If you’re like me, you’ve heard vaguely about residencies for writers. Our own Sara LeTourneau just blogged about one she attended in Iceland (yes, Iceland!), and while I kind of knew what they were, I wasn’t totally clear on what they had to offer. Luckily, Tim Raveling is here to pull back the curtain and let us know what residencies provide and how they work.
If you’re a writer, the idea of taking a month off now and then to go somewhere quiet and work on your craft probably falls somewhere along the axis between wistful daydream and deep need. There’s a lot to get in the way – family obligations, calendar commitments, day jobs. Interruptions are part of the fabric of everyday life – but that doesn’t mean they always have to be.
A writers’ residency is meant to be a retreat from distraction, a solid block of time to devote entirely to your writing. Most residencies tend to last about a month, but you can find shorter and longer options as well. Some, such as the Norton Island Residency, are completely off the grid; others, such as my own New Orleans Writers’ Residency, are surrounded by bustle.
Most residencies charge an up-front application fee, usually around $25 or $30. If accepted, you may simply be able to attend for free or, in many cases (such as the Kerouac Project ) will even receive a stipend for food and living expenses. Other residencies, such as the Martha’s Vineyard Writer’s Residency, will charge a weekly amount in addition to the cost of the application.
If you’re wondering exactly what a writers’ residency has to offer, here are some of the many helpful takeaways.
The main thing a residency gives you is time that you could theoretically take for yourself but likely never will. A residency is a single block of time that you can commit to well in advance, that you can put on your calendar, that you can make plans for. You can take the time off work, tell your friends and family about it, and when the date arrives, just leave. And for an entire month, all you’ll have to worry about will be your writing.
Most residencies will ask you in the application what you intend to accomplish while in attendance. This is your chance to outline a goal—a central focus within a limited timeframe—that can provide clarity and direction often lacking in the bustle of everyday life. Want to finish the first draft of your novel? Edit that anthology of short stories? Finish a new poetry series? A residency can offer you the framework to make that happen.
One of the best things about attending a residency is that, for the duration, you’ll be surrounded by other writers and artists. Connections are made that can last a lifetime, ideas are sparked, paradigms expanded, collaborations commenced. Many residencies accept only writers, but others, such as the Willapa Bay AiR in Washington, encourage artists of all stripes to apply. Some attendees like to be surrounded by other writers for the critique and reading opportunities, while others find spending time with artists from other disciplines an inspiring change.
Many residencies take a very hands-off approach. You’re there to work. You’ll be given a place to sleep and, in some cases, meals, but otherwise will be left to your own. Others, like the Blue Mountain Center in New York State, have specific programs with focused discussions. Our program falls in the middle, offering mentoring and counseling and occasional readings and events.
One of the great advantages of most residencies is the setting. The Writer’s Colony at Dairy Hollow in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, offers beautiful stone cottages in a small arts village on a river. Artcroft in Kentucky is set on a 400-acre working cattle farm. The 360 Xochi Quetzal residency is located in a small town on the shores of the largest lake in Mexico. The New Orleans Writers’ Residency is located a few minutes away from the French Quarter, and the Kerouac Project is located in the house in Orlando where Jack Kerouac typed the original manuscript of Dharma Bums. Residencies aim to inspire, and whether you’re looking for remote wilderness or culturally rich urbanity, there’s most likely a residency out there to scratch your particular itch.
If you’ve ever attended a residency, we’d love to hear thoughts from your own experience—pros and cons, tips for applying, things to take into consideration, or what you would have done differently.