Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Do You Have What it Takes to be a Resident Writer?

Last year author Lauri Kubuitsile spent a month in Egypt on a writers’ residency. I asked her to tell Blood-Red Pencil readers about her decision to apply for the residency and her experiences in Egypt.

Lauri says,
"I'd never thought of going on a residency before, I thought they were more for academic type writers, not an in-the-trenches, working writer like me. A friend of mine posted the El Gouna Residence on Facebook. I took a look and thought I’d try my luck, I mean who doesn’t want to go to Egypt, right? It was a huge surprise when I was chosen."
Lauri made certain she was well-prepared beforehand in order to get the most she could out of her residency:
"I had a project I wanted to work on while I was there, a new novel. Before I went I made sure all of my pre-work was done: character bibles, a plot map, chapter outlines. I also got about halfway through the rough draft before leaving. My plan was to complete the rough draft of the novel while in Egypt and I did manage to do that.

"I do think it is vital for someone going on a residency to be very clear about what they want to accomplish there. I think since I had a set amount of work I intended to complete I used my time fairly efficiently. It’s easy to get distracted especially in a beautiful place like El Gouna Egypt - I had a beach outside my window, imagine."
There are numerous elements to weigh up for writers thinking of applying for a writers’ residency. The place where you write can have a dramatic affect on your writing.
"I realise I am lucky as a writer in many ways. I live in a quiet village in Botswana with few distractions. I have my own office away from the house where I write. In Egypt I was suddenly with other writers from all over the world. We were five writers in all but the women in the group were the interesting ones and the ones I connected with - from Italy, UK, and America. I’m isolated being in Botswana and contact with flesh and blood writers is rare. That connection I hadn’t anticipated. I only later realised how important that had been to me, once I was home. In Egypt sometimes I felt guilty spending time with these women and not writing - it was a writing residency, wasn’t it? But now I’ve come to the conclusion that we all get what we must from such experiences. At home I have lots of quiet writing time and I don’t get interaction with writers. Others on the residency have hectic jobs and lives that give them very little quiet time for writing; the residency gave them that. We all got what we needed, not necessarily what we thought we needed, at least in my case.

"I’ll be honest, for me I found it difficult to write deeply in El Gouna. By deeply I mean I couldn’t lose myself in the book as I can at home. My mind was far too busy with all that was going on. It was good for me to have scheduled the writing of the rough draft for a book which is very plot driven. I think any writer who intends to go on a residency should know themselves. Before I went I didn’t know that about myself, that where I write is very significant to what I write and how I write. Now I know and if I go on another residency I will keep that in mind and make sure the projects I choose to work on are suitable.

"Egypt is a complex fascinating place with a multitude of stories. I wrote a short story set in Egypt, though it’s not yet finished. I’ve also been thinking a bit about a romance set there, it is quite a romantic place."
And for writers thinking of applying for a writer's residency, Lauri has this advice:
"Make sure you understand the logistics - what is paid and what you must pay. Understand who will be attending, what is required of you. As mentioned above, make sure you have a specific project you want to work on. Also, once there – enjoy it! I think that’s what I regret slightly though I did have a lovely time, I wished I would have been less uptight about how many words I was putting on the page. Another big part of a writer’s life is experiencing; those experiences will add richness to your words and that’s just as important."

Have you ever considered a writer's residency? Where in the world would you most like to spend a month writing? Share with us in the comments!


Lauri Kubuitsile’s latest book is Can He Be the One?, published by Sapphire Press (South Africa). You can follow Lauri’s writing adventures on her blog, Thoughts From Botswana.

Lauri was interviewed by Elsa Neal.

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  1. Thanks for sharing this! I'd like to go on a writing residency some day. I'd be like Lauri and make sure I had my novel prepared and planned and maybe even a 1st draft started. Then I wouldn't feel so guilty about taking time to enjoy the experience.

    I want to go anywhere with a beach view! But I wouldn't say no to a beautiful mountain view either. :)

  2. Laura- you should try your luck for El Gouna. The beach was lovely!

    Great article Elsa, thanks for the interview!

  3. I host writing retreats for women at my summer home in Northern NY State. The place is rich with memory for me since I've spent some time every summer of my whole life up there. It's idyllic, right on the shore of a lake with lovely views. Many modern women can't crowbar a residency into their schedules, but a few days away from the bustle of their lives to dedicate to writing feels like a dream. I'll write a post about it some time.

  4. Oh--caught up in my own reverie, I forgot to thank you for the post, Lauri! Good for you for planning ahead--I know people can get to these residencies and, faced with the sudden decompression of their lives, completely freeze up!

  5. Thanks Lauri. I loved hearing about your experience. I did a 4-week residency at the Vermont Studio Center that was a fabulous experience. I got so much writing done and came away with wonderful memories and friends. I would highly recommend VSC for those wanting to apply for a residency.

  6. I would love a residency - did you interact with students? I'd like to go to Ireland or Egypt or well, anywhere really. Especially in the cold old wintertime...

  7. Thanks for sharing your experiences with us Lauri. You are so proactive and such an inspiration.

    Kathryn - what an awesome idea! I might have to consider something like that here: we live in a beautiful part of Australia and I'm sure it would make an enjoyable retreat location. Hmmm... You've made me think...

    Elsa Neal
    HearWriteNow & Blood-Red Pencil

  8. Yes Kathryn we did interact wiht students. We did a reading at the local primary school. It was no an obligation but we all wanted to do it. The only obligation was for us to do a reading at the local library at the end of the month and to write a report about how we thought the residency went.

    El Gouna has residencies in Feb May and June. It is quite an amazing place. I went in May which was ideal weather. I think June is quite hot, though the tourists are far fewer.


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