Dear Writer of the Future

Posted on 15 October 2012

I’m back from my writing residency, which I can only describe as a wonderful and strange week full of so much hard work, good company in the other writers, and warm hospitality from the spa staff and guests.

I might not have any other writing residencies to compare it to, but this one has to be considered unique. Four writers are in residence for one-week sessions each fall at The Heartland Spa, a health and fitness facility in rural Illinois. There, the writers stay together in a special cottage but eat the same healthy meals as the spa guests and may make use of many of the spa facilities. Writers are discouraged from speaking to each other from daybreak until 5pm; that’s when the serious writing gets done. At 5pm we could break to chat, enjoy the hot tub/sauna/steam room/pool/gym and eat dinner in the main house with all the spa guests, who are just as mystified by the writers’ presence as the writers are by all the spa services and classes. It’s wonderfully strange, and an experience I’ll never forget.

In each  of our rooms waited a journal that past writers used to offer tips or tales from their own time at the Heartland. Because I’m not sure how else to describe my week to you, I decided to post the entry I left in my room’s journal (which, conveniently, I typed before writing it out by hand). Here it is:

Dear Writer of the Future,

You are here. Isn’t that wonderful?

If ever during this week you find yourself sitting in this very room beating yourself up for not writing more, or realizing that at home your excuse is that you need more time and here you have the time but the work still isn’t coming – relax. This is perfectly normal. Give yourself a little time to adjust and trust that as long as you keep returning to the writing desk, it will come.

What I wrote: 12+ chapters of a new novel, and I finished the first draft of a personal essay I’d been plugging away on for weeks at home. I also got a massage, visited the “business district” of Gilman, and attempted to ride what we dubbed the aqua tractor. Finally, the jury’s still out on this, but my aura might be rainbow.

Tips:

  • During our time here, the writers took breakfast and lunch into our rooms and ate dinner together in the dining room. You will become adept at carrying a tray full of food while climbing stairs and opening doors.
  • The other writers poured their morning orange juice into coffee cups for easier transportation, but I always went for it and took my OJ in the champagne flute. You are allowed to be fancy.
  • Remember that there is usually a snack at the main house around 10am and 3pm every day. Warm cookies are a big help during that final afternoon writing stretch.
  • Make use of those bikes and take a swing around the countryside. But beware of the wind – riding headlong into strong wind out here is slower going than the writing.
  • If you are here in October, grab a bike and turn left at the end of the driveway, then turn right and go maybe half a mile or so until you see the pumpkin patch on your left. Pumpkins are restorative.
  • If you turn left just before the pumpkin patch, you’ll find Haun Park. Swing on the swings or stroll along the river trail.
  • Yes, the spa people may ask funny questions (“So are you all writing the same book?”) but they are only curious and seem fascinated by the writers. And let’s face it, we are a weird little group: We carry our food around on trays, stay holed up until 5pm every day, and then come to dinner talking about things like narrative distance and point of view.
  • Write your heart out all day and then stop exactly at 5pm and get in that hot tub.

What I wish for you: productivity, relaxation, and creative inspiration. And when your week is over and you’re back home, look me up and tell me how it went.

Laura Maylene Walter

In case you can’t tell, I had a truly productive and inspired week. Many, many thanks to those who make the Writers in the Heartland residency possible, to the entire spa staff, to the three fabulous writers who joined me last week, and to all the spa guests who sang “Happy Birthday” to me when my frozen banana dessert (topped with a candle, naturally) came out from the kitchen. My gratitude knows no bounds.

More photos to come this week. Can you tell I wish I didn’t have to let go of this place yet?


15 responses to Dear Writer of the Future

  • Lyra says:

    Laura,
    I love that you drank your orange juice out of a champagne flute. I love that you got 12 chapters done and time to ride around on that bicycle to a pumpkin patch. I’m so happy you got time to catch your breath and be away from your day job, so you could focus on what hopefully will one day be your real job.
    Yay you, my friend.
    Love.

    • It was pretty amazing. And I realized: I have never before taken such a long vacation just for myself and my writing. Taking time off to go to AWP or Bread Loaf is great, but it doesn’t feed the actual work. And if I take a long vacation, I’m always going somewhere or doing something. So to be offered a spot in a place where I am only expected to write and relax, for seven full days — pure bliss.

  • Sarah W says:

    “Pumpkins are restorative.”

    So are your posts! Thank you for sharing your residency with us—so inspiring.

    I’m so glad you had a good time and good writing.

    • I found that pumpkin patch by accident and just loved it. When I returned and told the other writers, I was pleased to see they were just as into it. What is more cheerful than a pumpkin patch? Nothing, that’s what.

  • Such a simple word, relax, and yet it means so much, especially when it comes from someone who understands the journey.

    Congratulations on your productivity. We’re all looking forward to reading you!

    • I tried to wake up early enough most days to grab some coffee and stroll around the lake before breakfast. Every time I passed the many wind chimes or took a seat on one of the tree stumps by the lake, I had to keep reminding myself: I am really here. I am really here.

  • Downith says:

    “Write your heart out all day… and then get into that hot tub.”

    That’s the way to go! It sounds like it was heavenly.

  • Tricia says:

    This sounds like my version of “A Movable Feast”! Can’t wait to hear more.

  • Twelve-plus chapters?!?

    You are a goddess!

    • They weren’t particularly long chapters. But yes, I meant it when I said I wrote so much that I gave myself a headache! Sadly, I have not been able to write anything more for this new novel since returning.

  • Averil says:

    One of the many things I love about you is that you never seem to squander an opportunity. Give you a week, you’ll come back with twelve chapters and an essay. Way to go, you.

  • Erika Marks says:

    I feel restored just reading that, Laura. No joke. Well done, lady. So thrilled for you and the opportunity–and of course, the glorious writing!

  • Catherine says:

    Fantastic and love that breakfast tray. You make me think I need more discipline and ZERO INTERNET. Also the time frame sounds very healthy. As do pumpkins!

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