How to find and apply to writers’ colonies

Since announcing that I’ll head to The Hambidge Center for an artist residency this fall, several writers have asked for advice about how to find and apply to similar programs, places where writers gather to produce and share creative energy.

I’m no expert. Remember, I applied to five colonies, and was accepted at only one. But here’s what I learned from the process:

Join the Alliance of Artists Communities. There’s a $25/year fee, but it’s worth it for access to this organization’s searchable database of residencies. You can also sign up for monthly e-mail alerts about upcoming program deadlines.

Aim high, but be realistic. Use the same strategy as when you applied (or helped your kids apply) to college: Pick a few “reach” residencies (programs that will be difficult to get into) and at least one “safety” (a sure bet). My mistake in my first round of applications was picking only super-selective colonies, including MacDowell, the most prestigious program in the country.

After receiving rejections from three of the four programs I initially applied to, I decided to give it one more shot, with a different strategy. Using the AAC database, I found a program — Hambidge — that met my desires but also had a higher acceptance rate. And what do ya know, I got in.

Be selective. Applications take time. Most require statements about what you’ll work on while you’re there (you’re expected to propose your own project), an assortment of writing samples, recommendations and an application fee. Again, like college applications, the bulk of the material is the same for each program, but most residencies ask for at least one statement that must be personalized for them. So think hard about which programs make the most sense for you, which ones are likely to invite you to become part of their community.

Know what you want. Each program is different. Do you prefer a colony that hosts only writers, or one that’s more diverse, with other types of artists as well? Can you afford to pay a weekly fee, or should you apply only to free residencies? Do they offer scholarships? Is food included? How much would it cost to get there? How many weeks would you want to stay? Some colonies have set time frames, while others ask applicants to request a certain number of weeks. Do you need an Internet connection? These questions — criteria you can use during your AAC database search — will help you narrow the field.

Plan ahead. Most colonies require applications months before the actual residency, so you’ve got to be able to look ahead at your writing schedule and ask: What will I be working on then? If your project will be complete by the time your stay rolls around, it probably isn’t worth applying.

I hope that’s helpful! If you have other questions, feel free to leave them in the comments.

Hambidge Artist Residency, here I come

Good news to start your Tuesday: The Hambidge Artist Residency Program has accepted me for a fellowship this fall!

That means I’ll spend five weeks writing in a cabin in the mountains of northern Georgia, part of a small community of creative thinkers.

The Hambidge Center was one of five writers’ colonies I applied to. Four rejected me. So I was happy as a dog eating an ice cube when a congratulations e-mail popped into my inbox on Friday.

Here’s the kicker: The program chose me for one of their emerging artist scholarships, which covers the cost of the program. (Some artist residencies are free, but this one costs $150/week.) That’s a big deal for me, since I’m living off savings and occasional freelance income while writing my first book.

The Hambidge Center

The Hambidge Center

As I explained in a previous post, a colony is a place where writers retreat to produce and inspire one another. Hambidge hosts not only writers, but also painters, composers, sculptors — a whole range of creative types. About 10 artists live there at any given time, rotating for two- to six-week stays. My five-week residency begins Sept. 1.

In this distraction-free environment, I’m hoping my productivity will soar. I’ll spend days writing in my studio — with breaks to enjoy trails on the Center’s 600 wooded acres — and join other residents for vegetarian (yippee!) dinners prepared by the program’s chef. Not too shabby, huh?

My only reservation: the private cabins don’t have Internet access. There’s wireless in the common area, but I won’t have a connection during the day while I’m writing. Normally I use the Internet to research; reference an online thesaurus; pull details from my online photos; and review my travel blog, which is serving as a skeleton for my book. Of course, I’m also distracted by e-mail and Twitter. So this might be a good experiment: Will I be more productive without the Internet? (Update: And no cell phone service. What have I gotten myself into?!)

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know I was planning to finish a draft of the manuscript by the end of August and solicit feedback in September. This acceptance means I’ll need to revise my schedule. I’m planning now to focus on finishing Part I and II by Aug. 1, and hand those over to readers while I work on the final section of the book. I’ll spend my time at Hambidge completing Part III and revising. By the time I leave the Georgia mountains, I’ll have a finished book.

Woot! Woot!

Writers’ colonies: Too good to be true?

Writing at home can be lonely, especially for a reporter like me who’s used to the bustle of a newsroom.

That’s why as soon as I returned home from Africa, before I even started writing my book, I applied to a handful of writers’ colonies.

What’s a writers’ colony? It’s a place where writers retreat to produce and inspire one another. Across the country and the world, colonies give writers their own quiet space to work and a community that shares their creativity energy.

Author Stephanie Elizondo Griest, who writes entire books by hopping from one colony to the next, explains in this interview [scroll down] the benefits of writers’ colonies.

Sometimes called residencies, the getaways vary enormously. Some are small, for just a few writers at a time. Others have a broader mission to help artists, so writers are mixed with painters, composers and potters. Many are tucked away in quiet corners of the country, close to nature. Some take writers for two weeks at a time, others for two months. And while some charge a residency fee, the most popular colonies are free, providing lodging and sometimes even food.

Sounds fabulous, right? Just what I need?

That’s what I thought, too — Until I got rejected from three of the four residencies I applied to. I’m still waiting to hear from the fourth.

Since this blog is intended to serve as a resource for writers, I’ll share with you the programs that rejected me: Ragdale, in Illinois; I-Park, in Connecticut; and MacDowell, in New Hampshire. (I set my sights a little high here, since MacDowell is known as the most prestigious colony. But it can never hurt to try.)

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