Writers' colonies: Too good to be true?

May 8, 2009

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.)

I’m assuming these rejections stemmed from my status as an unpublished author. Sure, I’ve been published in newspapers and magazines while working as a journalist for the last few years, but writing a book is a whole new ball game. Or maybe it wasn’t my qualifications but my project — a travel memoir — that didn’t suit the admissions teams.

Regardless, I’m not giving up. I’ve got one more application out there for the summer/fall session: the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock, NY, just an hour up the road from my home in Albany. And I just applied for a winter residency at The Hambidge Center in Georgia.

How do I find out about these opportunities? Mainly through the Alliance of Artists Communities, which offers a database of residencies when you join their organization for a reasonable annual fee. The group also sends out a helpful monthly e-mail reminder about upcoming residency deadlines.

Not only does the AAC offer details about the residencies in their database, the group also lists an acceptance rate for each program. From now on, when deciding where to apply, I’ll take into consideration which programs are most likely to accept me.

I posted my three rejection letters on the wall in my home office, to remind myself of my goal. Unfortunately, they probably represent just the tip of the rejection iceberg; I’m prepared to add to that pile throughout this process. But when I’m finally published, when I peel those letters off the wall and stuff them in a box under my bed, they’ll make for a good laugh.

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    23 Replies to “Writers' colonies: Too good to be true?”

    • I’d never heard of such a thing – a writers’ colony. Personally I prefer silence and solitude when I write. But I have lived in communes – back in the Hippie era. 🙂

    • Rejection is a very tough reality for writers. Very tough. After my first publishing house “died.” I thought getting my “Publisher Bestseller” on the street again would be easy. After all, it had a nice selling track record and good reader reviews on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It had also been favorably reviewed in Romantic Times magazine. Hey, I had credentials! I was “bona fide,” to quote the wife in, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou.

      Sadly, that’s not what happened. I received many rejections, some because the book HAD been previously published. Success it seems was not part of the formula. One editor even thought it was poorly written! Hey, what about all those readers who loved it??? Apparently, they didn’t count. And why should they, they’re only the one’s we’re trying to reach. Sheeesh.

      I thought I was pretty secure in my writing, but, I gotta tell ya, after the seventh or eighth, No Thanks…some not that gentle. My ego was bruised. Eventually, it worked out, but, man, it hurt.

      So, you’re braver than I in keeping the rejections on the wall. For me, they’d go in the bottom desk drawer, or, better yet, in the trash.

      Best, Galen

    • Cara says:

      I’ve heard of these before, but the prospect of yet more rejection is pretty disheartening. Don’t we already get enough rejection as writers?

      Personally, I’ve got my eye on La Muse in France. It looks incredible.

    • Elle Parker says:

      I would LOVE to be able to join a writer’s colony – they have seemed like a romantic dream to me for….ever, really.

      I just don’t have the time to give to do it. I still hold out hope that someday I might get to do such a thing. Until then, I’ll take solace in my on-line community of writers

      Elle Parker

    • Karen Walker says:

      Hi Alexis,
      Sorry you haven’t found a writing colony yet, but here’s hoping you will.
      Yes, writing is lonely. I struggle with that, but I do need silence and solitude to write. I get distracted way too easily.
      I’m creating my own writing retreat in June. I’m flying to Portland, Oregon, where I lived prior to Albuquerque. I’ve rented a beach house on the coast with one of my closest friends. For two days we will support each other in our individual writing projects and work together on creating workshops. I can’t wait.
      Best of luck to you.


    • Destineers says:

      I have never heard of a writer’s colony but can see an advantage to it. Personally, I like to write alone (or, if I am co-authoring, with my partner). Good luck with your fourth application!

      NA Sharpe

    • Jina Bacarr says:

      Keep applying, Alexis. You have so much to offer. Like acquiring an agent, finding the right fit for a writer’s colony takes time and perserverence and a little bit of luck.

      You’ll do it.



    • Hi Alexis,
      I’m sorry to hear about your rejections. Maybe they’re just overloaded with applicants right now? It seems to me that they’d be a lot happier welcoming first time authors instead of folks who’ve already published some books. Maybe you should check back with them in a few months.

      The colony sounds really cool. But I have a feeling I’d have a problem with the quiet. I’ve gotten way too used to writing with kids thumping around upstairs.

    • I’ve heard of writing colonies but never thought about going as I am perfectly content in my own writing space. But I had no idea that writers had to meet a certain criteria to attend. Good luck on the 4th one coming through for you.

      Jane Kennedy Sutton

    • Karen Brees says:

      Forget the colonies. Self-serving to the nth degree. Find a quiet place to be alone with your muse. Rent a motel room if you must, find a cabin in the country if you can (we’ve got one available!) and let yourself write. You don’t need the approval of others. Lord knows that as writers we endure rejection enough.

      • James says:

        Some of us would like the occasional congenial company of others who write, in those spare moments when not writing and doing the other things necessary to living: cooking, exercising, laundry. There’s no having conversations about Joyce, Woolf, or Faulkner in the average trailer park, but we’re guessing that some number of writers would appreciate an inexpensive trailer park full of other writers whose company could be enjoyed ad hoc.

    • I had heard of writer’s colonies, but had no idea you had to meet certain criteria. I only thought that there had to be space – not that you had to “be” something specific. Who needs them?

      Jennifer Taggart

    • darkhourvampires says:

      I had never thought of trying to find a residence program of going away to write. At the moment it almost sounds nice, but I’m such a homebody. I can’t imagine being alone with myself with just writing. That is very scary.

    • I always had the notion, probably not based on anything logical such as facts, that writers’ colonies were geared toward literary writers (who write stuff normal person like me won’t understand). Most travel writers want normal people like me to read their work.

      A retreat, on the other hand, can be a great bonding experience, even with lots of alone time for writing. Try Googling “writers’ retreats.” Some are just for a weekend, others for longer.


    • Are two writers enough for a writers’ colony? I live in an old French farmhouse in the semi-country (rural but populated) and I have two guest rooms. I could certainly host writers if I got my act together and finished the little kitchen and bathroom in the quarters… but only have two rooms. What do you think? Too small?

      • jeanni says:

        Scribe, Did you ever do it? It’s been a few years now but if you still want an answer, I’d say GREAT IDEA. I’ve been mulling the idea of quitting my job and hopping from colony to colony. An old French farmhouse sounds delightful! Most writers (okay well..I) just want a place that’s not home to write. I’ve always been more productive on vacations than at home but let’s face it, most people can’t afford to write at the beach condo we’ve rented for our family reunions! I wonder if Alexis ever made it to one..here’s hoping!

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