Lisa Kenway: I’m proud of how much I achieved in six short days
On the plane home to Sydney, hovering over a blanket of cloud, I reflect on my recent flash fellowship at KSP Writers Centre.
A week was too brief to be fully satisfied with my output, yet I’m proud of how much I did achieve in six short days and surprised by the strength of the connection I already feel to that nurturing place.
When I stepped inside my cabin on the first day and my eyes set upon the broad timber desk and the bush garden framed by the window above it, a monastic hush descended on me – a confidence that I too could achieve a great deal of work here, as though the talented writers who’d preceded me were urging me on. I thumbed through the guest book, recognising the familiar names of writers I admire, and this too encouraged me.
Outside, between my cabin and the next, was the ‘bee tree’, its trunk home to a hive of native bees. Periodically, I would look up from my work to observe them in action, and their mesmerising industry would inspire me to return to the painstaking labour of copy edits on my novel. I’ve since discovered that of the approximately 2000 species of Australian native bees, only 10% are social insects that form hives, making these ones all the more remarkable.
Daily, I took long walks beyond the grounds and into the surrounding national park, either in the early morning or in the late afternoon to beat the heat. One day, my exploring took me as far as the Swan View Tunnel – a restored historic train tunnel, surrounded by bush – and the glimmer of light at the other end felt like a sign, albeit a clichéd one, that I would make it through what felt like interminable edits.
In the evenings, I’d meet with the other fellows, Amber and Cathy, for dinner in the kitchen or on the deck
under fairy lights. The cloistered diligence of the day would give way to joyous chats about writing and life in general over a glass of wine or a G&T while swatting away the tenacious mozzies. It was these relationships forged, I realise, along with the quiet support of Sofija in the office, which made the week truly memorable. We may have worked in isolation during the days, but the fellowship of other writers in the evenings buoyed my spirits and fuelled my tank to take on the ambitious task I’d set for myself.
Soon I will return home, where I will once again shoehorn my writing practice into my busy life. I can’t wait to see my husband and kids and to catch up with friends and colleagues at work, but I’m certain part of me will long to be back in that cosy cabin at KSP Writers Centre, watching the native bees quietly going about their business.
Top Ten Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Writing Residency:
1. Don’t follow any writing advice 100% of the time, including these tips. Prioritise what works for you.
2. Deal with obligations that will take you away from writing before you leave home, and ask family, friends and colleagues not to disturb you while on retreat. One of my retreat mates told her family to expect a call from her at the same time each day to prevent interruptions, which seemed like a great idea.
3. Be flexible about what you expect to achieve during your fellowship. In my case, copy edits for my upcoming novel were due, so I had to temporarily set aside the novel I’d planned to develop at KSPWC. The week was still productive and my output significant.
4. Stay off social media. This was a tough one for me, so I shared an Instagram post on day one of my fellowship asking friends to hold me to account if they saw me interacting online during the week. I had one or two lapses, but I largely stayed off social media, at least until the day’s work had been completed.
5. Move your body daily. Exercise is vital for your general health and prevention of back and neck pain, but it also gives your brain a chance to rest and the subconscious an opportunity to problem solve. On retreat, I favour walking, but there’s also a yoga mat in the cabin.
6. Bad words are better than no words at all. Nobody achieves perfection with a first draft, or a second, or a third… but you can’t edit a blank page.
7. If you’re stuck, use the whiteboard in your cabin or a piece of butcher’s paper: try mind mapping, brainstorm solutions in different coloured pens, anything to get the creative ideas flowing. If that fails, see tip 5.
8. Reading counts as writing work – although I caution against reading The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson during a residency in a cabin in the woods, as I unwisely did.
9. Connect with other writers, both on retreat and in the wider writing community. Networking is vital to your career progression, and the fellowship of other writers will sustain you throughout the ups and downs of this writing life. But mainly befriend other writers because book people are the best sort of people: empathic, thoughtful and kind.
10. On a practical level, bring insect repellent (did I mention the mozzies?), plunger coffee and a connector for wired internet if you own a Mac.
Lisa Kenway, KSP Flash Fellow 2023