A few weeks ago, Michelle Nijhuis (bio) suggested a number of tongue-in-cheek writing retreats in response to the frenzy around the Amtrak writing residency. (A residency that, it turns out, may have problematic terms and conditions — those still interested may want to check out Hillary Rosner’s (bio) advice about contracts.)
But there are plenty of writing residencies that will not make you feel itchy or ignite the ire of senators. Many of these offer writers in any field time and space to focus on a particular project.
In 2007, Anne Sasso (bio) spent a month in Banff, Alberta at the Banff Centre’s Literary Journalism program. Eight writers, each focused on a particular long-form project, working with a dedicated editor and, once a week, getting feedback from other writers on their piece. Each writer worked in a studio designed by a different Canadian architect, read from their pieces at a public event, and got to soak in both the solitude of the setting and the camaraderie of their colleagues. “Aside from the luxury of focusing on a single piece for an entire month with no other deadlines or pressures, working with the other writers and the three editors was a huge treat,” says Sasso. “I would return in an instant.”
I’ve had similar experiences at the two residencies I’ve been to—one at the Vermont Studio Center in Johnson, Vermont, the other at the Anderson Center in Red Wing, Minnesota. The combination of time to write and to meet other writers and artists was really incredible. I particularly enjoyed talking with artists—their work is so inspiring and I otherwise don’t usually get to learn more about what they do.
Many residencies—including the two I attended—offer scholarships or grants for the program, which may include room, board and studio space. Sometimes, they’re offered if you’re willing to work. In Vermont, I washed pots a few nights a week, which was a nice break from writing and gave me a chance to hang out with the kitchen crew (and get the extra desserts they had stashed away, too.)
For those just getting started in the residency world, the Alliance of Artists Communities and ResArtis, both networks for communities of a range of artists, are good places to start. Here are a few that I’ve heard good things about or have some connection to:
- If you have a chunk of free time and a project you need to get on the page now, Fishtrap, in Eastern Oregon, has spaces this April in its month-long (internet-free!) Imnaha Retreat program. These residencies are offered every April and October.
- If you’re planning ahead for next year, Artsmith on Orcas Island offers a week-long winter residency in the San Juan Islands. (Both Artsmith and Fishtrap are run by people I went to graduate school with.)
- The Mesa Refuge, in Point Reyes, California, supports writers focused on nature, economics, and social equality. They offer two- and four-week residencies to journalists, essayists, naturalists, and others.
- In Amherst, Virginia, writers and visual artists spend up to two months working at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
- At Ragdale, in Lake Forest, Illinois, artists and writers stay in an historic Arts & Crafts home near the Skokie River. http://www.ragdale.org/application
I’ve really liked the time I’ve spent at residencies—which always seem to involve fascinating people, beautiful locations, amazing food that I don’t have to cook, and the time to think and write—and the creative encouragement that a community of writers and artists offers. But you also don’t need to go to an official residency in order to check out and work for a while. Jessica Marshall (bio) created her own residency-like alternative to the AAAS conference, where she worked, planned, and recharged—before diving back into the freelance life.
Image credit: Cameron Walker