Ready, Set, Residency

January 11, 2018 § 11 Comments

How can I say “my children are driving me nuts,” but artistically?

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.

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Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. Her favorite residency is Atlantic Center for the Arts.

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