The D-I-Y Writing Residency

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night.

For creative types with demanding day jobs and hectic lives, a writing residency can offer much needed sustained quiet in which to work. My brother, a videographer by day and a playwright by night, is just such a creative who’s ceaselessly busy, if not with work or writing, then with some other demanding pursuit, like supporting his friends’ creative endeavors, cooking with intense focus, or sea-kayaking in San Francisco Bay.

My brother is also tremendously generous, and as soon as he learned he’d

Jonathan, writing.

Jonathan, writing.

been awarded a month-long writing residency at Djerassi, he called me up and said, “Hey, Deb, do you want to use my apartment for your own writer’s retreat?” And so the Do-It-Yourself Writing Residency was born.

When I had two jobs and three kids under four, I applied and attended formal writing residencies. Both RopeWalk and the Vermont Studio Center gave me weeklong escapes from the chaos at home, These residencies were terrific – until I returned home and had to play catch-up. It was after a second residency at the Vermont Studio Center, where I was given a ten-by-twelve studio with a window overlooking a river, that I wondered if I could recreate that kind of physical and psychic space at home.

Deborah Lee Luskin writing studio

The desk in my writing studio.

In 2011, my husband built me a ten-by-twelve cabin, where I’ve worked hard to maintain a retreat-like writing practice. But life happens. Writing assignments pile up. I don’t even have time to apply for residencies, even if I were interested in them.

But one of my children recently moved to California; I haven’t seen her since May. I started to imagine a retreat where I could write by day while she worked, then meet to talk, walk, sightsee and dine. The clincher is that I’ve been gathering steam on a new book for which I’ve done a lot of groundwork, but I’ve been too busy with my day-to-day writing to give it the concentrated, uninterrupted attention it requires at this point.

So, I’m going! I’m even writing and scheduling this post before I leave. It feels great to clear my desk ahead of my departure – something to keep in mind for when I return. I’m taking just the one project with me, to give it my full attention. [Check out Diane’s recent post about The Joy of Focusing on One Thing.]

This is my cousin's cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

This is my cousin’s cabin in Maine where I wrote this summer, sidelined by my broken ankle.

Meanwhile, why not try a Do-It-Yourself residency? Use a friend’s house or apartment on weekends they’re away, or during designated hours they’re at work. Check into a motel for a weekend – or a week. Locate a rustic cabin with a wood stove before it gets too cold, or use someone’s beach house before it’s closed for the winter.

These DIY residencies provide work time and solitude. Some artist colonies do the same, and some provide communal meals and social hours – which can be fun and/or distracting. If going off solo is too lonely, there’s always the possibility of finding a few writing buddies and renting a place together, with a plan for meals, solitude, and social time worked out in advance.

Writing residencies can be extremely helpful in providing the time and space for unfettered creativity. Established ones can be found online: Amazing Writing Residencies and Poets & Writers Conferences and Residencies are just two lists of the many established residencies available. But you can also Do-It-Yourself.

Have you ever borrowed a house, apartment, or private space in which to create your own writer’s retreat?

17 thoughts on “The D-I-Y Writing Residency

    • I hope you do – and wish you a great retreat. There’s something quite wonderful about being near water, too. Good luck!

  1. What a fantastic idea. I think I’ll try that this December. There’s a place not too far from me that has cabins, no WiFi (one of my big distractions) and a gorgeous space overlooking a lake. This is exciting.

    • Yes, wifi is an enabler – which is why I don’t have it in my writing studio. I have it here in California, but I’m finding it much easier to ignore. The quiet here is profound, productive.

    • This sounds like a dreamy arrangement! How lovely to have another creative person to bump in to at the end of the workday!

  2. One day while my friend was away he called me and said to look after his house and left me with a quiet place for writing and then my writing flourished. Your idea is much like that and is great:)

  3. Wow! what a beautiful thought. Most of my writing has always had to be done with ‘grabbed pieces of space’ here and there. I still remember the joy when I was granted a week’s (sort of writers sponsorship award) at a summer-school university. There were lectures and workshops but OH the absolute joy of having a whole week simply to focus on writing. I returned to my family refreshed and settled back into the ‘usual’ but seeds from that time have remained to this day.
    Thank you for article. Wow!

  4. That sounds wonderful! I’d love to set up something like that but I don’t know where unfortunately. We’ve got an old shed in the back of the garden which needs to be replaced, maybe I could set myself up in there once we’ve done that… I know it’s not as good as leaving home altogether but it’s a start 🙂
    Enjoy your time away and dedicated to writing!

  5. There’s a long tradition of writers repurposing garden sheds and other small buildings for writing studios; it’s a great way to start. Good luck with yours!

  6. Pingback: Home. - Deborah Lee Luskin

  7. Pingback: My DIY Writing Retreat | Live to Write – Write to Live

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