Writing Residencies: Timing, Planning & Stars Aligning
Well, it’s a long time since I’ve blogged. I haven’t had much to say!
I’ve been locked down, head down, or writing down the bones of my manuscript as Natalie Goldberg would say in her excellent writing book of the same name.
For the past week and a half, I’ve been ensconced in my cosy little cabin, Aldridge, at KSP Writers Centre in the beautiful foothills of Perth WA on a two week writing fellowship. Once the home of award-winning author Katharine Susannah Prichard, the house is now the hub and meeting place of local writers, writing groups and events. So many great names in the residency guest books. I’m honoured!
This residency has seemed a long time coming, as it was originally scheduled for October 2021, but, of course, was unable to proceed due to border closures and lockdowns. But, at last, here I am.
At one time, I wondered if I’d be finished work on the novel I put forward in my application and on to the next project. Hah! Delusions of grandeur, for sure! Or greater faith than was warranted.
However, I came prepared for KSP with a very detailed and definite game plan. I had five scenes to write for my WIP as well as wanting to do a thorough edit and polish. Now, ten days down the track, I am well on target with all five scenes written, the edit accomplished and my next read through commencing tomorrow.
Residencies can be tricky. The timing does not always work in a writer’s favour in terms of where they are in the work. The plan put forward in an application, months before, can change or already be completed by the time of the stay. In my case, the residency being delayed nine months, I had finished my aims for the project I’d originally slated for my time here. But, of course, there was more work to be done. The book is not there yet! Well, getting close, but …!
I had actually spent the previous five months agonising, note making, thinking and trying to work out exactly how to include the viewpoint of my second protagonist. Even though I thought I knew how and what I wanted to do, the actual way in eluded me. Again and again, I tried. And I wasted many hours, or so I thought, in the process. Three weeks ago, before I left home, in a simple exercise, I asked my character how she felt about a certain situation. Her answer evolved into a scene, including her true voice, and suddenly the way was open. The timing perfect.
Before I came to KSP, I mapped the scenes of my protagonist and worked out the best placement in the narrative. I made notes within the manuscript of what/where and when I wanted each scene to take place, as the where is not necessarily chronological in relation to the rest of the story.
To my immense relief when I arrived at KSP and sat down to write, the words flowed and the scenes almost wrote themselves. It seemed somehow miraculous after so long getting nowhere and beginning to doubt if I’d chosen the right structure. Or if I was up to the task. Then, all of a sudden, the words appeared on the page, everything I hoped they would be. And doing precisely what I wanted them to do. But, of course, there was no miracle. All those hours, I’d thought wasted, thinking, dreaming, agonising, discounting, tweaking, making notes and planning all came to fruition at once because, I realise now, I’d done the work, even if for so long I felt I had nothing to show for it.
I’m reading here at KSP too. I finished the most beautiful novella Water Music, winner of the 2021 Viva La Novella Prize by Christine Balint. Divine writing that totally transported me to 18th century Venice and the world of the Derelitti Convent music orphanage. I could hear the music, and the heart in the story telling. Highly recommend!
I started Madame Bovary (Gustave Flaubert) to inform on my setting, but it’s a bit slow and not grabbing me, so I’m taking time out to read A Room of One’s Own (Virginia Woolf). I’m dipping into Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking and doing lots of dipping and absolutely loving Lee Kofman’s amazing new book The Writer Laid Bare. This book about ‘mastering emotional honesty in a Writer’s Art, Craft and Life’ is not just a gem for writers but the whole damn treasure house. It is at once reassuring and inspiring and incredibly honest about the writing life and Lee’s practice. It does not give a magic formula for how to write a book, but will help gird a writer to start or, indeed, write on. It’s both revelatory and inspiring. Another highly recommended read! (And must have for writers!)
I had the wonderful opportunity to catch up with some Western Australian writers I know either in person or online and met some new writer friends too. I’ve taken time to study the bees and met a feathered friend who stopped by to say hello in a tree outside my window. The birds (and the bees) fly past, the planes overhead, often, but the solitude and uninterrupted time is perfect ambience for writing. In the evenings, my fellow residents, Ashley and Kathy, and I gather in the main house to cook dinner, talk writing and life.
But enough chat from me now, it’s back to work. I am so grateful for this amazing opportunity and the chance to let the muse in and creativity flow. Though I do believe that a solid residency game plan is behind my productivity’s success. And luck and timing and … Okay, I’m going now!
*Thanks to Ashley Kalagian Blunt for the WA gathering photograph and for organising.