Monday Notes: 4 Takeaways from a Writer’s Residency

Last week, I explained that I’ve been in Monson, Maine for two weeks participating in a writer’s residency. As promised, here are four takeaways from my time there:

Clearing space is important.

Before I flew to Maine, I knew it was necessary to clear space in several ways to make room for writing. I suspended all editing services and didn’t accept any new clients; I stopped judging essays for the Florida Writers Association; and I stopped writing new blogs. I focused on my actual job for one hour a day—don’t tell my director. Also worth mentioning, is that I’d already cleared space in other, more personal ways when I decided to release specific angst about people. I’m confident I couldn’t have done this if I was still worried about who was visiting, calling, or maintaining contact with me. It was taking up too much real estate in my head, which I believe can affect your creativity. Clearing space helped me to center my attention solely on my new project. While I was in Monson, I wrote for five or six hours straight, with the exception of eating meals and taking bathroom breaks. 

There’s a difference between grind and flow.

One of the other writers and I had a great conversation about the difference between grinding and flowing. Grinding can occur when you’re worried about the goal; flowing is akin to floating with no worries, yet somehow accomplishing the goal. If you’re doing something you love, but you find yourself stressed about it, then that is the opposite energy you probably want to have. Grinding can manifest in several ways. For me, I developed a headache and felt lethargic. (Remember, my body clearly talks to me). Once I sat down and evaluated why this could be, I determined it was not only because I’d been staring at my laptop too long, but also because I’d been thinking deeply about narrative and research connections too long. I was straining my brain. Even if you love something and are in the flow, you can still overdo it. I needed to not write for an entire day to remove the grind mentality.

Being around like minded people is pertinent.

I really enjoyed being around other artists. On day three and nine, we had to do an artists share. I listened to and viewed some very interesting projects. Artists, no matter the medium, are different. They see life differently, and being around them felt as if I wasn’t in the real world. For example, no one called anyone’s project outlandish, no matter what the idea was. No one was negative or judgmental. Each person was supportive of whatever they heard. This warm response is different from how people interact outside of residencies. In my experience, non-artists always have a lot of questions, like why would you do that? What is that supposed to be? Why don’t you do it this way? There’s nothing wrong with constructive criticism, but I’ve noticed these questions are usually rooted in a lot of judgment. We’d all do better to take a page out of artists’ ways of functioning and simply head nod and find something nice to say about one another and our ideas.

I need more freedom than I thought.

Every time I leave my house for an extended period of time, I realize freedom is top priority for me. But this time, being away from everyone and everything solidified it. From day one, I was hella excited to wake up whenever I wanted, with nothing to do for the day, except whatever I conjured up. Even though it was nineteen degrees one day, I bundled up and started walking toward the Appalachian trail. Another day, I made up my own yoga routine, and another day, I stayed in bed all day and wrote. No one questioned my safety when I was walking, my sanity when I stayed in bed , or my decision making when I decided to finish my book. My life and time were mine to create. If you’re thinking these seem like small things, you’re right. But guess what? If you’re not careful, then small things add up to one big ball of resentment. For me, I’ve realized I have to build a sense of freedom into my regular life. It’s mandatory.


Turning Page Farm

Participating in this residency is one of the few places I’ve gone in my lifetime where I felt as if I belonged. I didn’t expect to find a sense of belonging among people who, at first, seemed so unlike me. But as time wore on, I saw it clearly. There was an energy that bound us together. I understood when my housemate, who is a visual artist, didn’t wake until ten, spent the day in her studio until two in the morning, and then came home. Likewise, others understood when I closed the door, skipped lunch, and didn’t socialize sometimes. Other than having beer with goats, no one tried to guilt me into hanging out. There was a mutual understanding for artist’s behavior, and quite honestly, after getting to know each person, a common liberalism that superseded race, age, gender, or sexual identity constructs emerged. While I get along with mostly anyone because I love people and socializing, this residency showed me who my people are.


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73 thoughts on “Monday Notes: 4 Takeaways from a Writer’s Residency

  1. Well done. Lessons learned and re-learned. Glad you took this time for your writing life. I hear you on clearing space and freedom to be and do as you please on a regular basis. HUGELY important rituals for me too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you. Thank you ❤ It's like we forget that we have the power to do this. A lot of times, we pile on and don't even realize it, and then complain that we're too busy lol

      Liked by 1 person

  2. This post is meaningful and relatable to me in so many ways! I especially loved your descriptions of grinding vs flowing – I am discovering and luxuriating in the nuances and differences between the 2, giving myself ample permission to let go whenever I am not flowing. What you write about having freedom away from home – I almost lived that while at home when I went on my unexpected unintended blog break. Not questioning myself for how I am waking up and what for. Just giving myself plenty of time. I needed that. I also appreciate reading from you how there is a need for proactive cleaning of the daily calender and obligations if were to commit myself to some serious writing project.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Pragalbha, I especially want to emphasize clearing the calendar. A lot of times, we believe we don’t have time for something, when really, we’re doing it to ourselves, taking on more responsibilities, instead of saying no, or keeping our days filled, just to prove we exist. Anywho, I know you get it, especially because you had that impromptu break 😉

      Liked by 1 person

      1. …just to prove we exist. :)))) Yes.
        Those breaks have happened to me and they are a gift. I now looking forward to finding the ability to consciously create them and devote to a purpose that needs this dedication.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m doing really well, and I hope you are, too! So, yeah! Me, either until recently. I think it’s my duty to spread the word lol Apparently, they are and have been very popular for artists of all kinds.

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  3. Since I’m reading a post from Monday on Thursday night, I guess I’m giving myself to step away from blog reading as I’ve been busy focusing on other things. Thanks for sharing this,it sounds like a life changing experience.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. In unrelated news, I am soon to get Will Smith’s memoir from the library which I learned about on your blog. Have recent events changed your mind about him? I hope this isn’t putting you on the spot – feel free to not answer.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. No, him slapping Rock didn’t change my mind. The memoir is excellent and I think it actually shows why he did what he did. He comes from an abusive background; his father used to beat his mother, so 💁🏽‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Would be interested later how you felt about the memoir. I would slightly guilty at a retreat and not produce hardly anything. Sounds I’m too work-focused. I wouldn’t be writing, it would be art.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I hope I haven’t misunderstood your question (or that you’ve misunderstood what I wrote).

      I felt very positive about the work I produced; I set forth to finish a draft of my memoir and accomplished that.

      Also, while I was preparing documents to submit for the residency, I’d read that many people use them for inspiration; some don’t require products or proof of work done.

      Writing is considered an art form.

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      1. For sure writing is an art. It’s just not my go-to habit /passion..except for blogging. Meanwhile I have a ton of unused painting art supplies at home..

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Hahah, now you got it! Quit your day job and let it all hang out. I once took part in a residency, most of the participants were part-time creatives, and stressed out about having suddenly all that time at hand. Being a full-time artist who has chosen to live on the breadline, I experienced the stay like being in a luxurious resort. I did nothing and produced nothing, but I was all fired up when I returned home.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I know, right? If I can figure out how to make that leap, then I’ll be good 😉
      “stressed out about having suddenly all that time at hand,” describes how I felt the first two days. I was so anxious, literally pacing because I had all the time in the world!

      And see…that last part is the beauty of it all ❤

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  6. I can relate to so much of this post (even though I’ve never been a writer in residence.) But I agree that artistic people look at things differently, and I’ve always felt more comfortable with them, even though I’m a writer. And I also need a sense of freedom built into each of my days….nothing makes me crabbier than having every minute of my day planned out for me. Once again, your posts validate what so many others are going through!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I think we feel more comfortable because we’re artists, too. A lot of times we limit “artist” to visual arts, and actually, writers are too!

      Thank you, Ann! I think it’s partially a woman thing. Even though no one makes me do things, there’s still an implicit expectation, like cooking food, for example, which takes up quite a bit of time.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Sounds like a wonderfully inspiring retreat (like a dream)! Love that you got to get away and enjoy the freedom. Like you, with a small sniff of freedom comes the realization that freedom is exactly what I need more frequently in my life… the freedom to do whatever it is the heck I want when I want! Blogging has allowed me to be in a virtual space with like-minded folks and I’ve enjoyed it immensely! 🙂 Thanks for sharing your space!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It was very dream-like! Freedom is such an interesting thing. It’s like you give it away a little bit at a time, and before you know it, well, you understand lol

      I agree about bloggers, too! I think we’re all here seeking the same thing 😉

      Liked by 1 person

  8. So glad you got to do this, KE. I don’t know how to work the freedom you spoke of into my daily life. I snatch an hour of writing when it’s quiet, but it’s impossible to relax enough to reach a flow state when you have to keep one ear out for the dogs or doorbell or the clunk the washer makes when it stops. A retreat sounds divine. I wish it were possible to LIVE like that. I get what you mean about artists being more open to ideas, not so quick to cut us off or criticize. Thanks for sharing your experience and takeaways. I’ve been to Maine 3x and loved it, btw. It seems an excellent place for such an endeavor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this comment, Joan! I haven’t quite figured it out, either. I do think it has to be small, even if it’s two consecutive hours of prioritizing fill-in-the-blank thing. I mean, we owe ourselves at least two hours, I think.

      Maine was the perfect place! I didn’t even talk about the greats who came before me from that area (Thoreau, Stephen King). Aside from the nature part, it seemed quite appropriate to write there.

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  9. Every one of your takeaways is an AHA MOMENT for me Dr. G. And I hope people realize how lucky we are to get inside the mind of a professional writer like you. You write for a living and most of us write to support ‘our living’. Which is why getting a glimpse of your process is WRITING EDUCATION FOR EVERYONE in the same way I talk about my life mission to share psychology with the world.

    The one that I am working on x 100 with you (which ironically should not involve work) is — “There’s a difference between grind and flow.” Especially at our age .. when we have crystallized our intelligence into wisdom (the topic of my wellness lecture last week on the gifts of aging).

    Thank you for showing up for us. Writing is not something I will ever take for granted because it doesn’t come naturally to me. But with your help and your grace.. it is starting to flow a little bit more.

    Dr. D 🙏🕺💜

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Omgosh! I think that’s such a good distinction. I had to read what you wrote twice. I DO write for a living, not to provide for my living, which is different. Thank you for that ❤

      You know we have similar traits, especially when it comes to work habits, so I can totally see your need for differentiating between the two. It's easy for us recovering Type As to slip into grind mode 😉

      Thanks as always for this comment ❤ Sending you some end-of-the-semester-pandemic love lol

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I loved reading how you went with the flow and truly let go of judgment during this artists’ retreat. No wonder it promoted creativity. Thank you so much for sharing about it, Katherin. You truly inspire me to think about doing something like this. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m so ready! You’re inspiring me, Katherin!!
        I really miss nature and it’s very uplifting.
        I can’t wait to hear about your next adventure. Ayahuasca?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. LOL My sister and I have kicked that around. I think like you, I’m hesitant because it’s a drug/not drug lol But the idea is still floating around out there for both of us.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. It will definitely be a trip you’ll never forget! It’s like a reset. And now that they have clinics for ketamine, it’s really almost the same thing, but very expensive and supervised. Someone I know did that and told me it changed his whole life. He was suffering from depression and now he’s 99% better. That’s after decades of torture.

        Liked by 1 person

  11. You had a lot of freedom. But you worked exceptionally hard. Six hours a day, at least. Wow. I’ve never written that much all at once in all of my life, I doubt I’m capable of it. What was it like to come home, be home for a little while, then really start to comprehend how much you had written? On another note, did you and any of the other residency people agree to stay in touch? I know that’s not the point of the residency but it’s intriguing to me, the idea of the shared experience with other creatives

    -Jason

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well, the thing is, my goal was to complete this memoir, so once I had it in my head that was what I wanted, then it happened…it’s kinda how my life goes and hard to explain in this comment, but once I have a title or an idea, then I just write until I finish it…it kind of consumes me, if that makes sense. I needed a different type of freedom, the freedom to write for 6 hours without feeling guilty, having to make dinner, etc.

      That’s a great question. We have an email chain and WhatsApp. I think kind of like with a lot of groups, some people vibed more with others, so I have a few people I still speak to (I mean it’s only been two weeks lol), but we still have a group chat/email thing, too. For example, someone just posted about the goats with the caption, “never forget” lol

      Liked by 3 people

  12. Gosh this was so inspirational. And it kind of reminded me a little bit of art school, which was such a flourishing time for me. It wasn’t as open ended and there were definitely schedules. But life was pretty much about creating and socializing and that was pretty much it. I’m so happy for you to be in this place and I love hearing about this!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s exactly what this was like. Creating and socializing (if you wanted to) lol Thank you for your happy vibes. I appreciate it. From what I know about you, I think you’d like to do a residency.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. “For me, I’ve realized I have to build a sense of freedom into my regular life. It’s mandatory.” This is something I’m currently struggling with. It’s so hard, especially when I have to work two jobs to make ends meet financially. I’ve decided not to work this summer, just to have this space, if only for a short period of time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It is hard, Laura! I hear you about the jobs. I have a small business and a lot of times, I won’t turn anyone away for fear that God, the universe, or the great white buffalo will think I’m being ungrateful and not send me anymore business lol It’s funny how we make up these things.

      Anywho, another lesson I learned for myself is that I can take time whenever I want. I just have to set it up first.

      I hope your summer is filled with whatever you want it to be, even if it’s just rest 😉

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Those goats were so people-needy lol It’s like they knew exactly what to do. I wasn’t even into the goats at first, but they all stuck their noses through the gate just like that, and I was hooked lol

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Don’t wait too long, Claudette! But also do it when you feel ready. I know how it is to have teenagers who may not leave you alone, but as soon as you can, look into writer’s residencies…they have them all over.

      Like

  14. What great takeaways, Kathy, “We’d all do better to take a page out of artists’ ways of functioning and simply head nod and find something nice to say about one another and our ideas.” When we are in judgment, we can’t be curious.

    And my favorite sentence? “Other than having beer with goats, no one tried to guilt me into hanging out.” Hee, hee!

    Love everything about this! Thanks for doing a wrap-up and sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly, Wynne! People will wrap judgment into care and concern, and really, a lot of times it’s simply fear and…judgment lol

      I held out firmly on the beer and goats until we were all in person and they were like, “how can you NOT want to see this?” LOL

      Thank you for reading/commenting ❤

      Liked by 1 person

      1. That is hilarious about the beer and goats. Sounds like a once in a lifetime experience.

        And yes, judgment wrapped in whatever wrapper someone chooses still is judgment. It reminds me on a directive from author and poet Mark Nepo that really hit home with me,

        “This is at once the clearest of spiritual intents and yet the hardest to stay true to: how to stay open to what others feel and not what they think.”

        How to stay open to what others feel and not what they think — when we are out there with our words and social media, etc.. Hard to do but makes sense as a great way to filter!

        Liked by 1 person

  15. Good food for thought, Kathy. I can never write anything without alternating between grind and flow. Or, more interestingly, novel writing is always an oscillation between grind and flow, poetry writing a conflation of grind and flow. I am certainly not holding my process up as a model, just thinking out loud after reading your post 🙂 Gary

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hahaha, not just you. Someone once asked me in an interview what it was like writing both poetry and novels. The best I could come up with at the moment was a medical analogy: “Writing novels is like chronic pain and writing poetry is like acute pain.” Hey, at least I was honest 🙂

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