Tuesday, August 2, 2016

The Art of the Writers Residency

                                                Rocaberti Castle
I've been to many writers residencies, and in fact, I'm looking forward to returning in late September to the wonderful Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. A writers residency can offer the priceless gifts of time and space to create, but it definitely helps to know how to prepare for one, and my friend Georgia Clark offers helpful tips below. Take it away, Georgia!

Abby Rodriguez, Georgia & me at Rocaberti

By Georgia Clark

Ruth and I met in a 14th century Spanish castle, a few hours north of Barcelona, on my sixth writers’ residency. I’d never been on a residency before moving from Sydney to New York, and stumbled across my first one (the wonderful Martha’s Vineyard residency) quite by accident. Now, I absolutely love them. Allow me to share my passion with you…

What the hell’s a writer’s residency?
An organized time and space for writers to work. Some are free, some cost money. (The free ones are generally the most competitive). Some include meals, some include one meal, some have a space for you to cook. Some are structured (our Spanish residency included time with a mentor), most are not. Some will be life-changing. All exemplify the adage ‘you get out what you put in’. They exist because writing is hard, community is important, people are generous, and hey—who doesn’t want to spend a few weeks somewhere gorgeous, bashing away in a room of one’s own?

How do I get in?
The application for a residency can be a lot of work (possibly including a writers resume, sample, outline of intended work and references), but once you’ve done one you can pretty much repurpose it for other residencies. Be as human and engaging in your project pitch as possible: explain why the work matters to you and what you’re about, really. Don’t be too formal. The magic of a good residency is about artists who think and feel, not business people who have perfect CVs. Overwhelmed by choice? Narrow it down to ones you can travel easily to, ones friends recommend (and might be a reference for; this helps), ones you can afford.

Find your ideal residency at Res Artis, Poets & Writers, Artist Communities or random Googling.

What do I prepare?
Great question, Georgia. Even though most writers’ residencies are self-directed, it’s a great idea to mentally and physically prepare for them. Decide well in advance what you’ll be working on, and set the bar high for yourself. At my last Martha’s Vineyard residency, I committed to writing the outline for my next novel, which was a big, unwieldy task that would’ve taken me three times at long in my usual, distraction-heavy environment. At the Obras residency in rural Portugal, I made the mistake of assuming I was there to polish what I thought was an almost-completed novel, only to hear back from my editor on Day 1 that is was an “okay” first draft. I wasn’t prepared for that and consequently spent a lot of time crying into large glasses of admittedly excellent port.

Alternatively, you might be on residency to relax and find inspiration: long solo walks, time away from the kids, etc. Again, set some goals for this: maybe you’ll commit to finding three great ideas for your next project.

Tips on having a great residency!
·      Join your fellow writers for at least one meal a day, ideally dinner. It’s a great way to take a break and make real connections. Pair up and take turns cooking meals.
·      Bring sleep aids and exercise gear. You’ll be mentally exhausted but not physically which can make it hard to sleep.
·      Disconnect from the outside world. Set up a vacation email and manage loved ones’ expectations of contact. Once phone call a day is fine, constant texting is not really the point.
·      Don’t worry about anyone else’s work. It can be easy to feel annoyed or jealous at how much or little other writers are doing or have achieved in their careers. Let it go. This is about you.
·      Know that there will be at least one crazy person. Give them a wide berth. Don’t get involved in drama; just enjoying gossiping about.
·      See something special as a group. To make it especially memorable, plan a group outing to see a local landmark/museum/bar. Being a good writer means having a good community.

Have fun! I’ve met wonderful people from all around the world in residencies; they really are one of the most fun parts about being a creative.

Share your tips, stories and advice about residencies in the comments below!

Georgia Clark is the author of THE REGULARS, forthcoming from Emily Bestler Books/Atria in August 2016. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter at @georgialouclark. Sign up for monthly writing tips at georgiaclark.com