The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Writing Residency

September 23, 2021 § 10 Comments

By M. Betsy Smith

In 2017 I applied for a writing residency held on an island. I had retired as an insurance professional the year before, and only then declared my second career would be as a writer—a long-held dream. I was a hot mess at the time, and my application was a train wreck.

My application didn’t focus on the writing; it was more about my personal struggles with a homeless alcoholic son and a depressed husband. I wanted to write creative nonfiction essays about my journey as the mother of a brilliant but tortured adult child. I was at the beginning of my writing efforts with one published essay, high aspirations and little to back them up. I was desperate for some time off the grid and saw the residency as my escape. And it was free. I had things I wanted to write, but what I wanted more was time alone. Not exactly what the decision makers wanted to hear.

My application was too personal. I was too needy. I was too green.

Although I didn’t see the letters from the women who were my references, I can assume they too addressed my mental health more than my writing ability, especially my Al-Anon sponsor who knew very little about me or my writing goals. What the hell was I thinking?

I did not get the residency; I was crestfallen and took the rejection personally. Four years later, with some solid writing success and a large dose of humility, I reapplied for the same residency. I got this response from the Executive Director:

OMG, this is the most beautiful application I’ve ever seen. Listing your references, separate supporting documents…I’d like you to do a training session for all our applicants!”

Her enthusiasm prompted me to share some Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Writing Residency

First, make sure the residency is a good match. Do your research and create a list. Do your objectives and the residency’s align? Is your project specific enough to match the criteria? Is the location accessible? What are the costs, if any? What is the duration, and can you be away for the time offered? You get the gist.

For example, Jental is a fabulous residency offering in Wyoming. Jentel offers a generous stipend for weekly expenses, wonderful accommodations, and inspiring vistas. I would love to apply…but the location and the duration are deterrents at this time in my life. The need to fly, rent a car, plan my meals, and be gone from home for a month put this one in the future-possibility pile. Jentel, like several others, is a prestigious and competitive residency, so be sure you have the chops to do it before applying. Explore the bios and projects of prior recipients. Can you compete? Is your work of the same artistic caliber? Or, could your work grow to be the same caliber if given a chance?

Note that 2022-2023 is especially competitive, because many programs are planning to honor residencies offered for 2020-2021, but canceled due to the pandemic. Watch the dates as part of your research.

Once you have identified a potential residency or retreat, checked all of the boxes on your logistics list, and are ready to apply, do the following:

1. Be thorough. A sloppy or incomplete application does not impress no matter how good your writing is. The gatekeeper initially reviewing your application is not likely the same person who will evaluate your project and/or your creative work for residency consideration. Don’t let your app be put on the bottom of the pile.

2. Know your purpose for applying. Don’t waffle. If you pass the initial application review, you may be interviewed and asked for more information. Provide concrete details about what you hope to do with the time you are allotted. Share your commitment to your work. Will you pursue your goals with or without the residency?

3. Your project should represent full-time work plus. Let the judges know the residency will be well utilized to accomplish the stated goal(s). That doesn’t mean you can’t take time to explore new and unfamiliar surroundings, and in fact most residencies never check your actual output, but a productive plan is important to residency sponsors.

4. Select appropriate and objective references who can knowledgeably speak to your work and your work ethic. They should like you, but it’s not a requirement.

5. Demonstrate your passion! If you are blasé about your project, don’t bother submitting an application. Believe in what you are doing and it will show in how you present yourself.

6. Be patient, grasshopper. Success, like art, takes time. If a residency will help you to achieve or propel an idea, don’t give up.

I know if I am not awarded the applied-for residency in any given round it is not because of me or my application; it’s because the competition is stiff. Just like submitting pieces of my writing, rejection is a part of the process. I won’t stop trying; nor should you.

___________________________

M. Betsy embarked on a career as a writer five years ago after retiring from her job as an insurance underwriter. Her work has been published by Refinery29, The Write Launch, Entropy, Brevity, and the WriteAngles Journal. When she’s not writing she enjoys reading, a hot cup of British tea, and petting all the neighborhood dogs.

Tagged: ,

§ 10 Responses to The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Writing Residency

  • lisa_kusel says:

    Great read. Thank you.

  • sosarifin says:

    Okay

    On Thu, Sep 23, 2021, 18:12 BREVITY’s Nonfiction Blog wrote:

    > Guest Blogger posted: ” By M. Betsy Smith In 2017 I applied for a writing > residency held on an island. I had retired as an insurance professional the > year before, and only then declared my second career would be as a writer—a > long-held dream. I was a hot mess at the time” >

  • I’ve had many many writer’s residencies in my long career as a writer– all valuable. But now as an older writer I don’t want to pay a stiff fee to submit an application and wait a long time before I can go if I am accepted ( or rejected , as like every perk in the writing world these residencies have become more competitive) . I want a residency NOW. So I have evolved “the motel residency plan” which involves staying in motel with a desk in a town I enjoy- say, one with a hot spring– not more than a few hours from home. (Once a writer friend and I went together.) You don’t meet new writer and artist friends this way , but you can get a lot done .

    • M.Betsy Smith says:

      I love the “motel residency plan.” I have escaped to an Air BnB rental for a few days of escape but didn’t use it to write –may need to revise my future getaway plans. Thank you.

  • Vickie says:

    Thanks for the timely piece. I’m planning to apply for a writing residency soon.

  • Wow – I didn’t even know there were writing residencies! This was so great – thank you for sharing.

    • M. Betsy Smith says:

      There are some incredible offerings and several of them are free or a minimal cost. Go search and find!
      I won’t know until end of November if I’m “in” this round.

  • […] Over on the Brevity blog, M. Betsy Smith offers tips on applying for a writing residency. […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading The Do’s and Don’ts of Applying for a Writing Residency at BREVITY's Nonfiction Blog.

meta

%d bloggers like this: