What Is a Writer's Residency?

You may have a big deadline coming up and you don't know how you'll ever make it, because of the distractions in your everyday life. Maybe you don't have a deadline, but you're just really frustrated about your lack of progress on that novel/short story/essay you've been wanting to work on. Sometimes a break from your regular responsibilities is what you need to really focus on your writing and get back to a creative state of mind. That is the purpose of writers' residencies. They're places to get away and spend concentrated time on your creative projects without distractions.

Most residencies have an application and vetting process to ensure the people who go there are serious about their work and won't be wasting the opportunity or causing problems for other residents. As with anything, the selectivity of the various programs varies. Some residencies are for writers only and others have visual artists, composers, or other kinds of artists. At least one program is only for women, some are only for people with ties to a particular geographic area, and there may be other requirements. Be sure to check these out before applying. Some are all-expenses paid except travel, some require the artist to pay a set amount or a sliding scale amount, some ask for payment but provide financial aid of various kinds. Some provide lodging and three meals a day, some only lodging or lodging plus one or two meals per day. Some provide a separate studio or other private writing space.
Once you decide where to apply, there will be some time to wait until you know whether you've been accepted. Most take at least a couple of months, so this is not conducive to impromptu "I have to get away" impulses. For that, you can always go rent a cabin somewhere or even get a hotel for a few days. So, why not just go off and have your own writing retreat? That might be your best option.

Why a Writer's Residency?

There are a couple of reasons to go the residency route rather than the self-run writing retreat.
  1. You want to interact with other writers/artists. Not all residencies provide this, but many do. It can be inspiring and interesting to meet other people who are also doing creative work. You make friends with the other artists. Some programs offer shared meals and other opportunities to interact when you're not busy working.
  2. It looks good on your resume/writing credits. Not that this is the most important thing, but in a query letter, CV, whatever, being accepted to a residency program shows you are serious about your work and that somebody else thought you were good enough to choose you from among all the applicants

Check out the links page for directories of residency programs around the world.