I just returned from two weeks writing at Vermont Studio Center. I was fortunate enough to receive an artist's grant to attend, and while there, paid off most of the rest of my stay by doing "work exchange." This was my first residency, and so I thought I'd share a few things I learned about residencies, and a things to think about before choosing one.
1. Have clear goals for your time at the residency. I knew I wanted to finish revisions on my second book, and I had an (unrealistic) goal to finish a shitty-first-draft of my third book. I did finish my revision, I wrote sixty-five more pages of my WIP, and I did a lengthy chapter-by-chapter outline of my next project. Pretty good--but when I was there, I had days where I felt like I was accomplishing nothing--or very little. What I learned was that I needed to look at the production of the whole week, not an individual day.
2. Understand how many people will be there, and what the culture of the place is. I really enjoyed VSC, but I was surprised to find it was VERY big. I didn't pay enough attention to how many people would be there during July, and I was a little overwhelmed by how many people I had to interact with on a daily basis. In my mind, I was going to be practically alone and it would be totally quiet. In reality, the group of writers and artists who were there loved to party, and I was up every night until at least one either joining the fun or in my room reading, because there was no sleeping any earlier without a fan and earplugs. I enjoyed much of the adventure, but it would have been good to mentally prepare.
3. Look for opportunities to engage with other artist's work, especially if it's in a different discipline from your own. The first week I was at VSC, I didn't go to any artist events or visit any studios. I was there to WRITE. But, my second book features an artist, so I knew I wanted to visit a few studios...I just didn't make the time for it until there was an open studio night on our last night there. I spent three hours going through the studios and I wished I'd visited them earlier so I could have asked more questions. It was SO INSPIRING to see other artist's work--whatever their media. I forgot that art feeds art. It would have been a very refreshing and inspiring break from my own work to see the artists in progress. (If you're with all writers, attending readings is of course inspiring). Below is a wonderful piece by Shannon Vanguyzen that inspired me.
4 Support everyone by attending as many events as you can. I wasn't planning to do this, because as a mom this time away felt precious. And it's easier said than done because at some residencies, there are opportunities almost nightly to attend readings or go to open studios or to slide shows. But, it can be very inspiring, and the more you support other artists, the more they'll support you. One benefit of attending a residency is getting a bunch of new followers and fans.
5. Don't be shy--do a reading. I signed up for a reading right when I got to VSC and I read on my third night. I barely knew anyone, but after that everyone knew me. I was shocked by the number of people who came up to me after my reading and in the ten days following to tell me how much they liked my work, including our resident poet, Matt Hart, who's work I really admire. It's invaluable to connect in that way for writers because we get so little feedback until a book drops, and then, sometimes, too much. During the WIP process, it really keeps us going to get positive feedback.
6. If anything goes wrong--ask for help. I found VSC incredibly accommodating and have hear most residencies are, too. They want you to be happy, to be productive, and to support the arts. So, if you need anything, ask! Because I felt so grateful for my grant, I was afraid to ask for anything--but I got over it when I needed a new room away from party central. And they found me a room away from much of the noise, and it was just perfect.
If you want to apply for a writing residency, I'll be posting my favorites along with deadlines in the next month!