January 11, 2018 § 11 Comments
Maybe you’ve got a dream residency. Or you’ve never been to an artist retreat, but it sounds like a great idea. There are residencies around the world at all prices, lengths, and amounts of coddling. Some feel like a new family, eating communal meals and hanging out at the swimming hole. Others are truly retreats, one writer in their own space with no-one to talk to (bliss!). I–and plenty of other writers–have self-made residencies, shacking up in hotels, religious centers, or remote cabins. One of my most productive “residencies” was four days in a small-town AirBnB after attending a writing workshop. Rather than rush back into my day-to-day, I could apply the revisions my teacher suggested, and write from ideas generated in class.
Even if you don’t have a place in mind, prepping for an imagined future residency is useful for your writing career. Updating your resume makes you ready for sudden opportunities. Devising an “artist statement” can help set writing intentions for the months to come. It’s worth it to:
Update Your CV. Make a writing-focused resume, emphasizing aspects of your other jobs that make you a perfect teacher/writer-in-residence/candidate for something cool, and a separate “publication list” where you list everything you have ever written that has gone public. Don’t list personal blog posts–but mention the blog and say what you write about. Save the big version for reference, then pare it to 2-5 pages of the most relevant experience and best publications. (Pro Tip: organize your published work by genre if your best credit is farther down the list by date.) Then joyfully slash it to a paragraph on your overall career development, a shortlist of writing-related jobs, and your 5-10 top publications. Some applications ask for one page, so agonize now instead of at 10PM before a midnight deadline.
Write an Artist Statement. It sounds intimidating, but an Artist Statement is basically, “This is the kind of work I do, because I want to have this effect on that community. I’ve already explored these subjects and topics, and now I’m pushing my boundaries in this medium/style/venue/genre.” Writing this down helps you remember why you’re writing, and what you want to achieve. Here’s a great guide to writing an Artist Statement. Make a 500-word version, one that fits on a page, and one that’s a paragraph. Now you’re ready to copy-paste that information into a grant application, or next year’s holiday card. (I guarantee none of your relatives will suggest you write teen vampire novels after that.)
Write a Cover Letter. Again, agonize now, not at the last minute. Ask a pal who’s gotten into a residency to share their cover letter and Mad-Libs that sucker until it’s your own. When the time comes to apply, fill in the relevant dates and information, and you’re ready to go.
Choose Your Best Pages. Put together a packet of 25 pages and one of 10 pages (the numbers commonly asked for). If you’re a novelist or memoirist, go for a complete scene or chapter. If you’re an essayist, lead with your strongest essay. Have a version with your name in the header of every page, and a version that can be read blind. At ElectricLit, author Sandra Beasley recommends:
Submit the strongest possible work sample for two-thirds of the allotted pages. If your strongest work is completely different from the work you’re setting out to do, make sure that other third represents relevant material.
Dream Up a Plan. What would you do with three weeks of someone else feeding you and no housework or papers to grade? How would you spend your time? What project deserves your focused energy? Sketch out 100-500 words apiece on two or three things you’d be thrilled to have space to work on.
By having these documents prepped, you can spend your valuable application time polishing and tweaking instead of choosing and worrying. You have time to have a friend proofread. To update your publications instead of making a list from scratch. When you find out about a great opportunity the day of the deadline, you have an hour of customization on your hands instead of 8 hours of drafting new material. And more importantly, you have a clear picture of where you are right now as a writer–and where you want to be.
What’s the Deal With Writing Residencies, a great interview with Sandra Beasley at Electric Lit, breaks down the residency process from application to departure.
On the Brevity blog, we discussed Glendaliz Camacho’s terrific post about reading applications as a residency juror, and how to write a great application.
The Res Artis database is a great place to check out residencies by date or location.
If you’re a woman or non-binary writer, feel free to friend me on Facebook and I’ll add you to a group that discusses artist residencies. For people of all genders, check out the Artist Residencies Info Share Facebook group.
November 17, 2017 § 4 Comments
We’ve posted before about how much we enjoy the HippoCamp experience. Well folks, they just posted their call for speakers for the upcoming 2018 event. (BTW: When HippoCamp says “Speakers,” they don’t mean famous people. They mean working, sometimes struggling, writers.) See here:
HippoCamp’s programming is mostly for-attendees, by attendees! With the exception of keynotes and a few panels, our conference is built from the proposals YOU submit!
We’re enthusiastically inviting attendees who also are interested in being part of our speaker line-up to submit a session proposal for HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers (Aug. 24-26) in one of our three traditional tracks, our new addition of a special topics track, or our flash sessions:
- Breakout Sessions in four tracks:
We’re looking for dynamic speakers and engaging, informative, practical 60-minute sessions that will give our attendees actionable takeaways. Breakout session presenters will receive a special discounted attendee rate (about 60% off conference registration).
- CREATE – craft topics related to CNF
- SHARE – sessions related to publishing and promotion – getting your work out there
- LIVE – sessions dedicated to living the writer’s life: how to balance writing with family and/or a job, how to make ends meet, etc.
- SPECIAL TOPICS – sessions devoted to either a niche writing area, or bigger-picture topics related to writers today. (In 2017, these included writing across intersections, recovery memoirs, science of memory, and travel writing.)
- Lightning-Round (Flash!) presentation: HippoCamp will hold a general session featuring five 7-minute presentations (PechaKucha Style) by select attendees. Flash session presenters will receive a special discounted attendee rate (about 50% off conference registration).
SUBMITTING A PROPOSAL
- Submission period is between Sept. 30 and Dec. 15, 2017
- Sessions are reviewed and selected by the conference programming committee.
- We’ll announce the line-up in late December/early January before tickets go on sale in late January/early February.
October 18, 2017 § 4 Comments
Ellen Birkett Morris
I remember my first summer writing conference. It was set in a charming small town in Ohio. Workshops met in rooms that looked like something out of Hogwarts or in small cottages with inviting porches. The workshop leaders were smart, funny, and supportive and, oh, the students. Spending a full week with other writers was transformative. We talked about books and how hard writing was and writers and how hard writing was. After a few days it was as if we were all residents of a small island, a literary oasis.
I’ve kept up this habit of going to summer conferences over the years where I hear great writers read, gain insight into the craft and get that hit of writerly comradery that I crave. But this year finances and other circumstances made it hard for me to get away. This year I’ve spent the year writing—generating new work, revising, looking through my files for stories that were half-finished or abandoned and giving them a second look. I’ve also spent the year reading, not craft books but literature high and low. I’ve read international writers, popular writers, writers of every gender and background. I’ve read carefully and slowly, taking note of how they drew me in (if they did), how they kept me reading, and what made for a satisfying ending. I’ve eschewed the buzz of networking and reading for my peers in favor of getting back in touch with my instincts as a writer and broadening my sense of what stories can do.
It may be purely a coincidence, but I’ve found myself taking a different approach to my work. I am less satisfied with my first efforts. I am taking the time to explore the various paths a story can take and asking myself which of these paths is truest to my characters. I am pushing myself to take my stories further and questioning the story’s ending. I am asking if I have best exploited the dramatic potential of the story. (An insight gifted to me in a conversation with the writer Lee K. Abbott.)
In the quiet of my home office I am taking the information I have learned over years of summer conferences and integrating it into my writing practice. I feel my writing getting better.
I know that I will be drawn back into the warm fold of writing conferences again, but for now I am sitting alone doing my work at the intersection of where knowledge meets practice and this holds an excitement all its own.
Ellen Birkett Morris’ essays have appeared in The Butter, The Fem, The Writing Group Book, The Common, The Girls’ Book of Friendship and South Loop Review. Her fiction, poetry, reviews and interviews have appeared in Antioch Review, Ploughshares, Prairie Schooner, South Carolina Review, Notre Dame Review, and The Rumpus. She is the author of Surrender (Finishing Line Press), a poetry chapbook.
September 16, 2017 § 8 Comments
By Rebecca Fish Ewan
P.S. HippoCamp returns to Lancaster in late summer 2018. Details Here.
Rebecca Fish Ewan is the founder of Plankton Press (where small is big enough) and creates Tiny Joys & GRAPH(feeties) zines. She is a poet/cartoonist/professor/mom/writer and teaches in The Design School at Arizona State University. Her publications include work in Brevity, Femme Fotale, Survivor Zine and Hip Mama. She has two creative nonfiction books: A Land Between (JHUP, 2000) and By the Forces of Gravity, a memoir of cartoons and verse about a Berkeley childhood friendship cut short by tragedy, forthcoming from Books by Hippocampus. @rfishewan
August 31, 2017 § 6 Comments
Surprise! It’s a podcast! We’ve got a few episodes packed and ready from a whirlwind summer of interviews, so we hope you’ll be enjoying (slightly) more frequent listening. Stream the show right from this post, or click over to iTunes, Soundcloud or Stitcher. If you’re subscribed, we’ll show up in your podcast app queue. And wherever you listen or download us, please take a moment to leave a brief review–it helps us show up in searches and recommendations.
Episode #6 features an interview with Donna Talarico-Beerman on the process of becoming a small press, running a conference, and balancing her own writing time in there, too. We’re also talking all things writing conference over the next few episodes, and we’ve got brief on-the-spot interviews from Lee Martin, Sue William Silverman, and some lovely writer-participants from the Postgraduate Writing Conference at Vermont College of Fine Arts.
Show notes and links to people, places and things we’ve discussed are below. Next episode, we’ll be talking with Kristen Arnett about her new book, Felt in the Jaw.
Show Notes: Episode #6 People and Books
Find out more about Donna Talarico-Beerman at her website.
Today’s the last day to submit to Remember in November
Donna’s essay in the Los Angeles Review, Things That Aren’t Theirs
Questions to ask of a character:
What do I wish for?
What do I hope for?
What is my greatest dream?
What is my greatest fear?
August 28, 2017 § 8 Comments
By Rae Pagliarulo
Earlier this summer, I attended an exceptional writing conference, hosted by a highly respected literary magazine. The week-long event was scheduled meticulously, with several hours of in-class time each day, afternoon craft discussions, and nightly readings from our critically acclaimed faculty members. From 8 AM to 8 PM, we were on the move and engaged pretty much non-stop. Upon reviewing our daily schedule, I noticed that towards the end of the week, there was a special session carved out so that those who had received scholarships to attend could publicly read their work for the rest of the students and faculty. While I thought it was wonderful that the scholarship recipients had a chance to share their work, it made me wonder – what about us, the students who had paid to attend?
During lunches and dinners, classes and talks, I had come to very quickly bond with my fellow participants. They were smart, engaging, welcoming, and so diverse – people from all over the country, with such different styles of writing and vastly different lives. On the bus on the way to class and over coffee in the mornings, we hungrily asked each other, “What kind of stuff do you write? What’s your process? Where can I read your writing?”
I realized that if I didn’t make myself very annoying to the organizers, we wouldn’t have the chance to share our work with each other, and we would leave the conference without something I specifically go to conferences to gain – a writing community. I knew that while it was invaluable to spend several hours each day with a prolific, brilliant, and widely published author, after the conference was over, that author and I wouldn’t become best friends or long-distance writing pals. (I mean, a girl can dream, but let’s be real.) The greatest long-term benefit I would derive from this event would be from my peers – the people that I would keep in touch with, send rough drafts to, visit when I end up in their cities randomly. We were all learning, growing, hungry to improve our craft, and working to build our own networks of writers and creatives who, as we progressed in our journeys, would help and support us in very unique and intimate ways. I became a persistently buzzing fly in the ears of the organizers until I was granted unofficial use of a vacant room for a couple of hours.
Out of 30 conference participants, 20 signed up to share their work. We went so far over time, an employee of the building actually asked us to leave (citing that we hadn’t actually booked the room – details, details), and we were forced to continue the rogue reading in another un-booked room the next day. In the end, all 20 readers got 7 minutes to share their work – and boy, did they share.
I knew for sure that I would be blown away at the nightly readings from our faculty members – after all, they were highly successful authors. It was a sheer delight to hear them read their work, but again – I was not surprised at how delighted I was. Similarly, I knew that each class session and craft talk would leave me with pearls of wisdom, incredible insights, and advice that I could apply to my writing and my life. On those two counts, I was pleasantly affirmed each and every day of the conference. However, the sheer brilliance and emotional fortune of the student reading surpassed every expectation I had. I knew I was arguing for something important and worthwhile, but after I got a sneak peek into those 20 writers’ souls, I suddenly felt like I had stumbled into a new family, a group of people that I grew to know impossibly well after only four short days.
Each person read work that truly represented who they were and what they cared about. I was moved to tears by a short story about a young man struggling with poverty and incarceration; I was doubled over laughing at the missive exploring robot fashion accessories; I was swept away by lilting and verdant meditations on nature and beauty. Political poems, essays good enough to grace the pages of Rolling Stone, fictional worlds I couldn’t invent if I tried – my colleagues delivered one hit after another, and by the end of our two-day marathon, we were hugging, and crying (OK fine, I was crying), and complimenting, and celebrating. To cement the long-term effects of this love-fest, I collected every single reader’s email address and created an unofficial conference mailing list, so we could keep in touch moving forward.
Up until the close of the conference, my fellow writers thanked me for organizing the reading, and even though I said “you’re welcome” about a hundred times, I wish I had said “thank you” back even more – if they were not willing to show up and read their work, and if they did not place a high value on student sharing, I would have been bugging our very busy conference organizers for nothing. I was grateful to get a public shout-out from the organizers during one of our evening events as well. I want to be clear – the absence of a student reading did not sour the incredible benefits I gained from this conference. When I relay my experience to others, I beam with pride and excitement that I was even considered to attend. The week I spent there was truly a unique (and perhaps once in a lifetime) experience, and regardless of what was missing, I am unendingly grateful I had the chance to attend.
But I hope that next year, when it comes time to plan this wonderful conference once more, the organizers remember that while gaining insight and feedback from accomplished, brilliant authors is incredibly important and inestimable, allowing students to share their work – whether they paid to attend or were granted scholarships – sends the message that we are held to the same standards of excellence, that we are similarly valued for our contributions and opinions, and that no matter where we are in our journeys, we are seen and recognized as writers, one and all.
Rae Pagliarulo holds her MFA in Creative Writing from Rosemont College. Her work has been featured in Full Grown People, Ghost Town, bedfellows, New South, Hippocampus, The Manifest-Station, Quail Bell, and Philadelphia Stories, and is anthologized in The Best of Philadelphia Stories: 10th Anniversary Edition. She is the 2014 recipient of the Sandy Crimmins National Poetry Prize and a 2015 Pushcart Prize Nominee. Rae is the Writing Life Column Editor at Hippocampus Magazine, and works as Development Director for a Philadelphia arts nonprofit.
August 23, 2017 § 6 Comments
By Donna Talarico, Founder and Organizer of the HippoCamp Writing Conference:
The right time to stop learning is never. Last year around this time, for the Brevity blog, I wrote about why investing in professional development is important.
We writers have many options when it comes to professional development: writing retreats, workshops, online classes, continuing education courses, one-on-one coaching, and, of course, books and articles. All these options, from a conference ticket to a magazine subscription, are purchase decisions we don’t take lightly. We need to choose the opportunities that fit our goals, values, personality, and available time and budget.*
When I founded the HippoCamp conference, I sought to build an experience I’d enjoy as an attendee, often taking cues from other industries. It’s important for me to note that one conference model is not better than another—and that’s the beauty of what the literary world has: something for everyone, from close-knit retreats in an exotic locale to the gigantic, always-abuzz AWP. And from magazine- or genre-specific events to all-encompassing expos.
At Hippocampus Magazine, we found the approach that works for us and our audience, and, in this guest post, I share what we think makes our annual conference, HippoCamp unique (aside from its “punny” name) and, in other cases, familiar.
Now, in all honesty, it felt a little awkward for me, alone, to share what makes us different, so I also put out a call to some past attendees for their thoughts as well.
But before I do that, I’ll explain the name. If you aren’t familiar with Hippocampus Magazine, the name “HippoCamp” out of context can sound silly. Our magazine was named for part of the brain that helps us form long-term memories, the hippocampus, which is shaped like a seahorse (which explains our logo)! Couple our name with the summer-camp-like feeling you get from spending so much time with like-minded people. That’s how we arrived at this perfect, play-on-words of a name**!
Focus on Creative Nonfiction
We know we’re not the only conference catering just to those who love true stories, but we’re a small bunch, us CNF-specific mags and gatherings. So this aspect definitely makes us, along with our fellow memoir, flash, and essay friends, different from the majority of conferences out there.
Rae Pagliarulo , returning to her third HippoCamp, says, “There are so many different kinds of true stories, and this conference provides a way to learn about lots of them. Nonfiction is so much more than memoir, and I love having the chance to meet writers and authors and editors and agents who represent the whole diverse genre.”
Vicki Mayk, another repeat attendee, says, “It’s so energizing to be in an atmosphere 100-percent devoted to nonfiction.”
Returning attendee Stephanie Anderson says, “You could feel the heat of the genre and the business buzzing around you there, and it was exhilarating.”
The Solo-Presenter Model
I love when one rock star can get up in the front of the room and ignite a crowd. There’s an energy to this format that you just don’t get at most panels, where each person gets a small snippet of time. HippoCamp is mostly a for-attendee, by-attendee conference, and we’re open to break-out session proposals from writers and speakers of all skill-levels. At HippoCamp 2015, one attendee who helps plan another writing conference took notice of this, and at her organization’s 2016 conference, they broke away from a mostly panel format and introduced solo talks. I am hopeful that more and more conferences will follow this lead, and see there’s value—and not just default to panels.
Mayk adds, “I feel that presenters reflect a great balance of people at various stages of their writing careers. There are first-time presenters, seasoned teachers, and folks who would fall in between. I think this combination of writers presenting perspectives from different places in their writing journeys contributes to a feeling that HippoCamp is a place where there is an open dialogue about the craft of nonfiction.”
The Right Size
HippoCamp draws about 200 writers, and we’ll likely cap attendance at 250. Lara Lillibridge likes this size: “…[it’s] not too overwhelming for introverts like me!”
Lillibridge noticed that “thought has been put into helping introverts like me to open up to strangers…” citing examples such as breakfast topic tables, snack breaks and receptions, and the addition of the Twitter handles to name badges. “That made it easy to identify people I ‘knew’ online but hadn’t met in real life,” she said.
Andersen also liked the intimacy, but said that at HippoCamp she “also felt a similar energy to, say, AWP, especially during the readings from the authors, Mary Karr’s keynote , and opportunities to meet with agents.” Andersen added that the size of breakout sessions allowed for more discussion, and that “everyone felt comfortable sharing their questions and experiences with the rest of the group.”
Most of HippoCamp’s programming is devoted to the Saturday breakout sessions, but we also have keynote speakers, a few panels, flash talks, readings, and optional workshops and pitch sessions.
Lillibridge likes the jam-packed schedule. “I have a lot of time to write at home, so I’m not looking for workshops with extensive writing time—it’s a conference, not a retreat.”
Running a conference can be hectic and overwhelming, but it’s crucial to be positive at all times. And I think that makes a difference.
Lisa Cottrell said, “The entire atmosphere is warm and welcoming, thanks to Donna, and all of her staff right down to every volunteer. Her husband Kevin is also awesome!”
Along with this, because of the presenter model, speakers are attendees too! I truly feel this contributes to the positive feedback we get about the welcoming atmosphere. Lillibridge said, “I love that the presenters mingle freely with the attendees. It conveys a feeling that we are all in the trenches together. There is nothing snooty or pretentious about HippoCamp!”
Cottrell agrees. “Everyone there is someone I want to connect and talk with, and they reciprocate. Mary Karr [in 2016] didn’t just sign my book, she took time to have a conversation with me, and it was amazing!”
The Special Touches
Our post-conference surveys always mention the little things.
Cottrell, for instance, said, “Seriously, the food. This is the only conference I’ve been to that boasts a mashed potato bar at the opening cocktail party, then closes with a last afternoon break on Sunday including chocolate chip cookies and milk (chocolate milk too!).”
This year, we’ll have a mobile charging station and an attendee break room for those who want to relax between (or even during) sessions.
What Happens After
Any conference organizer hopes that attendees leave energized and ready to write, promote, and publish. That’s why feedback, like this from Stephanie Andersen, makes us beam with pride.
“Within a month of HippoCamp, I had established a new writing routine that would result in my finishing a book by March of this year. I had created a website, stepped up my Twitter game, and landed an agent before year’s end,” she said. “As I look at this year’s line-up of speakers, I see a few who inspired me last year, and I want to tell them that what they said helped me move my writing career forward in many ways. I’m so excited about this year!”
These are the things that we think work for HippoCamp: A Conference for Creative Nonfiction Writers. But if you reflect on any conference you love, and maybe even attend year after year, you’re likely to come up with reasons why you’re drawn there again and again.
No matter what type of writing event or learning opportunity, I think it’s key to remember your audience, what they want from your event, and make it happen. Also, it’s important to recognize that all conferences and events can’t be everything to everybody, which, again, is why the literary community is fortunate to have such a selection. Each one is special, each one has a purpose, and each one surely has its biggest fan! I’m proud of what we built, and proud that HippoCamp is just one offering among many.
No matter what your personal conference, retreat, or workshop preference is, keep. on. learning.
*Note: Of course, not everyone can afford the time or travel, but the good news is that there are excellent no-cost ways to keep your skills sharp and knowledge current. Twitter, for me, is my go-to professional development tool! There are also blogs, podcasts, and the essential practice of reading good writing with an eye to learning from the choices other writers have made.
** One of my favorite higher ed web and marketing conferences is playfully referred to, unofficially, as “Geek Camp” so it’s also a nod to that. And, spoiler alert, one day I hope to have an RV and do readings across the country in what we’ll call the HippoCamper. I’m serious!
Author’s note: In full disclosure, Dinty W. Moore, founder of Brevity, is our closing keynote speaker. We’re grateful he allowed us to share a few words about our upcoming event here on his magazine’s blog.
Donna Talarico is an independent writer and content marketing consultant from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. She’s founder and publisher of Hippocampus Magazine, and tweets at @donnatalarico. Learn more at donnatalarico.com.