Monday, August 28, 2006

Writing Residencies

Going away to a writing residency can be one of the most productive and rewarding experiences of your life. It was for me. Last year I was awarded a fellowship from the Brown Foundation to spend a month at the Vermont Studio Center. I’d never been to Vermont, never been on a residency, and couldn’t imagine dedicating a whole month to nothing but writing.

I met fascinating people from around the world, made friends I’m still in touch with today, totally relaxed, and got a ton of work done. I would go back in a heartbeat.

I would encourage any writer who has the ability to take a month off from his or her life to apply. If you have the money you can, of course, pay to go. But they also have fellowships.

It doesn’t have to be at the VSC. There are places like the VSC all over the states. The VSC has a chef who cooks, along with volunteers, all the meals. Some places have a shared kitchen where residents prepare their own meals, either separately or together. The VSC is a big place with many houses and studio buildings. They’re just now breaking ground for a new writing studio. Between all the writers and artists there, they host over fifty people a month. Other places are much smaller, hosting five or ten artists and writers at a time. The VSC is in a small town. I’ve heard of others that are far away from civilization, isolated.

They seem to all have a fee to apply – twenty-five or thirty dollars, mostly – and you’ll have to supply references. Check to see if they waive the fee. The VSC does for certain fellowships. If you get a fellowship that covers your expenses there, you’ll still, most likely, have to pay your own way to and from. Be prepared to bring your own writing utensils, whether it’s a laptop or pen and paper. They’ll probably have a communal computer and printer, but it’s for everyone’s use, not just yours.

If you get to go on a residency, consider volunteering while you’re there. Almost all of these places are non-profits. A couple of hours a week won’t cut into your writing time too much, will help out the staff, and will allow you to meet interesting people and see what goes on behind the scenes.

I’m heading to Wyoming later this week. A group of friends gather each year there for fun and golf. This year I hope to skip the golf and drive out to two residencies fairly close by. They’re working ranches out in the middle of nowhere, so I won’t be able to tour, but I thought I’d go by to see what they look like or at least what the area looks like. So, stay tuned for a posting about these two residencies.

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