Making the Most Out of an Artist Residency

IMG_3568For my summer writing retreat, I was granted an artist residency at The Sou’Wester in Seaview, Washington. My time spent at Sou’Wester proved to be a productive and revelatory experience.

Sou’Wester is a “hodgepodge of private cabins, vintage travel trailers, suites, and campsites.” They host music on the weekends and artist residencies during the week. The artist residency at Sou’Wester offers reduced rates for writers, musicians, and visual artists who are committed to working on their creative pursuits.

I arrived at Sou’Wester at 4 p.m. on Sunday, June 19th and stayed until 11 a.m. on Friday, June 25. I knew that my time was limited, so I made a commitment to getting the most out of the residency. In the process, I learned a lot about how best to use my time.

My Goal. For this residency, I wanted to write 6-8 new short stories to add to a collection-in-progress. After my proposal to Sou’Wester was accepted, I decided it would be a good idea to set a word count goal because I wanted to push myself to create a bulk of new work. For this reason, I thought 20,000 words (roughly 80 pages—or 20 pages a day for a four-day residency) would be a reasonable challenge. I’m a big advocate for setting artistic constraints—projects like NaNoWriMo, The 24-hour Comic, 20 Song Game (which Nick Jaina did at Sou’Wester), all come to mind. Setting these kinds of constraints help me to push past the inner critic and just create. It was also important for me to find a way to hold myself accountable, so, at the end of each day, I posted my word count on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

From top left: Sou'Wester; Zines; Writing Desk (inside); Writing Desk (outside); Desk Friends (flowers, stones, shells, frog, eraser, Altoids, pencil, and drafts).

From top left: Sou’Wester; Zines; Writing Desk (inside); Writing Desk (outside); Desk Friends (flowers, stones, shells, frog, eraser, Altoids, pencil, and drafts).

My Work Schedule & Breaks. I had some extra time before check-in at the Sou’Wester, so I stopped at a cafe in Astoria and sketched out 12 ideas for short stories. Then, after getting settled in my cabin, I started to flesh these ideas out more (this depended on the story, but often consisted of writing more about the characters, where the story takes place, the central dilemma, motivations, etc.). I began drafting my first two stories that night on a laptop. Throughout my time, I varied writing methods—stopping to sketch out ideas on a legal pad, and then going back to the computer. If I got tired at the desk, I’d try writing longhand at the kitchen table or outside. I didn’t sleep much because I was in this hyper-creative state, so I was up with the sun at 5:30 a.m. and writing until dark. I took about four separate hour-long breaks everyday. These usually consisted of eating, reading, listening to records, and walking on the beach.

On Meeting Other Artists. I spent half a day taking part in a writing and zinecraft workshop led by A.M. O’Malley and Melissa Favara. This couldn’t come at a better time. The workshop allowed me to step outside of writing in solitude, and challenge myself by writing in a different forms (it was the first time I wrote an American Sentence and a Word Loop). This also gave me a chance to discuss and share writing with others. It was inspiring and I had an art object that I could walk away with (though I left this zine in the my cabin as an offering to the next resident).

Making Art from My Mistakes. In my first high school arts class, I had a wonderfully eccentric, vibrant art teacher named Katherine. One day, after getting frustrated with an oil pastel I was working on, I ripped up the pages and threw it out. The next day, I found that the pieces were taken from the garbage and placed in a pile at my work station with a note from Katherine: “Make art from you mistakes!” I ended up finding a home for those scraps in a collage I’d been working on. I was reminded of Katherine’s words when participating in the in the writing and zinecraft workshop. I was working on a typewriter that kept having issues with random spacing in between letters. I ended up switching typewriters for a while, but in the process of compiling the zine I decided to keep some of the errors because the spaces created some interesting new/weird phrasing. I kept the spirit of making art from my mistakes in mind when I went back to my desk to continue writing and this yielded great results.

My Journal and Log. I ended each day by briefly writing about the experience in a journal. This was usually the time when I posted my word count for the day and any photos on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. I also kept track of the work I had completed in a log (see completed log below).

Sou’Wester Residency Log

Title Genre Word Count Page Count
“Staring Back” short story 4,348 words 15 pages
“The Charlie Incident” short story 3,683 words 13 pages
“Complications of the Body” short story (unfinished) 1,993 words 7 pages
“Happy Holidays from Six Rivers Correctional Facility” flash fiction 661 words 2 pages
“Other Uses for the Hunter Orange Vest After All the Guns Have Been Banned” american sentence 26 words 0
A Scene zine 258 words 12 pages
“The Story of a Lie” poem 46 words 0
“Persona” poem 37 words 0
“Chemical Warfare & the Narrative Voice” word loop flash fiction 225 words 0
“Second Nature” short story (unfinished) 1,359 words 5 pages
“B.S. Forever” short story 3,070 words 10 pages
“Ability One” short story 2,353 words 8 pages
“Unsettled” prose poem 388 words 1 page
“Daughters of the Revolution” short story 1,640 words 6 pages

IMG_3625

FINAL COUNT:

20,087 words;
81 pages;
7 short stories (5 finished drafts);
2 flash fiction;
1 zine;
1 american sentence;
3 poems.

Thank You! Thanks so much to Sou’Wester, to my wonderful supportive friends, and to those of you reading this right now. It was an unforgettable experience.