Writer Camp

June 3, 2015 § 14 Comments

Writers meeting informally in the library at Atlantic Center for the Arts

Writers meeting informally in the library at Atlantic Center for the Arts

When I’m at a residency, I get up very early, usually around four. I don’t go on social media, or argue in comments sections. I lie in bed and think about what I’m working on for a little while, then get up and brush my teeth in silence instead of with podcasts. I go to whatever place I’ve made “my” place (at Atlantic Center for the Arts it is this small and beautiful library, pictured right), and write until the sun comes up. Then I have coffee and cereal, then write some more.

Around noon it’s naptime. Sometimes there’s a class in the afternoon, or I meet with another writer to discuss our work, or there’s lunch with other writers around a big table. Dinner is cooked by someone else–in fact, I do not have to plan a meal or think about groceries or make a list. That’s always the most surprising freedom–how much mental space is opened up by not spending any time thinking about food, by sitting down to a meal I know will be delicious and healthy and taken care of by someone else.

In the evening I watch the sun set and write some more, enjoying the dusk turning into darkness and the sounds outside becoming nighttime sounds. I walk back to my room, passing studios with lights on as other writers work through the night.

It’s like camp for grownups.

Artist residencies are one of the great gifts we can give ourselves, and one of the greatest things that foundations and organizations do for writers. It’s lack of responsibility, mild-to-medium structure, very mild networking, and open time. It’s where we can discover what our process is like when we’re not squeezing our process into the all-too-small spaces in our lives.

Generally, residencies fit into one or two of four broad categories:

Pay-to-Play: If you’ve got money, you can go. Residencies like Wellspring House and Cambridge Writers Workshop ask for a resume and work sample to demonstrate seriousness of purpose, but they are open to writers of varying skill and experience levels. It’s often possible to apply for a grant from your own local arts council to cover the expenses.

Juried: There’s a serious and sometimes highly competitive screening process. Writers submit some combination of work samples, project proposals, resumes and recommendation letters. Usually these residencies–like Headlands and Atlantic Center for the Arts are free or the cost is low. Some, like Jentel, even offer a stipend, or have fellowships available to defray the cost of travel or childcare.

Workshop-based: The teacher is frequently the draw for residencies like Omega Institute (where Brevity’s Editor-in-Chief Dinty W. Moore will be teaching Mindfulness and Writing July 10-12) and Dani Shapiro’s Sirenland workshop.

Wide Open Space: The writer is on their own–it’s your project time to use as you wish, and “productivity” might mean pages or it might mean long walks, deep thought, and a new understanding of your own process. Residency big dogs like the venerable Yaddo and The Macdowell Colony are structure-free but provide meals; Writing Between The Vines is free of even other artists.

Many residencies are a mix. For example, Ragdale provides meals and fellow artists, has a moderate fee, and is highly competitive. The Kenyon Writers Workshop is a juried pay-to-play that’s focused on workshops and generating assignment-based work.

If you can, you should. It’s astonishing how much we are responsible for in our daily lives, and how little falls apart when we step away from our ‘duties.’ Not all of us can take two months, or even three weeks, but residencies like Omega’s Mindfulness and Writing and Hedgebrook’s Vortext are three-day weekends that can refocus your work, re-energize your process, and reassure your writer self that yes, you’re doing it right.

There’s a great list of writing residencies at The Write Life, and I’ve found the directories at ResArtis and the Alliance of Artist Communities to be terrific resources. If you’ve had a residency you found transformative, please tell us about it in the comments–one of the best ways to find a residency is from another writer’s willingness to share a place they love.

Happy camping!



Visit RebirthYourBook.com for information on upcoming retreats, intensives and special events. Coming in 2023: Rebirth Your Book in Costa Rica, plus Rebirth Your Writing virtual retreats in January and May.

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§ 14 Responses to Writer Camp

  • Jan Priddy says:

    Thank you for the reminder. I attended The Flight of the Mind several times (admitting that is like announcing that I won the lottery over and over) and there has been no other point in my life where I was that gloriously content for days on end (another tough admission because I have been happier, but not at that level for a sustained period of time). This was a long time ago now, but I still recall the feeling like sparks running through my blood.

    To abandon self into purpose (writing) without any distractions is the closest I will come to heaven. For me that has happened only at “camp.”

  • sheilaboneham says:

    Thank you, Allison – lovely reminder about the need to withdraw into a creative cocoon sometimes.

  • SD Gates says:

    Camp for grown-ups sounds delicious!!!!!

  • halibutrodeo says:

    I’ve been to a few, but my favorite so far is the International Writers’ and Translators’ Center in Rhodes, Greece. It’s housed in a beautiful turn of the century building overlooking the sea. On a clear day you can see Turkey. It’s about a 10 minute walk from Rhodes Old Town, which is is one of the nicest old towns in Europe. There’s no charge to stay there. Food isn’t included, but there is a kitchen for residents and numerous common areas. Rooms are en suite. You won’t need a car. I generally prefer a place that’s not out in the boonies. Being able to walk to cafes and restaurants and historical sites and such is wonderful. Stuff like that recharges my batteries after a morning writing session.

  • TJ says:

    Great list–thank you!

  • writerswebwebzine says:

    Reblogged this on UNICLICKS UNIPICS.

  • ryhpez13 says:

    I never knew places like these existed! I am glad to find them. Thank you for posting this bit. I’d like to visit someday.

  • ninagaby says:

    I’ll just mention Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, VT. Attracts 600 international artists from all media including writers each year. They have lots of scholarships and incredible food. And just the right combination of solitude/community. 12 brand new writer’s studios right on the Gihon River.I’ve gone for sculpture but written every morning and had some of my first published essays generated there.

  • Emily Smith says:

    Reblogged this on Cambridge Writers' Workshop and commented:
    We love your thoughts on writers’ camp and productivity. Thanks for mentioning us!

  • […] Brevity blog post on writing residencies by Allison K. Williams. Nice mix of personal account and resource […]

  • […] post about writing retreats and residencies is one to keep […]

  • Just wanted to mention the Carey Institute for Global Good Nonfiction Residency. This residency is for creators of longform nonfiction (writers, documentarians, photographers, etc.) It’s especially intended for writers who produce in-depth, deeply reported work about important issues – social, political, environmental, health. The Carey Institute provides gourmet meals, work space, mentorship and lodging on their 100-acre estate in Upstate NY (2.5 hours from NYC). There are two residencies per year: http://careyinstitute.org/nonfiction-residency/

  • […] it into our daily work. Some of us are diligent, fortunate, and financially able enough to go to writing residences, and we do get those magic days to focus entirely on one project. But that’s rarely a […]

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