The Joys of a Long-Awaited Writing Residency

August 5, 2020 § 17 Comments

danaby Dana Laquidara

I’m only a couple hours from home, but it feels like the middle-of-nowhere-ish. Why do writers and artists do this? Why do we leave the comfort of our own home—which for me includes a writing room of my own—in order to hole up in some other house to do that thing we do?

The short answer of course, is freedom from distractions.  Let’s face it, home holds a lot of distractions. From the people we love to the laundry and to-do lists, our attention can only be on our craft for so long before our brain starts to signal a “times up” alarm. I am so aware of the life and the needs around me, I can hardly get to work if I think a plant needs watering. The idea of focusing on writing for almost three days straight with nothing else to do—and trust me there is nothing else to do here—appealed to my need for focus and efficiency.

So I sent off the required application, resume and sample of writing—all the things the gatekeepers of the residency wanted to convince them I am serious about writing. They want to know their applicants are not coming here to, say, smoke meth, hide from the law, or hook up with random strangers.  And I passed their test. I’m here!  I’m basking in the hours and hours of getting words on the page, writing submissions organized, edits done; all the things that I often do in fits and starts at home.

But here’s the thing about a writing residency that I did not entirely take into consideration:

There are PEOPLE here.

And the people here all use the same kitchen and yesterday when I was in my room writing, an overpowering smell of—I don’t know- beef broth? —but the fake, bouillon cube kind, not the good kind—filled the whole upstairs. Call me sensitive, but I was a little nauseous after that.

Also, we share bathrooms.  It is a big old house with two huge unisex bathrooms. There are two sinks in each of these bathrooms and the toilet and shower each has its own enclosure. So it feels like we should leave the bathroom door unlocked while using the toilet or shower, so that someone else can come into the very spacious sink area to brush their teeth. But that would be weird because—did I mention we are strangers? When I took a shower, I felt like such a room hog. I mean, someone could have been waiting to brush their teeth, or wanting to pee, but they could not because I was in the back corner of this big bathroom, in the little shower stall and therefore had locked the door.   Clearly we could’ve fit a whole group in there at once, doing several different toiletry things. But like I said, that would’ve been weird. So no matter what someone might be doing in there- flossing, combing their hair- they get the whole damn room.

Okay, TMI.

On to the bedrooms. Each one is named after a famous writer; mine is the Emily Dickinson room. There are several of her books in my room so that I might channel some of her inspiration or talent.

It feels a little bit like freshman year of college except that no one is telling us to leave our doors open and make friends, because we are here to work after all.

But keeping my door closed did not prevent the sound of the loudest snoring I have ever heard from travelling through my bedroom wall last night. All night. And by all night, I mean the guy slept from 9 pm to 9 am. It was like the snoring you’d hear on a cartoon. It was cartoon snoring. If I hadn’t been tired, and then wide-awake wondering if he’s been tested for sleep apnea, it might’ve been funny.

Another thing about this house: I think there are more books here than in my town’s public library. This place has books floor to ceiling every which way I turn. The house is cluttered with books. This is kind of funny because I intentionally left my books at home so that I wouldn’t spend any of my writing time reading. I’ve been known to read a whole day away, and I didn’t want the temptation.

I’ve resisted all the books though, and am pleased to have gotten a lot of writing done. All in all, it’s been time well spent. If my resident neighbor is still here tonight, it will likely be another loud night. But that’s okay—when I go to bed, his snoring will distract me from the creepy doll sitting in the chair right outside my room.

There’s no place like home.
___

Dana Laquidara is an award-winning writer living in Massachusetts. She is working on her first book, The Uncluttered Mother.

Getting In: Writing the Perfect Residency Application

June 13, 2017 § 4 Comments

They all rocked their Artist Statement

It’s residency application season!

Well, it’s always application season. Spring applications for fall residencies, fall for spring, summer whenever, and that really prestigious place we apply to a year in advance and just figure we’ll cancel everything else in our lives if we get in. The joy of looking at our calendars and trying to figure out whether we can legit send the kids to camp and get someone to watch the dog six months from now! Nothing says fun like summarizing one’s job history, publications and self-worth in a one-page statement, CV, and work sample!

Glendaliz Camacho understands, though–from the Other Side of the Desk, she describes jurying applications and the delicate balance of Writer-Needs-This-Time-to-Succeed vs Writer’s-Already-Good-Enough-to-Be-Here:

-All I look for from a resume or CV is continual involvement, effort, and learning. Not publication in The New Yorker.

-That’s not totally true. Maybe that’s all I look for but I do notice if there are honors and publications I recognize. Too many of them and it does give me the feeling that this person is swimming along just fine and will do so with or without this residency. Too few and I wonder if it’s due to the quality of the writing.

I’ve been accepted to a few residencies, and rejected from a few more, and literally the same application packet–same work sample, same artist statement, one paragraph revised to say why I want to study with that writer/at that place–has led to both those results. Once you’ve got a solid application you’re happy with, it really isn’t personal.

As a theatre professor, I told student actors they only needed one strong minute of monologue–the auditioners know right away if they want to work with you. That’s true about writing, too. Readers can tell from the first paragraph if they’re in good hands. I also taught that, as terrifying as it feels, auditioning is not an adversarial process. Jurors want you to be good. Each time someone opens a residency application and flips to the work sample, what they’re hoping for is “Yes! This is the person who is going to be perfect!” They are looking for reasons to accept you. And you can give them those reasons:

Send your best work. Check the guidelines carefully–if it says, send what you’re planning to work on, send the very best pages of that. Run those pages past a writer friend, even if the whole piece isn’t ready. If the application doesn’t require what you’re proposing to work on, send your very best pages in the genre of your application. Unless they specify unpublished, it’s often worth it to send something published, because that’s been polished under a stranger’s eye. It doesn’t matter if that’s not the project you’re working on–this where they want to see results. If you don’t have many (or any) publication credits, this is the time to show how your work is so good, it’s going to be published sooner or later.

Speaking of publication credits, know your level. Near the beginning of their writing career, a writer is unlikely to get in to Yaddo, Macdowell, Hedgebrook or the Millay Colony. Don’t waste your time and application fee; apply to a place that’s within your same general accomplishment level. Find this out by looking at profiles of past residents. If the website doesn’t list bios, search for Name of Residency + “author” and see who pops up. Do they all have Pulitzers? Maybe wait until your book deal. Are they publishing in the same literary magazines you are? Full steam ahead! If you’re still uncertain, ask your mentor/teacher/workshop leader. I was surprised to hear that my teacher thought it was a good idea to apply to a residency I’d assumed was beyond my reach; I would also have valued him saying, “Maybe wait until you have more publications.” If you’re worried about your qualifications and it’s within your financial reach, try a pay-to-play residency, where the odds of getting in are better and then you have one residency already on your CV. Some paid residencies are income-sensitive, too, and that’s worth looking for or asking about.

Be honest–within limits. A pure, direct statement of your need and ambition can be captivating on the page. But this is not the time for pipe dreams or raw discussion of the faults we all have. Don’t tell them you have a hard time finishing work at home. We all do. Focus on what that specific venue, geographic location, philosophy of work, or master teacher has to offer you. Tie in something unique to that residency to something unique about you. “I want to work with Writer Who Makes Collages A Lot because I’m eager to expand my work in collages and build a chapbook from my publications in Journal of Collage.” “I’m working in soundscapes and want to bring my equipment and use it in the music studio available at this residency site.”

Glendaliz Camacho’s blog post is full of brilliant, reassuring, enlightening information on reading and writing applications (and a wonderful digression into telling-vs-showing in describing setting). In particular, she points out “A great artist statement tells a story,” and “A great work plan is plain and direct.” Go read the whole thing.

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

 

 

VCCA: Two Weeks, Free Room and Board. Yay!

March 21, 2008 § Leave a comment

Goldfarb Family Fellowship for Nonfiction Writers /Virginia Center for the Creative Arts
A fully funded two-week residency to enable a nonfiction writer to concentrate solely on his or her creative work. This sponsored fellowship is offered each year to one nonfiction writer during the fall scheduling period (October through January). Writers will be provided a private bedroom, separate studio, and three prepared meals a day. The application process is the same as the regular VCCA application process. Deadline May 15.

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