DIY Writing Residencies

Like many of my writing peers, I have applied for a few residencies. Last year I applied, unsuccessfully, to Hedgebrook’s Writers in Residence program. The submission period for 2016 residencies is now open and I’m gearing up to submit again. Even more so after seeing how beautiful the Hedgebrook land really is!

A few months ago, I submitted applications for a number of other residencies, for this summer and the fall. One by one, I have received the “we regret to inform you…” notifications. But, I refuse to take the rejections personally. Call it age or blind optimism, but I just can’t get upset about not getting something I really, really want. I am sure I would have been bitterly disappointed with such news even just a few years ago. (As I was when I applied for a few residencies much earlier on in the novel writing process.) So, what’s changed?

It’s not resignation, because the feeling is much more upbeat than that. I have read blog posts where people talk about how many times they had applied for the same residency (five, seven, more…) and in a way that provides some perspective. Why should I get in on the first or even second or third attempt?

Also, let’s think about this for a second. If you are granted a residency, it’s an extraordinary gift. The time to write. A place where you can write, uninterrupted. Most of the residency programs do not charge you rent for the privilege. They may even feed you. What an amazing deal! So, naturally, these things are popular. Imagine how many people are submitting. That, too, gives me perspective.

Then, there is my plan B. This is the real reason that I am not going to cry over my form rejection emails. Just because no one is giving me a writing residency (yet) does not mean I cannot do one. Instead of accepting the rejections and shrugging and continuing on my merry way of work, work, personal life, try to fit in writing where I can, I’m going to create my own writing residency this summer. I mean, if I am making up my own MFA, why not a residency too?

Again, like so many other writers, I am in a constant battle with myself to be more disciplined; to create a daily writing routine. But sometimes it just isn’t doable (yet). Also, for the kind of work that I need to do on my novel right now — sink deeper into key moments and revise pivotal scenes — I feel like I need more space than my daily life will allow. There’s all that stuff at home that demands I take care of it (oooh, let’s rearrange the closet!) and I have never been the type of person who can work productively on fiction in a coffee shop. So, yeah, I need a residency.

Just the other day, I read the enlightening Paris Review interview with Maya Angelou, where she describes how she wrote in hotel rooms she rented in her own town. I have considered that, but I also work in the hotel industry, so that still feels a little too distracting for me. I want to get out of town. So, that’s what I’m going to do.

I’ve been scouring Airbnb and weighing up the virtues of places not too far from where I live, but far enough that I can’t escape too easily. (No, I don’t mean to liken this to prison, I swear.) I’ve been calculating how many vacation days I will have left once I factor in the holiday season that is still months away. And I think I can do it. For a few days in July or August, I’m going to rent a room or cottage in a town a few hours from mine. I’m going to pack my novel manuscript and my workshop notes from my writing group, my own notes to self and my MacBook and I’ll sequester myself away and work.

I’ll be the one paying the rent and no one will be cooking for me. But I’ll have time to write and a neutral space where I can do it without distraction. I’m excited!

I’m still waiting to hear back from one residency program where, who knows, maybe I will get in. But that wouldn’t take place until late 2015 at the earliest and I have work I need to do now. So, no, I won’t turn rejections into an excuse not to work. I’m not waiting around for anyone to give me anything. I’ll create my own residency. And I hope some of you will, too.

Happy writing,


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