Regarding Writing Residencies

By Jack Matthews

What if you had almost a month of undistracted writing time? With a private studio. Physically isolated from family and friends. Limited internet access—nearly off the grid except for stimulating conversations over dinner with artists from all over the country, or even the world.

Room, board, and studio provided free of charge. No obligations. Heaven or hell? Could you do it? If so, what would you accomplish? If this sounds like heaven, then perhaps a residency is in your future.

Last February, I was fortunate to be one of seven resident artists at the Brush Creek Ranch near Saratoga, Wyoming. Funded by the Brush Creek Foundation for the Arts (https://www.brushcreekarts.org/), up to eight artists—musicians, visual artists, and writers—are selected each month for a twenty-two-day residency. 

Brush Creek isn’t the only opportunity of its kind. An internet search yields hundreds of residencies available to writers. The details differ in what they provide and what they expect, but all have a common underlying objective: give the artists undistracted time to focus on their craft. 

A residency of the Brush Creek kind (the limit of my experience) isn’t for everybody. To ensure the artists’ time is undistracted, visitors are discouraged and overnight visitors prohibited. 

As noted, internet access is limited by bandwidth and location within the facility, so if your project is research-heavy, you may not realize the full potential of the opportunity. Family, school, and work obligations can be a problem for many. 

You have to purge your schedule for the duration. 

So if you’ve cleared all those hurdles and are still with me here, then you may be asking, how do I get in? 

All residencies have some form of an application process. A typical submission includes a sample of your work, a statement of purpose, character references, and a short bio. 

The actual selection process is somewhat opaque, but this is what I know—the jurors change, so a rejection in one application window doesn’t mean you shouldn’t re-apply in the next window. 

The work samples are judged blind. Your writing stands on its own merit. For Brush Creek and many others, you do NOT have to be a published author to be awarded a residency. They actively seek ‘emerging’ writers as well as published authors. Character references focus on your ability to get along with a variety of people in a working/living environment. 

The following advice is based on personal observation and discussion with other residency veterans— 

The statement of purpose should be specific. 

You probably won’t impress with “the space and time to hone my craft.” Every artist I spoke to had a specific project—an upcoming gallery opening, a composition to polish, or, as with me, to finish the character arcs and plot development of a second novel. 

Try to establish a connection between your work and the specific residency. 

Both my first novel and my current WIP are set in Wyoming. But perhaps you can find common ground with the Foundation’s statement of purpose or philosophy. 

Also, if possible, apply for one of the winter months. 

Most residency appointments are highly competitive. I slipped through the cracks because I actually wanted a January or February award. Because of work and school schedules, the summer month awards can be super-competitive and harder to land. 

The residency experience was one of the most productive and memorable experiences of my life. If the stars align and it fits with your life goals and objectives, I highly recommend you take a shot at it. 

Jack Matthews is a former educator and engineer who writes Thriller and Suspense. He enjoys the outdoors in his camper and launching rockets.

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