There’s a reason artists, writers and musicians joke that their parents wanted them to be doctors. Or lawyers. Even and perhaps accountants.
For the parents in question, probably fearful their wonderfully creative children might never be able to afford to leave home, it’s no laughing matter. They know, even if their starry-eyed offspring have yet to learn, the hard truth behind the phrase “starving artist.”
As a debut novelist, I was that wildly unrealistic writer, awaiting Oprah’s phone call, the New York Times book review, the spot on the bestseller list that would let me quit my day job and focus full-time on the next bestseller.
I wrote my next books as I’d written the first, in the margins of my life, sandwiching half-hour slices of writing time between my work schedule and my children’s activities. When they grew up, I gained the “luxury” of a three-hour block — 6-9 a.m. — before I headed into my 50-60-hour-a-week job as a newspaper editor. Forget writing at night. By then, I was comatose. Everything I wrote felt piecemeal, scattershot.
Where were the patrons of yesteryear? I sometimes wondered during deep dives of self-pity, who supported the likes of Mozart and Michelangelo?
Turns out they’re all around us.
It goes without saying that I’m no Mozart or Michelangelo. But I felt equally elevated when I received an email letting me know that I’d been awarded a residency at Storyknife Writers Retreat outside Homer.
Much as those art-loving monarchs of old, Storyknife bestows the invaluable gift of time and space upon writers, granting six women at a time residencies of two weeks to one month from April to November to just … write.
Each woman gets her own cabin. Wonderful meals are provided. No one is allowed to knock on a cabin door without explicit invitation or in case of emergency.
It’s impossible to overstate the value of this. Writing is more than just putting words on paper. It involves a lot of hard thinking — about structure, plot, word choice, characters; so many balls in the air at all times. Each time a writer stops to prepare a meal, pick up a child from school, listen to a partner grouse about their day, the balls crash to the ground.
But sit and gaze out the window, take a stroll, hold your breath while the mama moose and her teenager saunter past the deck, and ideas come from all sides — with the time to test them on the page in hopes of producing the best book possible, something that’s come to mean far more to me than those early dreams of fame and fortune.
, making for a vibrant, enriching mix of personalities and experience.
During my time at Storyknife, all of us talked of the new insights we had about our own work, the new directions it was taking. The sense of excitement was palpable.
And we all spoke of our profound gratitude to the donors who make Storyknife possible. Think of the pleasure gained from losing yourself in a novel, a poem, an essay, a film whose script crackles. Donors to Storyknife and nonprofit arts organizations like it help those works come into being. Turns out we don’t need kings and queen showering their riches upon a select few artists. We just need people who appreciate art and are willing to help nurture those who create it. To those people we say thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Gwen Florio is a novelist living in Missoula, Montana.