What to pack for your writing residency

Where I'll be in a few weeks
Hambidge cottage

The other day my friend Rachel and I were talking about what she needs to take for her residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, and she suggested that there might be others of you out there who would benefit from such a list.  While every residency is different and most do send  information on what to bring, I thought I’d share my experience here in the hopes that it might make someone’s packing a little easier.

If you’re flying, obviously you won’t be able to take everything you’d like for two or three weeks or a month away.  But make room in your luggage for:

  1. Books. A necessity.  If you can’t get them in your suitcase, ship them ahead. I read 2-3 books a week at residencies.
  2. A flashlight or headlamp.  Many residencies are in isolated locations and you’ll do a lot of walking, often on unlit paths.
  3. Walking shoes.
  4. Cash. There are usually laundry facilities, and you’ll need cash to run the washer and dryer.  You’ll also want cash for printing, copying or
    faxing.
  5. A power strip.
  6. An external hard drive or some other way to save your work.  You don’t want to risk losing all the brilliant writing you’ll get done, and you should be backing up your computer at least once a week anyway.
  7. An umbrella or hooded rain jacket.  Again, you do a lot of walking.
  8. A notebook.  When you’re out walking, you’ll often feel inspired to jot down ideas.
  9. Stamps and note cards.  If you don’t write notes to people, you should, and here’s your chance.  It just feels right at a residency.
  10. Headphones, if you like to listen to music while you write.
  11. Bug spray and sunscreen if you’re going any time other than mid-winter.
  12. Thumb tacks.  There are often cork boards in the studios, and I love being able to pin up character notes, timelines, etc.  I’m also a big fan of index cards for this.
  13. A nice outfit or two.  It’s great being able to wear sweats every day and to work in your pajamas, but by the end of a month you’ll be dying to
    dress like a grown-up for dinner or a reading.

If you’re driving, you have the luxury of filling your car with stuff you wouldn’t be able to take on a flight:

  1. Laundry detergent.  Usually you’re expected to provide your own, and it will save you a trip into town if you have it when you arrive.
  2. Candy. Preferably a 20 pound bag of Hershey kisses.  Not only will you need the chocolate for yourself – who writes without chocolate? – but you’ll want it to make friends.  Other writers will love you forever (or at least for the length of the residency) if you feed them chocolate.
  3. Wine.  If you like a glass with dinner, you’ll need to bring your own, and it’s not a good use of your time to drive around looking for a wine shop once you get there.  If  you’re like me, and can’t survive without Diet Cokes, take a couple of 12 packs.
  4. Printer and paper. It’ll save you the cost of using the printer in the office, and it’s nice to be able to print in your studio whenever you want.
  5. Any research materials you might need.  These can also be shipped if necessary.
  6. Shower caddy.  Often you share a bathroom, and it’s nice to have all your bath stuff in a carrier.

A final piece of advice.  If you’re one of those people who always pack way too many clothes when traveling, pull out about half of what you put in your suitcase. You’ll end up wearing the same thing over and over anyway.

Putting some thought into what you take will keep you from wasting valuable writing time once you get there.  And writing time is what it’s all about.

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2 thoughts on “What to pack for your writing residency

  1. From my week at Writers in the Heartland, I’d recommend the following also:
    1. Coffee for the coffee maker if you care about such things
    2. A small reading light for reading in bed
    3. Raingear
    I’ll link to your list from my blog and also put up one of my own when I get back from VCCA.

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