It’s now a month since I left Sweden after my February residency, so I’ve had time to get back to normal life, and also to reflect on the experience.
The good stuff
I gained some huge benefits from my stay in Strömstad. The very obvious one is also the most important: I was given the time and space to write, and some money for doing so. At home, I share a desk in a room that is also a thoroughfare. I’ve wanted to go on a writing retreat for years, but my financial situation hasn’t allowed for it. Instead, I’ve trained myself to carve out time: usually in the mornings before work; sometimes if I have the energy (which I don’t often) in the evenings. Which is all very well, but it’s truly difficult to hold an entire novel in your head and keep up momentum with it when you’re working on it in spare half hours or the occasional hour before work.
What the writing residency enabled me to do was build up a good basis for a novel. So much about novel-writing in those early days is about having the confidence to keep going with it – especially if much of your world-building is done, like mine, on the fly.
I did more planning for this novel than I have for any previous ones, but inevitably, once I started writing, things changed. Back home, back to squeezing in my writing before work, I’m navigating a constant crisis of confidence, so having those words, those characters, those settings, already in place is invaluable. I can remind myself: I’ve written 20,000 words on this story; today I can do another five hundred, or another thousand.
Also, receiving a bursary for the residency made the decision to leave my paid work behind for a month much easier.
Immersion in Swedish culture and landscape was another huge benefit that I wrote about in my previous post. As well as wandering around the gorgeous little town, I was also privileged to visit the local museum and spend a couple of hours listening to two amazing local historians tell one story after another about past residents and their lives. There was even a literature festival that took place during my stay.
The tough stuff
These were both self-imposed, really. Firstly, I put way too much pressure on myself to write all the words while I was there. After the first week I was exhausted, and decided I needed to figure out a better approach. I gave myself a minimum word count target each morning, and once I hit it I was free to do other things, like go for a coffee (where I often carried on writing, but the change of scenery was important), or a walk in beautiful surroundings, like this:
The other issue was also mostly internal: I’m an anxious, shy person by nature, and I was in a different environment, speaking another language, away from my partner, family and friends. Way out of my comfort zone, in other words. As the days went on, I found it increasingly hard to write. This may have been partly due to grief, as alluded to in my last post, and I was also sick for some of the time. I did push through (timers came in extremely handy here), but it was complicated. I wanted to highlight this because mental health is a very real factor in writing success, and I’m still learning how to look after mine.
The advantages definitely outweighed the disadvantages, and I’d recommend the experience to anyone if you can manage it! If you fancy applying for this particular residency, go here.
Plus, I enjoyed a month of gorgeous sunsets; this was the view from the apartment:
I’d love to hear from anyone else who’s done a writing residency – were your experiences similar to mine?