November Blog: Freedom to Create

Marian MacDowell
Marian MacDowell in front of Edward’s log cabin, the Colony’s prototype studio. Photo: MacDowell Colony archives.

November started with some much needed good news and encouragement. Having applied for a fellowship at The MacDowell Colony in September I was notified that I am going to be a MacDowell Fellow in Literature next year. Needless to say I am absolutely delighted about this and it couldn’t be better timing. The MacDowell Colony is a multidisciplinary artist residency programme in New Hampshire, USA, that serves to “nurture the arts by offering creative individuals of the highest talent an inspiring environment in which they can produce enduring works of the imagination”. Over a century old, the colony was set up in the New England countryside by Edward and Marian MacDowell as a place where artists could find the freedom to create in the supportive company of their peers. You can read more about The MacDowell Colony here.

MacDowell Cabins
A selection of studios at The MacDowell Colony.

My fellowship allows me a residency at the colony so I’ll be travelling to New Hampshire in Spring 2018 and working exclusively on my current novel Attrition for four weeks at one of their studios. Don’t they look amazing? I cannot wait. As I mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve decided that I’m going to work less in my day job during 2018. Obviously this means I’ll also be getting paid less but it’s a sacrifice I’m more than happy to make if it means I can spend more time writing. It also means that I can use some of that time for my fellowship. Previous fellows have achieved great success so fingers crossed that some of it rubs off on me too. MacDowell Colony Fellows have won 83 Pulitzer Prizes, 800 Guggenheim Fellowships, 101 Rome Prizes, 30 National Book Awards, 26 Tony Awards, 28 MacArthur Fellowships, 9 Grammys, 8 Oscars, and 8 National Medals for the Arts. No pressure then…

Thankfully I’ve been making headway with Attrition and things are going in the right direction, albeit at a slightly slower pace than I’d anticipated. I started Attrition a year ago now and I’m still working on the first draft. This was both irritating and disappointing but I’ve learnt that it’s not a race and even though I’m eager to get the first draft done it’s okay if it takes some time. That doesn’t mean I’m happy that it’s taking longer than I want it to but I’m trying not to beat myself up over it anymore. I completed the first draft of my first (as of yet unpublished) novel Bitten by a Dog on Tuesday in six weeks, so I had similar expectations for Attrition which, for a plethora of reasons, didn’t happen. All that said, I’m back on track with it and feel reinvigorated about getting the first draft done, as well as a bit of a confidence boost from the MacDowell fellowship. It still can feel overwhelming at times, especially as I know there’s a lot of the story to tell, and then there’s the task of Draft Two… but one problem at a time.

This time of year can be busy with pre-Christmas events and celebrations, so it’s important to carve out writing time and stick to it. Thankfully I’m a winter baby and I love this time of year; the cold and dark evenings are perfect for writing and there’s something magical about the crisp, cold days. My main focus for the foreseeable future is completing Attrition and getting some prep work done for MacDowell. Naturally there’ll be lots of festivities in the coming weeks and I will certainly partake, especially as I now have something to celebrate.

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