American Spark


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How to Get Into a Writing Residency

Imagine yourself in a warm cabin by a softly glowing fire. There’s snow dancing gently outside in the twilight as you look out the window and see the jagged, near-mystical looking peaks nearby. Dinner will be in the dining hall in a few hours. Without a care in the world, you put pen to paper and write the day away. If a frosty mountaintop isn’t your thing, maybe you’d rather explore your characters at a quiet desk overlooking a bustling campus. All your needs are cared for, all the tedious distractions of everyday life—dishes, laundry, bills—are handled. When you need a refreshing break in the afternoon from exploring a new plot line in your novel, you can go outside and enjoy the company of like-minded friends. 

             Sounds lovely, right? Unfortunately, most aspiring writers are stuck squeezing in a few paragraphs between work, taking the kids to soccer practice, and “who drank all the milk again?!” Hey, we all have to start somewhere. Even Stephen King began his career by writing in the noisy laundry closet of a rented trailer. That’s where writing residencies come in. These can be great opportunities to remove distractions and let your creativity run wild. Getting accepted can be challenging, though. Sometimes there are hundreds of aspiring writers vying for only a dozen spots. Here are a few tips that might just give you an edge when applying.

Follow the Leader

            What better way to figure out what a residency wants in an applicant than asking someone who was accepted? Some residencies will list recent attendees or fellows on their website. Go out on a limb and try to contact one of them. If they’re willing, ask them about their background. How did they get their start in writing? What did they put on their application? What tips do they have for you? Above all remember to be extra respectful and nice when contacting them! Some residents may even have a CV publicly available that you can examine. Take a look at what successful applicants have in common and see if you can make your application fit in with the winners. 

Update the Portfolio

            Before you apply is the perfect time to update your portfolio, website, and online presence with your best work. In today’s day and age, don’t be surprised if the application board does a little online research. Luckily, you can use this to your advantage! Google yourself and see what comes up. Then, make sure the internet tells the story that you want conveyed to the residency.   

Know Who You Are Applying To

              Do your research to understand the residency you are applying for and tailor your application to fit. For example, if you are skilled enough to have already published some work, you may be less appealing to a residency that focuses on “emerging,” unpublished writers. On the flip side, if you are just barely getting your writing career started, you might be going the wrong direction by applying to a residency that is only looking to host successful writers. Some residencies may want writers who enjoy being surrounded by fellow authors in social activities. Others look to host total recluses and hermits. If your application states that your creativity flourishes best when having sunny picnics with friends, the writers fellowship in Antarctica may turn you down.

            Bottom line, know who you are applying to and make sure they are the right fit for what you want.

Keep Applying. Keep Writing.

            Every writer puts “more time to write with less distractions” on their Christmas list. Residencies can be a great option. If you think it’s for you, put your application in. If you get turned down the first time, don’t take it personally and don’t give up. Submit multiple times. May-Lily’s writer’s residency submission didn’t get her in, but she keeps on writing and will apply again! No matter what, keep writing. You never know where your greatest work will take shape.  

Liam Brodentel