-in-laws house, but it got me to thinking. I was nearing the end of my draft, and I really wanted to take a few days to do a final pass at the manuscript. So I applied, and was accepted to a writing residency at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in Temecula, California.
I spent the second week of November there (the cabin in the photo is where I stayed) and got more work done than I could have in three months of getting up early to write. It was an intense and exceedingly productive time.
How I Spent My Time
I spent the first evening and first full day finishing the draft I had been working on for months. I had hoped to finish before I left, but just couldn’t quite get there, so that was the priority, right off.
Early on the second morning I drove down into Temecula to print out the draft (which, BTW, was way more expensive than I expected! Eighteen cents a page adds up fast!), then I spent that day reading through the whole thing, laying out each chapter in a long line on the floor of my cabin.
On day three I began integrating the notes I had made as I read it through the day before. This ended up taking three solid days.
On day six I started early, and read the whole thing out loud, recording myself so that I could play it back when I got home.
On the morning of the seventh day I hopped online and responded to a week’s worth of emails so that when I got home I could hang with my family without stressing. Then I cleaned up my cabin and handed over the keys.
These were some marathon days of writing. I’m talking 10-12 hours, with breaks for showers and food, but I hardly left the house.
What I Learned
1. Reading my manuscript out loud highlighted obvious mistakes I hadn’t noticed after four complete read-throughs. I was shocked, honestly. I mean, you hear people say that reading it out loud is a good thing to do, and I figured I might notice a couple little things, but I had pages of notes by the time I was done.
2. Using my voice for 10 solid hours of reading out loud was actually kind of painful. I had to take a break half way through the day to drive all the way into town and buy some throat lozenges. I sipped a lot of tea. It would have been better to break this task into two days.
3. The life of a writer in residence is unsustainable. At least for this writer. I ate nothing but microwaved food and cereal, drank nothing but coffee, and the only exercise I got was walking the distance from the desk to the bathroom, all of about twenty feet. I guess if I planned to do a longer residency, I would adjust and plan accordingly, but I was pretty single-minded about the whole thing.
4. Spreading my manuscript over the floor was fun, but after chapter six, I ran out of room. Stacking it up again was kind of a pain, and ultimately, aside from the joy of seeing so many of my pages at once, I didn’t get much benefit from it.
5. Not everyone goes hard core on these types of residencies. On my penultimate night I discovered a journal where previous occupants had each entered a page describing how they spent their time. They wrote about going on long hikes and visiting the farmers market. For a moment I worried that I had missed some important part of the residency experience, but then, I can hike and go to the market at home, with my kids. I can’t indulge in 12 hours of writing with my kids. For me, hardly leaving the cabin was the way to go, but it’s different for everyone.
6. I definitely have an physiological rhythm, and it includes naps. Turns out that, left to my own devices, I start writing around 7am, eat at noon, nap at 2, start writing again at 3, eat again at 7, write for another hour or so, then lounge about reading until I fall asleep. Heaven.
About Dorland Mountain Arts Colony
If you’ve been considering taking some time for your writing, I highly recommend Dorland. They have a rolling application, so you just send in your material when you’re ready, and list the dates that you would like to come.
It’s not easy to set aside your life for a week (or more – you can apply to stay for up to three months), but I can now say from experience, that it is entirely worth the trouble.
Here’s a shot of the view from my cabin. Every morning I saw hot air balloons rising in the distance. So peaceful…