Last year and the year before, I invested in do-it-yourself writing residencies.
Don’t get me wrong: I love and appreciate writing residency programs. I’ve been fortunate enough to have been awarded four, all of which granted up to a month of a free and comfortable space to do nothing but write, and read, and daydream, and spend long hours inside my own head. Such offerings are a luxury. They are one of a writer’s greatest gifts, and I will be forever grateful to the organizations that put their trust, and financial backing, on the line for my writing projects.
Yet, this time I wanted something different. I wanted a writing residency, yes, but I wanted it in a specific location for a specific amount of time, and I wanted to spend that time adhering to my own rules, my own lifestyle. I wanted to write, yes. But I also wanted access to running and hiking trails, a nearby lap swimming pool, inexpensive vegan and vegetarian food and a warm climate.
Basically, I wanted a writing residency combined with a writing vacation (a residency vacation?).
I chose Tucson as the location. It’s a running friendly, vegan friendly, writing friendly, hiking friendly, bike friendly city. Another plus? It offers easy airline flight access from Alaska.
After that, I arranged the details: I scoured craigslist for winter subleases, found one that fit my bill, shot off an email and soon discovered that not only were the two women agreeable to leasing me their house for a month, they were also vegans and health food advocates (they bought a copy of my book and emailed me photos of them reading it. I call that a win-win situation).
I subleased their little house (called a casita down here), which came completely furnished and included internet access, a writing desk, and awesome kitchen knives while being walkable to Whole Foods, a public swimming pool, and running trails. Best of all, the full rental and utilities costs were less than most pay-for residencies.
Then I settled in to write. And here is where I quickly realized that standard writing residencies offer more than a quiet place to work. They offer acknowledgement and companionship and, most importantly, a good, swift kick of motivation.
When awarded a residency, you feel compelled to write. After all, you were chosen over hundreds of other applicants, and that knowledge propels both confidence and productivity. During my first writing residency at Hedgebrook, I wrote 150 blistering pages in ten days.
On my DIY writing residencies, I wasn’t as productive. I didn’t have to be. I was paying for it myself. I still wrote, and I still produced a good body of work. I simply didn’t feel as driven. Writing was a priority but I made time for other things, too.
This year, I didn’t arrange a DIY residency. Instead, I vacationed in Tucson with my partner and applied to various residency programs.
Here are the pros and cons that came out of my do-it-yourself writing residency experience.
You can schedule your residency when you want, on the days or months that you want, for as long as you wish.
You can choose the location, and the type of lodging. Want sunny deck? A swimming pool? Public transportation or a cabin alone in the woods? Chances are you can find it.
You can be as moody and introverted as you choose. You don’t have to interact with others if you don’t want to. You don’t have to make polite talk or worry about hurting someone else’s feelings it you don’t want to stay in your head and not engage in conversation.
You can live on your own schedule. Want to stay up all night writing and sleep all day? No problem. Eat corn chips and salsa for three days straight? Go for it. There’s no one to be accountable but yourself.
You can arrange for lodging options that allow pets.
Money: Many standard residencies are free and, face it, free writing time is a gift most of us can’t turn down.
Acknowledgement: Knowing that you’ve been awarded a residency, chosen above hundreds of others, can validate a writer’s project, and their creativity.
Contacts: Standard residencies offer writers the opportunity to make valuable contacts with other writers/artists, form friendships, and collaborate on projects.
Companionship: Face it, spending a month alone in a little house writing can drive even the most introverted person crazy with loneliness. Residency programs normally employ more than one resident per session, so there’s normally someone available to talk with, commiserate with, and offer support, or friendship, when needed.
Work ethic: As mentioned earlier, it’s easier to slack off during a DIY residency, since there’s no one holding you accountable but yourself.
Cinthia Ritchie is a recovering journalist who writes and runs mountain trails in Anchorage with her dog, Seriously. She’s a two-time Pushcart Prize nominee, two-time Rasmuson Individual Artist Award recipient, and recipient of a Best American Essay 2013 Notable Mention. Find her work at New York Times Magazine, Sport Literate, Best American Sports Stories 2013, Evening Street Review, Under the Sun, Water-Stone Review, damfino Press, The Boiler Journal, Panoplyzine, Barking Sycamores, Clementine Unbound, GNU Journal, Foliate Oak Review, Deaf Poets Society, Mary, Theories of HER anthology, Grayson Books Forgotten Women anthology and others. Her first novel, Dolls Behaving Badly, released from Hachette Book Group. She blogs about writing and Alaska life at www.cinthiaritchie.com.