What’s it like at a writer’s colony?

September 27, 2010

It’s difficult to find information online about what it’s like to go to a writer’s colony. Sure, most colonies like MacDowell, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts and Yaddo have their own website. And several organizations like the Alliance of Artists Communities and blogs like Mira’s List are dedicated to helping writers and artists fund residencies.

Fireplace in my writer's studio at Hambidge.

But when it comes to descriptions of what it’s actually like on site, you won’t find much online.

I think this is because the types of artists who go to colonies don’t tend to spend much time on the Internet. They want to focus on their work, which is why they seek out residencies, where the distractions of everyday life, including the Internet, are minimal. Some even hop from colony to colony to work on their projects. The artists I’ve met here at Hambidge are fascinating people, but very few have an online presence. (If you know of any blogs that offer inside looks at artist’s residencies, I hope you’ll let us know in the comments.)

So this week I’m devoting several posts to answering the question: What’s it like at a writer’s colony?

As soon as I arrived at The Hambidge Center, my blood pressure went down a notch. Or two. Or three.

You know that saying, “I can hear myself think?” At this writer’s colony, I can. I can hear the words and phrases bouncing around in my head, begging me to put them down on paper. The more of those words I release, the more relaxed I feel. The more relaxed I feel, the more I can get to the heart of what I’m here to do: create.

I love working in my quiet studio all day, without having to drown out the noise of the television or the distraction of the Internet or the buzz of my phone. I love that nothing is expected of me here except to write. I don’t have to walk the dog. I don’t have to run errands. I don’t even have to listen to voicemail. In fact, I can’t. There’s no cell phone service.

My studio at The Hambidge Center is called Son House.

I’ve found a natural rhythm to my days. I get up when my body tells me it’s time. I go for a run or walk in the woods, then settle at the desk in my studio to work for a few hours. When I need to move my legs, I walk the half mile to The Rock House, where a WiFi connection is available to residents, to tweet for my clients and glance at my e-mail. Then it’s back to my studio for another few hours of strengthening the story arc in my manuscript.

For dinner, I meet the other artists — right now I’m in the company of two fiction writers, two painters, a musical composer and a woman who’s building a sculpture out of shredded paper — on the porch of The Rock House. We eat, drink and rock in oversized wooden rocking chairs. And we talk about what makes us tick.

After dinner, I like to write for another hour or two before curling up in bed with a book, because reading is the best thing I can do to improve my writing. For a few moments I listen to the crickets outside and think about how I’m scared because I’m all alone in the woods without cell phone service, and how no one would hear me if I scream. A tree branch falls outside and I stay very still, listening for footsteps that I thankfully never hear. I check to make sure the windows are locked and the land line — to be used only in emergencies — is plugged in.

And then I sleep, because I have a full day of writing ahead of me.

Want to go to an artists’ residency? Check out my tips on finding and applying to writers’ colonies.

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    9 Replies to “What’s it like at a writer’s colony?”

    • Andrea says:

      Thank you for posting this! Your writing even sings in this post. I have forgotten what it is like to be unreachable. When I cruised the Mediterranean last year, I had Internet and cell service!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        Well, I’m not *totally* unreachable, but it IS nice to be unreachable for most of the day. Really helps me focus! I find I have a creativity here that I just don’t have at home. Even this morning, while revising, I came up with a paragraph I totally didn’t expect or plan.

    • Karen Walker says:

      sounds like heaven, except for the being alone in the woods with no phone.

    • Inspiring. I’ve often wanted to do this. It sounds like the perfect vacation to me.

    • Andi says:

      I’m so glad you told us about the colony, I’m so intrigued! I think it’s great that your bp went down at first. I think mine would go up at first and then come down. Being unplugged freaks me out. I hate that I’ve become like that!!!

      • Alexis Grant says:

        You’re right, Andi — In a way, being unplugged can make us feel stressed out. Remember my post from last week about how I’m organizing my Internet time? Doing that makes me feel better, because I know I’m getting everything done that needs to be done when I DO have Internet.

    • alisha says:

      Thanks for this sneak peek into a writer’s colony. It sounds fascinating!

    • Heather Rae says:

      This sounds so interesting – I’m glad you’re posting about your experience there. I’m definitely intrigued. Perhaps I’ll look into do something similar myself one of these days. 🙂

    • Thank you for posting this! Your writing even sings in this post. I have forgotten what it is like to be unreachable. When I cruised the Mediterranean last year, I had Internet and cell service!

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