Following up on my post “Why a writer’s residency is a good idea,” I am happy to welcome my writer friend Elizabeth Garber of Maine, whom I was fortunate to meet at my last residency at VCCA. I asked her to share her experience of having had residencies at both the VCCA and Jentel:

Elizabeth: What I learned from spending a two week residency at VCCA (where I met Annette) and later going to a residency at Jentel on a cattle ranch in the wilds of Wyoming, was how different the experiences of residencies can be.

At VCCA, residents were arriving and leaving regularly, and meal time conversations were stimulating with a wide variety of artist companions, often followed by evening presentations. One night I might share a table with five writers of memoir and the next with a composer who performed jazz trombone and ukelele. We visited studio presentations with painters of cows, archways, installations, and mazes. Each day, I returned to my studio jazzed to research other people’s suggestions, to read, and to plug away on my project.
Houses and studios at Jentel in Wyoming.

Jentel in Wyoming was a very different experience. Each month, 4 visual artists and 2 writers find their way to this remote ranch to live in a spectacular modern house nestled by a creek below desert foothills. Every morning for a month, I woke to a view of the Big Horn Mountains in the distance, from blizzards to dazzling sunrises. We were surrounded by vast space and quiet, and we maintained our own quiet. We each disappeared to our studios to work, coming together for dinner (we each cooked one night a week) and then returning to quiet.

Jentel in the snow.

It appears that each group is quite different as journal reports from each month chronicle the creative history at Jentel. Many of us took breaks to follow cow paths up into the hills, watching out for rattlesnakes and cacti, or biked down the valley on the dirt road where we were passed by perhaps two pickup trucks an hour.  Even though we had some time together, we spent a month in the vast presence of our own focus. The days were great expanses with enough time to immerse deeply. I remembered my dreams vividly. And I wrote, and wrote and wrote, ending up with ten new chapters to complete the first full draft of my memoir. I’ve never written with more focus and intensity. By the end, I felt like my mind was a razor cutting out what wasn’t essential to get to the heart of each chapter.

Clearly, residency programs have different flavors and styles. The trick is finding what programs seems like the right match for what you need.