05/02/2014 03:04 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

A Writer Gets a Residency


I have passed the Point Way Inn, home of Noepe Center for Literary Arts and Martha's Vineyard Writers Residency, hundreds of times. My family vacationed on the Island for years, and now my daughter lives there, a full-time resident on the cusp of marrying a Vineyarder.

Familiarity aside, I was a total writers residency newbie, not at all sure what to expect from living in a place where writing seeps into every conversation, and stories are written in the nooks and crannies of every space. A poet laureate, a few novelists, a crime reporter, a playwright and two musical memoirists all sequestered and expected to share a home and meals for a few weeks like sleepover campers. Would I be able to focus on my writing while others inscribe to their own immersion, to the rhythm of different genres?

A kind of frozen fear hit me when I questioned how I could possibly work on my book with all the demonic electronic diversions threatening to sweep me into my "real" life of work and family.

Secretly, I wondered what I was doing in this grand inn, inhabited by equally distinguished writers. Over wine the first night, I voiced my concerns. One of the novelists said, "Focus on focusing on nothing. The writing will ebb and flow."

Sigh, I was never great at meditating, and I've rarely had a moment lately to pry open the hood wide enough to find out what's bubbling up. I'm a planner, a plotter. I like to know what to expect from the inner workings of a situation, anticipating an upward trajectory.

After that first doubt-filled day, a new plan emerged, focusing on nothing but what I came to do -- write my book. Miraculously, I fell into suit, becoming wildly productive. I was completely and utterly inspired, and writing to the point of skipping my morning shower, lunch, check-in calls with my husband, kids. I had never written like this before. At the end of each day, I tallied the word count. Remarkable progress. My best writing ever. I was giddy with the belief my book would find its way out of my head, out of my computer and into the hands of adoring readers.

A few days into the euphoric rise, as if to pace myself, I tiptoed into my work email. I rationalized the reward, like I rationalize shopping for shoes at Zappos, without need. This shifted me deep into a gaping rabbit hole. Lost in the hinterlands of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Googling the other residents. Now I was cooked.

Facing hours of internet chatter and entirely distracted, I knew I needed a self-inflicted intervention. I had to protect those intensely blank moments that cleared my mind, allowing me to focus inward and sweep out procrastination to reclaim momentum.

Knowing that I could not scale back completely from technology -- for goodness sake, I can hardly write a sentence with a pen and paper anymore -- I put myself on a diet. Turning off the dings, rings and pings that make my technological heart hum, I coaxed my jumbled thoughts out of inertia and reigned them into coherent sentences, redirecting my attention to my book.

This spring delivered on its promises. It ushered in newness, growth, the gift of unfurling warmth and the replenishing of words, filling up the pages, reminding me of what writers do best: tell stories.

Photo used with permission Ben Scott