I am home now, from a stroke of good luck: a two-week “emergency residency” at the MacDowell Colony, a perfect artists’ colony in New Hampshire. I decided to do something different while there. Instead of my usual slow, plodding pace for writing a first draft of a novel, where I circle in on myself and revise as I go, thus stalling me for weeks on end, I told myself I’d write forward. Only forward. And I’d also try to give myself a daily word count. The word count started off as 2,000 words a day… but things were going so well that I upped it to 3,000.
Every morning in my live-in studio in the woods, I would get up at 6:50 a.m. and walk to Colony Hall for delicious breakfast—I was obsessed with breakfast—then back up my writing from the day before in the library and go back to work through the whole day until dinnertime, at 6:30. After dinner, I’d work, too, which meant I sacrificed so much of what being at a colony is all about (hanging out with other artists, seeing every single presentation, sharing my own work with everyone, which I didn’t do this time, and playing games like Ping-Pong and Scrabble and “PIG” on the pool table, which should be said I am terrible at, but I try very enthusiastically, hey, I try), but I was desperate for words, words, words. That’s why my emergency residency had been approved, after all: My deadline was November 1. And I was determined to write as much as I could.
Oh, wow did I.
Here is a peek at some of the scribbles in my notebook while I was away:
Final count of new words written, in just two weeks?
I kept track every day, so here’s a breakdown:
I’m not bragging. I’m just kind of stunned and want to document this. I’ve never written that fast before—and keep in mind, these are first draft words… there will be changes, there will be cuts, many cuts, there will be deep crimson flushes of embarrassment when I read over some of these words later. Even so. Even so! I’ve never written so much in so short a time. I probably never will again. I just want to remember these two short, productive weeks for always.
Another thing I did that I don’t usually do in my writing life at home is map out my book’s plot on the walls. It was only because I walked into my studio (usually a studio used for dancers and photographers) and discovered a GIANT space and white walls with push pins, empty and waiting to be made use of.
So I rearranged the furniture a few times, finally settling on having the desk toward the center of the big space, and did this…
That is a working map of my book’s plot on the wall.
Beth said, “I’d love to know more about your process here. What caused such a huge word count? Being in a new place? The ability to focus? A new method?”
And here’s what I answered her:
I think part of it is this place itself… I knew I’d be productive here, which is why I wrote them and requested the emergency time before my Nov. 1 deadline. But I never never expected to be THIS productive. I think it helped that I pushed myself to write forward and not tinker and revise as much as I usually do. I only let myself work on a few pages from the day before to get momentum, then pushed forward. I also gave myself a daily word count. And I also mapped out the book visually on the wall and spent a lot of time looking at it. But the biggest thing was probably this: there is no internet in the studios at the colony (one of the big reasons I wanted to come). No TV either. Just me and my book.
Also! I did a lot of reading (instead of TV watching). During this time of writing all these words, I was hungrily borrowing books from the fellows library, and I read 9 books! On #10 now!
But so much of it was the place. The colony whose motto is “freedom to create.”
I am forever grateful to the kind and generous people in admissions who approved my emergency residency and made room for me for two weeks in this heavenly place. I feel like I was hit by a miracle, and still can’t believe all the words I wrote.
Most. Productive. Residency. EVER. When I die, I’m giving my fortunes (ha) to the MacDowell Colony so I can help gift weeks like this to future writers.
Now here is the moment you decide to apply: