You have been with it for weeks, or maybe months—perhaps years. Maybe yours came today, almost running you mad. You have just been staring into space as if you kept something in there, yet you cannot just bring it forth. Your fingers have counted figures for the right syllable; perhaps yours is the duty of getting the right ratio 5:7:5 in three lines or chiseling the neck of flamingo words into one stressed and unstressed syllable using apocope and syncope to condense the hapax legomenon of Shakespeare’s honorificabilistudinitatibus! (See Act 5, Scene 1 of Love’s Labor Lost.)
You have decided not to move on because you cannot just go ahead. You are still on chapter one. Not even the smuggling of flash short fictions into the original storyline has helped matters. With all the interpolations, you can’t boast of a plot; you have exhausted all the characters in your head but you haven’t yet cast one.
You have just been piling up words with little voice; you have borrowed from all the experiences you’ve had from childhood up to adulthood, yet it seems you aren’t being original. All the images to you seem familiar; the metaphors sound to your ears overused, the puns and rhymes are making no sense and sound. The workshops you have attended, the festivals you partook of, the cinemas you have visited, the interviews you have read… but for a remedy in the witch’s fecundity, she “continues to birth female children.”
You are now empty. It is obvious. And to make matters worse, family demands, extended family demands, domestic demands, social demands, political demands, emotional demands, mental demands, environmental demands are all on your trail while that tiny thought, that stranded subject, that fresh story, that new experience, roam in your head abandoning you in Plato’s World of Form. Literature suffers in your head; that magnum opus is stranded in your mind.
Perhaps, you need to leave that place, take away your eyes from that scenery, leave those people—and abandon that style. Perhaps, you need to write it away from home, away from that environment, away from that climate—and all. Perhaps, you need new words, new vocabularies, new ditties, new accents, new smell, and new flavour. Perhaps you need to see new people, hear new songs, enjoy the music in a novel dialect, breathe in a different air, see new clothes, walk on new soils, feel a different weather, witness new quarrels, wear new clothes. Perhaps you need a writer’s retreat, or a writer’s escape into a Writer’s Residency.
What is a Writer’s Residency?
This is where the writer is given a VIP treatment. This is where a writer is pampered. This is where that creative writing is the most important job and profession. This is where writers are treated as the most important persons in the world. In a Writer’s Residency, your idea is given the best environment to mature. Your story is given the space to brood and breed. You can hear yourself. Listen to the quality of your words. Write, cancel, tear, rewrite, edit… Your only business here is to write—no chores, and their counterparts in distraction.
Can’t I still do all these in my bedroom at home?
Your bedroom is at home while your creativity room outside home is at the residency. Your home is made up of nuclear family but the residency is a manuscript factory where you have just your table, chair, Wi-Fi for research and usually few writers like you around whose socializing will be tailored along your goal of coming out with the new blockbuster. In your home, you have all kinds of chores to do and all kinds of need to meet, but at the writer’s residency, the operating staff does everything for you and meets your many needs. You are already familiar with the aura of your room at home but your room at the residency is designed to attract the nine Greek muses by the sparkle of novelty.
So how is the Writing at a Writer’s Residency better than Writing from Home?
It is not really about the writing, it is simply about the condition or the atmosphere of writing. The Residency gives you a good ‘writing posture’, a serene writing space, a new writing discipline. Of course, most writer residencies have creative and refresher programs for resident writers and these programs are meant to arouse the writing urge in you; it is like a catalyst.
Susan Bearman on the subject “Writing Residency Programs: Is this what your writing needs now?” shares Mary Anne Mohanraj’s experience through the diary she kept during her two-week residency at Ragdale in July 2012:
There is nothing to do here. There is nothing I need to do. I have showered and dressed, made my bed, made and eaten breakfast. …I have no other chores. There is nothing to clean, nothing to organize, nothing except my thoughts… I need to slow myself down. Stop and smell the roses. Try not to get stung.”
(See WRITE IT SIDEWAYS’S Blog Article of January 22, 2013 by Susan Bearman)
If the writer uses the Writer’s Residency, the writer travels away from home; so it is not out-of-place to say the creation of the writer in residence can be also be a form of Travel Writing.
Mary Anne Mohanraj could only get to Ragdale by leaving her Oak Park, Illinois resident while Barbara Oketta, Macdell Joshua Kofi Sackey and John Sarpong left their places in, respectively, Uganda and Ghana to enjoy the serenity that Ebedi International Writer Residency in Iseyin, Oyo State, Nigeria, offered their writing. [Sourced from www.EbediResidency.blogspot.com]
In fact, Edan Lepucki would not have considered herself a writer if she did not have access to Ucross Foundation’s residency program. Kristen Pope’s article “26 Amazing Writing Residency” reveals these words of Lepucki herself:
“At Ucross I learned that I am capable of focusing deeply for long periods of time. I love to write. I don’t think I would have said that before this trip.”
(See TheWriteLife‘s Blog Article of October 26, 2015 by Kristen Pope)
What then is Travel Writing?
Writings about resort centers traveled to, about ancient monuments and historical structures seen—writings that bother on tourist experiences, excursions, sightseeing; writings that are inspired by the fauna and flora, by wildlife, by nautical encounters and views, spontaneous writings during a long trip or short trip; a prose, drama or poem written while seeking tranquility, prolificity, spontaneity and continuity in a distant or nearby place away from its aboriginal state—all do qualify as Travel Writing.
This form of writing is curious, epistemic, Gypsy and eclectic. It speaks about culture; reveals cultural behaviors, integrates cultural traditions, interviews diverse cultural identities, and pictures cultural artifacts and heritages. It is a geographic writing that helps the reader to travel along with the writer; it transports the reader into the world from where the writer had written.
This type of writing is also technically termed Travelogue and sometimes it can be colonial in content and journalistic in purpose. But when this writing requires a change of environment for it to be fully developed in style, content, language and plot, it simply takes the subject away from its aboriginal place to the land of muses; a monastic land. So it is like writing away from Siberia; it is like writing Odyssey!
You see writings like this on Nigerian writer and traveler Pelu Awofeso’s WakaAbout.com. You also see the form in Nigerian poet Tade Ipadeola’s award-winning poetry collection The Sahara Testament, the inspirational product of a year-long travel experience to the sub-Saharan deserts of Northern Nigeria, according to the author on a book reading event. You as well see this type of writing in Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales and of course in Homer’s Classical epic Odyssey, among many others.
What a Residency Gave Them!
Ben Valentine, a resident at Gullkistan residency says:
As much as I love New York, I wanted to spend a month in a setting that could not be more different. I wanted sublime natural beauty, peace and quiet, relaxation and simplicity- a reset button for myself. Gullkistan was an ideal answer.
[Sourced from TheWritelife.com.]
Uche Peter Umez in a chat on Facebook on the 14th of February 2016 has this to say about his many travels to residencies:
Well, it gave me time to write since I am a father and husband. It also helped enrich my worldview which staying at home will definitely not have done.
Writing is serious business.
It is a kind of creative expression. When this creative urge is not released, the writer gets angry, becomes sad, withdraws into himself, feels weak, becomes distracted—even feels jobless.
To destroy a writing process or to molest the writing will is to murder the future, limit civilization, and witch hunt development; hence the need to adopt a fitting writing ambience for the writing afflatus. What then when the writing afflatus delays or sleeps?
A fitting writing ambience should be provided!
Litterateur famously called Literati, Babajide Michael Olusegun writes to heal, teach and opine. But when none of these seem to flow with his writing thoughts, he seeks an alternative in performance poetry. Don’t ask him what he does for a living; he is still busy living. He was shortlisted for the Uganda-based BabisaiNiwe Poetry Prize in 2015 and is a mentee in the BabisaiMentorship Programme. He is Literary Editor of Bravearts Africa Magazine.