By Heather Meyer
Spalding MFA Playwriting alum, Rome ’16
There is a surefire way to clear up writer’s block, and that is to try something new, like: Leave the country to be surrounded by other writers. You’ll be full of ideas by the time you get home.
I graduated with my Spalding MFA in Writing degree in Rome this July. Just writing that sentence feels awesome. Also, telling people you have to save up your PTO to go to Rome to graduate from your grad program is really great sentence to say. I highly recommend it to everyone. I completed my studies at Spalding by attending five summer international residencies: Paris, Dublin/Galway, Prague/Berlin, Athens/Crete and Rome. The international residencies are more than a classroom that just happens to be located abroad. The residencies are infused with the culture, heritage, guest speakers and arts of their locations. To borrow an oft-used phrase, it’s like the location is another character in the story.
After five residencies, I can clearly state: I am never more creative or motivated than when I am at these residencies, surrounded by other writers—students, faculty, staff and alums—who are doing the exact same thing that I want to do. Plus, they are more than willing to talk with me about it in pubs, lobbies, on tour bus rides or overlooking ancient ruins.
I’m so creatively inspired on these trips, in fact, that I always pack three brand new notebooks, knowing that by the plane ride home they will be full of ideas for books, poems, scripts, and graphic novels, as well as lists of books to read, artists to research, fellowships to apply for, associations to join, and conferences to attend.
Why does this happen? Why am I overflowing with more ideas in ten days than all the other ideas I get in a year? Let me lay out some totally not scientific knowledge here. I think when we are in a new place, with a new language, new money and new time zones, our brains are forced to be constantly “figuring things out.” Which, when you think about it, is what our brains are for. Solving puzzles! And what is solving puzzles, if not creativity!
When you put your puzzle-solving brain in a world of new and unexpected sounds, smells, foods, schedules and people, new creativity is guaranteed to spring up. Whether it’s taking a photo of a famous piece of art, writing play titles in the margins of a tour guide, or reciting the colors of the sunset over the Aegean Sea, taking the risk of being outside of your routine, your comfort zone, your home country will pay you back in as much creativity as you can furiously scribble into a notebook. All of that is outside of the craft lectures, workshop discussions, guest artists, and faculty and student readings that are present at every Spalding residency. Also, a special treat with the international residencies is that—because you aren’t in your home country, and due to the time difference—no one is just “being on their phone,” so you have to make small talk, which quickly turns into real talk, and then suddenly you are talking about writing with your new friends until the wee hours of the morning.
Here are just a few of the incredible moments I’ve had with Spalding international residencies:
Our cross-genre exercise in Greece was to write an ode inspired by the trip, and nearly everyone volunteered to read their ode aloud at the end of residency. We all felt the whole spectrum of emotions when we collectively relived our ten days through one another’s poems.
I got incredibly lost in the non-tourist part of Prague but somehow made back in time for workshop.
I never thought I would meet and be given a lecture on satire by the President of Ireland. But I did, and I was, and he knows his Jonathan Swift.
Walked to the Trevi Fountain at midnight just because it was something to do.
My first residency in Paris, I gathered some fellow students and went on a hunt to buy shampoo. It became a magical quest as we navigated the Paris streets and delightfully discovered the Monoprix, where we marveled at the home goods inside. When was the last time you could equate your Target run to an epic adventure?
I don’t fear that I will ever run out of ideas, but I know when I go on a Spalding trip I’ll have plenty of fresh creative inspiration, professional contacts, career advice and once-in-a-lifetime experiences to keep me writing for a long time … or at least until the next Spalding trip.
This summer, the MFA program is going to Edinburgh, and I’m coming along as a residency assistant. Maybe you want to come, too? The application deadline is February 1. Check out the Spalding MFA website or call the MFA office at 502-873-4400 for all the details.
Heather Meyer is a 2016 graduate of the Spalding Low-Residency Creative Writing Program. She is a playwright and comedy writer in Minneapolis. Her plays have been produced in NYC, LA, Washington DC, Chicago, Minneapolis, Wisconsin and throughout elementary and middle schools in more than 20 states. Heather teaches improv and comedy writing in Minneapolis. Here annual sketch comedy game show Women’s History Month: The Historical Comedybration (with fabulous prizes) performs in Minneapolis again in March 2017. Find her online at heathermeyeronline.com and @heathermeyer2.