June 3, 2015 § 14 Comments
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.
Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. So far she’s applied to five residencies for 2015-2016, and hopes to get one. Fingers crossed!