5 Reasons to Apply for a Writing Residency (and where to apply)

Dorland Mountain Arts Colony
Dorland Mountain Arts Colony

We’ve done writing residencies together at Dorland Mountain Arts Colony and Ragdale. Doug has been to the Norman Mailer Writers Colony, and Anna has been to the Vermont Studio Center (read about both HERE). These opportunities were possible because we were awarded scholarships, were able to cover our own travel costs, and could get away from our jobs for at least two weeks (or four!), so we understand that it’s not possible or easily doable for every writer. We’ve even created our own writing retreat in Santa Fe and hope to be able to do that again soon. Our experiences lead us to encourage other writers to apply for a writing residency or create even a short one of your own. Writers have different reasons for seeking a residency, and those reasons can shape your application as well as how you spend your time during a retreat.

If you don’t have a project…

…the writing retreat is a respite in which you have time to think and test out ideas. When we’re in the midst of our daily and weekly routines, it can be difficult to pause long enough to figure out what the next piece of writing should be and to plan how to accomplish a book-length project. The seemingly empty time of a writing retreat offers the freedom to imagine and map, to read, and to begin drafting.

If you are at the beginning of a big project…

…a residency can give you a running start so that you go back to your regular life with a critical mass, with writing that feels as if it’s taking shape and has some heft. Without writing the first sentences and paragraphs (even if those first paragraphs written are the end of the piece), you can’t finish a poem or story or book. The focus of a retreat makes beginning less daunting, makes the long haul ahead less intimidating.

If you are in the middle of a big project…

…it’s easy to get stuck in the middle, procrastinate by doing other tasks, and feel overwhelmed by what’s left to accomplish. You may be stuck at a crossroads, knowing that crucial decisions must be made before the rest of the novel or poetry collection can unfold (before you have to do more writing). Or you may be stuck because you’re unable to sustain a regular writing habit and feel distant from your project. A writing residency may be the best remedy for this common problem of getting stuck in the middle. If you have something that’s taken shape and you know where it’s going, you may benefit especially from focused time to move from one stage to the next.

If you need to finish a project, large or small…

…a well-timed writing residency can help you get through that last stage quickly. Poet Jane Hirshfield writes, in Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry, “Every good poem […] begins, that is, in the body and mind of concentration. […] By concentration, I mean a particular state of awareness: penetrating, unified, and focused, yet also permeable and open.” It’s difficult to sustain the concentration needed to all the way through a piece of writing and especially difficult to remain open when the end is in sight. A writing retreat can give you the extra mental room to maneuver as a project seems to narrow toward its finish.

If you need to revise a big project or polish several smaller pieces…

…it’s easy to lose the sense of the forest for the trees and vice versa. A writing retreat can give you the time to move back and forth between re-envisioning and editing. While revising can be done piecemeal, sustained attention to revision can help ensure that all the parts are equally well crafted and fit together. A writing residency also allows you to set something aside for a day or two so that you can read it with fresh eyes. When we aren’t rushed, we probably make fewer mistakes and catch more missteps.

Convinced? Click HERE for a guide to 20 artist/writer residencies and retreats. Or take a look at the searchable directory of conferences and centers from the Association of Writers and Writing Programs.

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