Writing Residency 101: What the Heck is a Writing Residency and How Can I Get One?

Writing Residency 101: What the Heck is a Writing Residency and How Can I Get One?

By Windy Lynn Harris

Do you ever dream of a magical place, away from your house and job, where you can write for weeks at a time without being interrupted? A place of solitude where you can finish that long tangled novel draft or revise those poems you've been meaning to finish? If so, a writing residency might be right for you.

What is a writing residency?

A writing residency is a retreat experience designed to help writers pursue their creative growth. Residencies provide a place for writers to step out of their regular routine and focus on their work without the disruptions of daily life. Most residencies are hosted by non-profit organizations and are located in quiet spots around the country.

There are all kinds of residency experiences available. Some have large properties with many other writers working on projects, and some provide a more private experience. You can choose a place that offers a room with a shared bath, or a place where you'd have a cozy cabin all to yourself. Some residencies employ a chef to cook all of your meals, while others provide you with a fridge and a stove. Some charge a weekly fee, while many more are completely free to attend. The variety is endless.

Who can apply?

Emerging artists. The key work here is emerging. Having a few poems published or a book contract already might be nice if you're applying to a very competitive residency, but your past achievements aren't as important as having an actual project to work on when applying for a writing residency. You don't need any publishing credits at all. If you're a sincere writer who has a specific writing goal to achieve during your residency time (finish a novel draft, edit a stack of short stories, begin a poem about your mother) then you're ready to apply.

How do I apply?

The application process for a writing residency is similar to that for a grant. For instance, you'll need to write a persuasive statement, provide a resume, have at least two letters of reference, and submit a sample of your work. Some residencies have a rolling application process while others only accept applications during specific months of the year.

Typical things to expect on a residency application:

A Project Plan - Every residency will require you to write a letter of intent telling the application board exactly what you intend to accomplish during your stay. If you plan to write five new poems, tell them. If you want to spend your time researching that historical novel you've been working on, write it down. There are no wrong answers here.

A Resume - An emerging writer's resume does not need to include any publishing credits, but should provide basic academic information and all writing related activities including any conferences you've attended, writing groups you participate in, etc.

Why THIS residency? - Most residencies want to know why you chose to apply to them, and, if you're taking this process seriously, you should have a good reason. Is it because you work best when you're close to nature? Do you know a writer who has had a successful residency there? Did you choose it by number of residents they host at a time? Location? Legacy of famous writers?

Letters of Recommendation - You'll need at least two (sometimes as many as five) letters of recommendations from professional sources. These folks can be other writers in your critique group, writing instructors, fellow editors from a journal you work with, etc. They'll be providing information about your writing dedication, not necessarily the quality of your writing, so think of people who actually know your writing habits. Choose a few who like you and ask them if they'd be willing to write a letter on your behalf.

A Work Sample - This is where you'll provide information about the quality of your writing. You'll be asked to submit 10-30 pages of current work, and its best to relate this to your Project Plan. If you're going to be working on a collection of short stories during your residency, send them your best short story. If you're hoping to finish that novel, send them your stunning opening chapter. Show them you have the skills in place to earn a spot.

How do you know which residency is right for you?

All writing residencies are different. Some places ask that you participate in public events during your stay. Others don't bother you unless you leave the caregivers a note. Some residencies provide bicycles to residents so they can explore the grounds. Others ask that you bring a car. Read the residency details carefully and apply to those that best meet your social and project needs.

A closer look at a few residencies and what they offer:

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony - Located in the mountains overlooking wine country in Temecula, CA, Dorland provides each writer with their own private cabin. Length of stay: 1-8 weeks. No meals. $300/wk fee.

Hedgebrook - This women's only writing residency is located on Whidbey Island, WA. Residents each get their own cabin. Length of stay: 2-6 weeks. All meals provided. No cost to attend.

Martha's Vineyard - Residents stay at an historic Inn on the island of Martha's Vineyard. Private room and bath. Length of stay: 2-6 weeks. No meals. $300/wk.

UCross - Set on a 20,000 acre ranch in northeastern Wyoming. Private room and bath. Length of stay: 2-6 weeks. All meals provided. No fees.

Fine Arts Work Center - If you're looking for a longer residency, Fine Arts Work Center invites 20 residents a year to come to their Cape Cod location and stay from October to May. No fees, in fact they pay you a monthly stipend.

What else do I need to know?

Even if a writing residency doesn't charge any fees for room and board, all travel expenses to and from the residency are your responsibility.

Most residencies do not provide internet access in guest rooms or work spaces. Many of them do have a community gathering place such as a library or lounge where wifi is available, but read your residency information carefully to be sure.

Residency application fees typically range from $25 to $30 to cover administrative costs and are non-refundable.

At the time you apply for a residency, you'll need to sign up for specific dates you'd like to attend. If you are granted that residency and are unable to attend during those days, most places will allow you to defer your residency to alternate dates, but only within the same residency application period.

If you think a writing residency might be right for you, begin the application process now. Most residency application boards require materials to be submitted three to fifteen months ahead of requested dates. Don't miss out on your opportunity to visit one of those magical places. Who knows what you might accomplish?

Additional residency opportunities and general information can be found here:

The Worldwide Network of Artist Residencies

Alliance of Artist Communities

Poets & Writers Magazine

Windy Lynn Harris was granted a 10-day writing residency at the Dorland Mountain Arts Colony in May. While there, she hiked, completed a novel-development project, read the latest Pushcart anthology, wrote two short stories, took six naps, edited three of her old stories, journaled about her childhood, and ate lots of bacon. She's looking forward to another productive residency in 2015.