Coach: How to use the time at a residency effectively

Till residency at Smoke Farms

You wrote the most beautiful and authentic artist statement and project proposal. You answered questions for the residency application about who you are as a community member and what the residency will mean to your artistic work at this time. You assembled your work sample. Over all of these documents, you offered focused attention editing, refining the language, getting them just right. You thought about when you might be able to get away for a time – a few days, a week, a month or several – and communicated with your job, your partner, your children, your greater community and got their support for this experience … if you are accepted. You applied, set your hopes, and then tried to forget about it.

And then you got the news that you were accepted!!! Congratulations!

Now, you might be thinking: what do I do now? Especially if this is your first residency.

What to pack

  • Whether going near or far, pack books for inspiration, but limit the load, even if you are driving. Pack a book by a mentor writer/artist; a book by someone you aspire to follow in some way; and a leisure book.
  • Bring something that smells grounding for you. For me, it’s a Mexican blanket that I got on holiday with my family when I was around 13. It was the first trip for my brother and I on a plane. The blanket smells like home for me; it allows me to sleep immediately in new places.
  • Good hiking shoes/hiking gear/comfortable clothes. Eventually, you will need to get out of your student. Be prepared with the right clothes, shoes, water bottle, lite snacks you only bring for this, and a flashlight just in case.
  • Something to write with and a new leisure art form. I bring a journal and some sketching pencils. Writing is my art form, but I find that dabbling in something visual helps to unshake an obstacles I find in my writing.
  •  Bring string or wire, push pins, and binder clips.  It will make your whole life easier to be able to put things up between a window or door frame (not constantly bending over a table or scooting along the floor), and move them around if you hope to get to a place of organizing a text.

Know your Working Rhythms

  • Know how you work best: Time. Below is my general schedule on residency, but before I list that, I will say that one of the gifts you can give yourself is studying your working rhythms for a week. At the end of the day for a week before you go on your residency, write down what you did that day and get small. How much time for breakfast? How much time for walking to public transportation? How much time were you creative? After each entry write down how you felt after doing whatever it was and if you felt like you could be or were creative at that time. The day before you go to your residency, go through that journal and try to identify the best times for your creative practice, for meals, for rest, for walks, for reading, for conversation. Then you can make yourself a skeleton schedule for the residency.

  • Know how you work best: People. I’m sure you did this when you applied, but just in case, it’s good to think about how much time you need to be around people to create. I am an ambivert. I need time to talk to people every day and I need time for silence/living in my own mind. I didn’t realize this when I did my first residency at Montana Artists Refuge in the small town of Basin, MT. The residency was pretty isolated. By the second or third day, I realized that it was just too quiet for me to actually be effective, so I started going to the local pizza spot daily for lunch. It wasn’t about the pizza; it was about talking to and observing people for an hour. Lisa, the wait staff, I still remember her name. She was kind, interested in what I was working on, and basically a nice human being to talk to each day who helped ground me in reality. Know how you work best.
  • My basic schedule at residency since I’m a natural night owl is:
  • 10 am Journal – Breakfast / Liberate/Meditation App
  • 10:30 Write, revision, read
  • 12:30pm Walk , interaction with people, lunch
  • 1:30pm Journal and write
  • 2:30-4pm Nap
  • 4-6pm Write, revision
  • 6-8pm Interaction with people, dinner, drinks
  • 8-12am Write, send out submissions
  • 12am check in on my goals for day
  • 12-3am write
  • 3-6am read and write
  • sleep from 6-10 am or so
  • Repeat
  • Know how you work best: journal. Journal at least the week before you go on what you want to accomplish and break those projects down into small parts.  Example, if you are working on a novel, then identify what parts you want to accomplish, plan it out by days. This is especially important to do if you are only going on a residency for a few days or a week. If you can continue the practice during the residency, great. Try writing 3 pages in your journal every day.  Split that with the morning of what you intend to do and evening (end of work day) with what you intend to do.  But ultimately, remember to be reasonable with yourself! You are not going to accomplish everything. No need to beat yourself up. You will make new discoveries in self, world, writing, art along the way. They deserve space, too.
  • Know how you work best: feedback. Before you go, identify 3-5 people who are willing to give you feedback on 3-5 poems each while you are at the residency.  Day 2 (send out a packet, get it by Day 9); Day 3-> Day 10; Day 4 ->Day 11; Day 5->Day 12.  This way you get feedback on up to 25 poems. That can be really helpful if you have folks who understand your work and/or can give you solid feedback with critical questions and insights. If you can, identify a person who is your “wild card” who is up to read your wildest experimentations. Just having someone on the other end who is expecting you to try something new can be liberating, and if it doesn’t happen that you’ve written something totally out of the box, no big deal. Could be that your “wild card” is just someone to talk to throughout the residency who is going to catch you up on something amazing happening in the world or a great book that they read or an episode of Black Mirror that will totally change how you see life. That might be the little bit of connection that creates a portal into a new part of your work. In short, unless being a hermit with no contact is your thing, you might benefit from maintaining connection with your extended community, for inspiration, feedback, and companionship.

  • IDEAL TIME? For me, the ideal time frame for a residency is three weeks (week 1, I’m on fire; week 2, I’m doing less writing, more reading, and a little editing; week 3, I can send out submissions and also edit. Month long residencies have me doing a lot more living (which is part of the writing process, too!) during week 4 as well as sending out submissions).

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