Tuesday, May 3, 2011

The care and feeding of writers in captivity*

*or Why Writers Colonies Are So Important

Once in a while I have a hard time explaining what the big deal is about writers colonies, why we need a special place to go to write. As one writer said one night during dinner at Dairy Hollow -- People say, can't you just sit down and write?

Sometimes. No. Maybe.

And then your mom calls or the dog needs walking or someone has Just One Question. And then what might have been an idea dissipates into nothing, or a character stops talking, and work is lost.

Writer's colonies give writers the psychic space and time needed to let things happen creatively. It's a mysterious process, no doubt. When people talk to writers they want to know where ideas come from. You can talk about sources of inspiration and how to develop characters and plot, but really, we don't know either. We just know it happens, and it often happens in the quiet. We get a lot of work done by staring out the window. In a way, writing is like trying to read the future -- to hear something that isn't there and hasn't happened yet. Quiet space to listen is vital.

At the same time, we need a certain kind of noise. We're shameless eavesdroppers, we writers. When we get out of our element, we hear different kinds of conversations. We meet new people and ask questions, too, and are given the gift of information. Each new piece is a seed.

We get visual noise, too, the details of somewhere else. We hear noises that aren't there, and if we listen hard enough sometimes we hear the voices of ghosts.

There's also this: We need the company of other writers, to be with others who understand the peculiar vulnerabilities, insecurities and joys of being a writer. To know sometimes we share artistic quirks. Isn't it funny, another writer said one night, how we meet these great people during dinner and then we all go back to our rooms to be alone? Yes. And we get that.

Writer's colonies get that, too. One afternoon I visited a big cat refuge near Eureka Springs, watching the biologists feeding pieces of chicken to the tigers and lions. One night at dinner another writer and I found a whole chicken waiting for us on the table.

Just feed us and let us do our thing. They know.


Colleen Sutherland, storyteller said...

I've printed out the application, now to get it out.


~ kjb said...

Wonderful, Nikki.

Pamela said...

I've never been to a writers colony, but a girl can dream. I've been trying to explain lately to some people my need for solitude, quiet, space and time to write- that first, I need to be able to think. Some people just don't get what the big deal is with just asking me one question when I am furiously typing like crazy, or why it is bothersome when they read the screen over my shoulder, or how their little interruption can totally sidetrack my progress. I think I need to find a colony.