This blog went dormant for over six weeks because I had the great privilege of spending that time at the Carey Institute for Global Good in up-state New York.
During the fellowship, I had the chance to see what it is like to write everyday without distraction -- (well, mostly).
I produced what Anne Lamott calls "a shitty first draft" of a book manuscript. After writing this draft, I still had two weeks to sit back and think "Is this really what I want to say?" or do I want to start again.
In many ways, I started and restarted the book. The Carey Institute gave me the space to do this and the other fellows and mentors pushed me to make it better. Readers deserve my best effort. One of the residents had a sign over her computer that said "the world doesn't need another half-assed book!" Well said. Annie Dillard tells us to write as if our readers have a terminal disease...say it all, say it without hesitation.. make it matter. Carey helped me do that without having to do little more than make my bed.
Daily Life of the Residency
On my best days, I would wake up at 5:30 start writing in the dark until these Carey deer came outside my window and munched a little breakfast.
I started feeding them the night before to ensure their am presence. When you're writing in the dark, it's nice to know you'll soon have visitors.
Then at 8:40 break for breakfast. I would bound into our restaurant so excited to talk to everyone. I was starved for human contact and eggs. While John and his team sweetly took our breakfast orders, I gobbled the words of the other fellows. They were magnificent.
Hanging out with the Real Writers
I consider the other residents all "real writers"...these are the folks who have written multiple books & articles. Sometimes dodging bullets, climbing over mass burial grounds, and always listening deeply to the stories of others.
In the late afternoons, I'd drink mocha lattes from the coffee machine we bowed to...then I would bound in again to the restaurant eager for human contact and dinner. After which, I'd improve our ping pong game, build a fire and make fun of each other, or watch some ridiculous B movie (Thanks Virginia for showing us Sharknado!)
Writing at Home
Now back in Washington DC, I'm still in writing communities. I'm writing this blog from a George Mason Friday am writing group in Arlington VA. Facebook, email and the internet still are my great foes and I need supervision to stay focused. Safety in numbers.
Not everyone can escape for 6-weeks to write a book. But I think it's important not just to get the book done, but to experience yourself away from the buzz and general panic of daily life. We only really had access to this small town and yet it was -- for a time -- enough. I enjoyed just being with people, nature and thoughts. The thoughts improved as did my general level of presence.
The writers there are doing important work -- stepping away from the mania of the digital world to consider what matters and the dynamics that have swept us up without our knowledge. Silence is precious and will be, I believe, is one of the great luxuries in modern life. Writers and social commentators need it to help us see ourselves...to wake up from the dream. I hope these spaces are protected.
Thank you to the Carey Institute, Tim Weiner, and the program funders for helping create that space for us and craft beautiful books. After my dissertation, I needed 6-weeks to consider what I really wanted write about the French National Railways, its role in the transport of deportees during World War II, and the conflict that continues in the United States today over that role. More work ahead...
Back to editing...
Sarah Federman, PhD