What I Learned at Residency — How to Believe In Myself Again
In July, I trekked up north to Montpelier, Vermont, where I spent 10 days on the campus of the Vermont College of Fine Arts for their Writing for Children and Young Adults residency. It was my second residency, but the first I attended in-person, and something about those 10 days lit up a spark in my soul I didn’t realize I still had.
There are so many things I loved about this residency that I’m almost at a loss for where to start talking about it! Almost, but not quite.
The first thing I have to mention is that something about being in-person with most of the rest of my program (there was a simultaneous virtual residency and one in Bath, so not everyone was present in Vermont) was glorious.
I’m an extrovert, apparently. I thrive off of connecting with others, whether that means long and deep heart-to-hearts over dinner or quick conversations between lectures, I find that I am at my happiest when I’m in a community with others. I love people, and I process my thoughts externally through conversation, so the more people surround me and the more I’m able to process, the better.
But the community aspect wasn’t all about laughing and forging deep connections. There was also something so special about being around others who share my passion for writing kidlit. It’s a field that not everyone lights up about, so getting to spend 10 days surrounded by people who get that side of me was really awesome.
But obviously residency isn’t just about community; it’s also about learning. There were countless lectures — presented by faculty and graduating students — as well as workshops and readings of material. There was something to be learned from each of those. From the lectures, I absorbed wisdom from those who are further along in this career than I am; I also listened with a critical ear to teach myself about how to break down craft and distill topics in a clear, educational manner.
In my workshop, I dove into writing in an epistolary format, which gave me ideas for improving a few works-in-progress and also taught me about point of view and economy of language. And from the readings? Well, from the readings I learned about what makes a story spark off the page and come to life in your brain. I learned about inflection and how to enrapture others through your own reading, but I also paid attention to where I was enthralled and where my attention wandered. There is something to be learned from everything.
Ultimately, residency was something of a miracle for me. It reminded me that I thrive when I’m in community, it reminded me that I still have much to learn — and that I’m excited to do the work of learning.
I really don’t think an MFA, even in a niche field like kidlit, is required to be published or to be an excellent writer or to find commercial or critical success. How could I believe that, when the reality is so clear that it isn’t necessary? What I do believe is that we each have our own paths — and for me, this was a necessary step on my journey to rekindling my love of writing and my belief in myself. When I started this program in January, my well of self-confidence was shockingly dry. And now?
Well, now I believe in myself. And that’s worth it, to me.
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