The Art of an Artist’s Residency

Readers, this month I have been tucked away in the splendid Vermont Studio Center, busily editing the novel and also trying to produce some new short stories. About once a year I love attending programs like these; there really is nothing like devoting yourself to the quiet, singular craft of writing. You’d be amazed what kinds of work can come out of an experienc like it.

I am stunned by how smoothly the VSC is run, by how beautiful the facilities are, and how friendly and welcoming the entire community is. I’ve met a terrific bunch of writers and artists while being here, and I’m so inspired by marinating in their developing work.

Many might say that you can achieve the same experience if you just turn off the phone and hunker down at your desk at home, and you can with effort and if a residency is not possible. But if it is possible, jump at the chance. There’s a huge mental difference between squeezing an hour of writing in between obligations at home, and giving yourself the time and permission to put your writing first.

So what is a residency really like? I’ll try to tell you about a typical day here at the Vermont Studio Center. The day might be different for every resident, but here’s the routine I’ve been working on.

I wake early (for me), around seven, stumble out of bed, pull on casual clothes (no points for fashion here), and shamble over for a light breakfast in the sunny dining hall. Here the wide windows fill three walls and I can look out on the foamy white Gihon river rushing by the main building. I’m already feeling contemplative with this beautiful view, birdsong clamorous and sweet around me, but there are more options for starting the day right; a yoga class, or a quiet session in the center’s small, beautiful meditation hall. I’ve done both on several mornings. Yoga will get you sweating and struggling but refreshed; meditation will refresh you in a different way. I find meditation tremendously helpful before creative work; it’s a way of letting go of the emails, the internet, the million other worlds tugging on your attention.

After breakfast and meditation I usually head for the studio. Writers are given adorable little rooms with desk, wing-backed armchair, and window with a view of the river. I love the constant rushing sound of the water going by, but on a warm afternoon it can be almost too soothing, too close to the rain sounds I listen to as I go to sleep at night. These wing-backed chairs are delightful and conducive to naps; and I know a few writers who have dragged pillows and blankets into their studio for precisely that purpose.

In the morning though, I’m full of energy, excited to begin my work. I edit a few chapters of the novel or jot down notes on one of the many stories teeming in my head. It’s a straight focused marathon of work until lunch, when I can return to the dining hall to check in with my fellow artists and writes. How was your morning? We ask. We commiserate, we laugh, we tell each other what we’re working on. Then it’s back to the studio.

On good weather days after lunch I might take a long walk, loping alongside the river or walking up the steep hill to the local college. We are situated at the bottom of a bowl with the Green Mountains all around us. In May the roadsides, the surrounding woods, are almost too green. After a long Chicago winter I’m still stunned by the color wherever I see it. I perch on a rock by the river and read or write, or sit in an adirondack chair by the main building and write until I feel like retreating to my cozy writer den again.

Then it’s a little light kitchen duty as part of my work-study assignment, dinner and re-checking-in with the others. Then the evening might hold a slide presentation from some of the visual artists, all fascinating, wildly diverse, strange and thought-provoking. There are traditional painters, people using 3D printers, people using mylar emergency blankets and found garbage and shredded photographs. It’s inspiring to see how many and how varied are the media that can form art.

After the presentation, we artists and writers might get drinks and stumble through a bit of karaoke if it’s a special occasion; otherwise, back to the evening quiet of the studio. All of the events are purely optional, but I find it meaningful to check in with the other writers throughout the day, to be inspired by their output and by their struggles.

So that’s a day in the life of a Studio Center Resident — at least this resident. Without question I’d return; it’s truly a magical place, one that values your work, a place and community that says your work matters.