What exactly are writing residences? How are they different from retreats? These are a few questions I had before attending The Porch’s panel with writers Lydia Conklin, Nina Adel, and Susannah Felts. In short, residencies are an opportunity for writers and artists to devote time to their craft, away from the business of life, without a financial burden. Time at a residency is a great way to build your artist bio and gain credibility as a writer – and not all are as competitive as Yaddo or MacDowell. The speakers walked through the application process, the different types of residencies, what life at a residency is like, and encouraged writers to apply for a residency, because you might just surprise yourself.
The Application Process
Lydia, who has attended numerous residencies and judges for residency programs, said that the work sample is the most important part of an application. Oftentimes judges don’t have time to read past the first two or three pages, so make sure that the beginning of your sample is as strong as it can be. Nina emphasized that it’s important to include why you need this opportunity in your personal statement. Whether it’s getting rare time away from kids or having an extra week to finish a manuscript, presenting a strong need will distinguish you from other candidates. Finally, the more time you ask for and the more flexible you can be with dates, the better chance you have of getting accepted.
Types of Residencies
There are many factors that go into finding a residency that is right for you. Is it all-paid or are there fees? Are meals included? Will you eat meals with other residents? Every residency will look slightly different, so it’s important to do research well in advance. If you want to interact with non-writers, perhaps a multi-artists residency would be a good fit. If you want as much time to write as possible, choosing a residency that provides food is a good way to build more time into your schedule.
Life at a Residency
The panelists’ biggest takeaway was to prepare what you’ll do beforehand, but understand that the value of your time is not dependent on your creative output. Yurina Yoshikawa, the moderator for the evening, shared an experience from her time at a residency when she came with high expectations to finish her manuscript and write voraciously, but she accomplished less than she anticipated. “You got rest,” a friend reassured her when she expressed disappointment. “That’s productive.” Nina shared that she still keeps in touch and collaborates with friends from her past residencies. Especially in an isolated environment, it is a good idea to meet other residents and hear their goals for the time. Susannah summed up residency life well, saying, “your vision of what you need may look different than others. And that’s OK.”
Nina concluded the panel with encouraging words: “[Residency is] a way of life. And you gotta start somewhere.” Below are several resources to help start your application and look for grants.
The Alliance for Artists Community (residency directory)
Res Artis (worldwide residency directory)
Sustainable Arts Foundation (grants for artists who are parents)
Tennessee Arts Commission (grants)
South Arts (grants)
Elizabeth Geroge Foundation (grants)