For the past couple of weeks, I have been a support hotline.
Well, I’m always a support hotline. Hananah and I are support for each other. Constant support. We joke about co-dependency. We joke, because we are telling the truth.
So while Hananah has been on residency at VCCA, I have been reading her completed chapters, discussing her characters and her plot, and assuring her she is not a failure, and not fat, and not a fraud.
I had an idea of what she was going through. Doing a residency at Rivendell last October, I remember the hope I had before going in. I thought I was going to wake up to birds pulling the ribbons from my braids and mice singing me out of bed. And then as divine light poured through the window onto my upright sitting posture, I would tippy tap away page after page after page of inspired story.
I did write. I also realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I’m looking forward to returning to Rivendell again this October (which I am convinced is the best time to be on the mountain), to do it again with more of a plan. It’s good to have a plan when going into a writing residency or retreat.
Now, that’s not to say Hananah did not have a plan. Oh, did she! I won’t “out” her on her plan, but when she told me, I went, “[long pause] Um. [another long pause].”
Hananah and I need different things to get to work. She needs pressure. I need to relax. But I had to mention, “That sounds like a lot of words.”
One of the most important things I learned at Rivendell was how the other writers were working. I was there with some stellar pros, and I am so fortunate to have met them. Amy Greene and Patti Callahan Henry were revising novels; whereas, Joe Schuster was generating his second novel.
Again, I’m not going to reveal the word counts of my fellow writers, but I remember my mouth gaping when Joe told me how many words he was writing a day. Now, multiply that by 2 and add 800 more words. That’s what Hananah wanted to accomplish.
I was like…, “………..”
Spoiler alert: she didn’t accomplish that word count every day. But, man, she still produced a lot of writing. A lot. And she has every reason to be excited and proud and hopeful.
So why wasn’t she? It’s complicated. I’d like to know the experience of other writers and their residencies, but there’s something so wonderful and awful about being completely alone with your writing. It’s vital, rare time and yet, being cooped up with it allows too much time for it to taunt us for not being as perfect as we envisioned. It’s Frankenstein’s monster. It’s the torment of art.
I have my own summer retreat coming up soon, too, and I am thinking about how I need to spend the time. Even as I try to prevent feelings of inadequacy, I know they will happen. That divine light from the window will actually shine on my monster, and I’ll feel a little excited and a lot repulsed. I’ll want to smother my monster, but Hananah will tell me not to. She will tell me that I’m not a failure, and I’m not fat, and I’m not a fraud. She’ll hold my hand, and I’ll hold hers, as we breathe our monsters to life.