How to find and apply to writers' colonies

June 24, 2009

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.

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