Post MFA: Covering Residencies on November 20, 2:35-3:35 at Saint Mary’s College of CA

On Wednesday, November 20, 2:35-3:35 at Hagerty Lounge, Saint Mary’s College of California, yours truly will be part of an afternoon panel discussion on life after the MFA. Tapped to speak on residencies and colonies for 7-8 minutes, here’s some musings on what might be covered that afternoon, which we hope you can join.

Applying to Residencies

Why residencies? How does it sound to live, work, dine, and stroll with writers, artists, composers, dancers, choreographers for weeks or months? How about having food delivered to your door. Meeting for supper and a cocktail or two to talk shop about books, paintings, photography, and film? What of days and hours devoted solely to reading and reflecting on your work? Residencies in essence are a chance to hole away in some remote and often rural setting and remember what it means to read and create for the sake of reading and creating.

Hawthornden from the Lady Walk
Retreat for Writers, Hawthornden Castle, Scotland, UK.

There’s no magic formula I know of but years of practice, revision, and navigating rejection. I’ve been applying to residencies and colonies since grad school, so I’ve had almost seven years honing my artistic statement and project description(s), which have seen many incarnations. I’ve been through countless drafts and am constantly revising every artifact I send out to apply.

Maintain contact with professors from graduate school since they are the community who will support you through this creative journey, and be sure to make the recommendation letter process as easy as possible by giving at least two months advance notice with all the supplies already stamped and addressed, ready to post. Keep a short sample, CV, and statement handy if they request it to refresh their memory about you and your work.

344 Questions: The Creative Person's Do-It-Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Artistic FulfillmentKeep refining both your artist statement/letter of intent and the writing sample. These are the two legs you’ll stand on when you face the faceless committee. Keep a list of questions and journal freewrites in response to keep the artist statement/letter of intent urgent and relevant. It should change as you evolve as a writer. I love this little gem of a book 344 Questions?: The Creative Person’s Do-It Yourself Guide to Insight, Survival, and Finding Artistic Fulfillment which I crack open every now and again just to exercise and play with portrayals of self. These musings come handy when piecing together and updating the artist statement.

  • Literature Summary Description (MacDowell Colony)

In two to five words, please describe the work you are proposing to do at the Colony. You will have an opportunity to describe the project in greater detail in the next step of the application. Examples: memoir, historical novel, short fiction, prose poetry.

In the space below, please provide a detailed description of the project you intend to work on at the Colony. If you have already begun the project, tell us where you are in the work process and what you hope to accomplish with your residency. The text field is limited to 2,500 characters including spaces.

  • Intended Project (MacDowell Colony)

Please provide a brief synopsis of the creative work you propose to write if offered a Residential Fellowship at Hawthornden. This may be work already in progress or work still in its infancy. You should be sure to mention any necessary research that you may need to undertake while in residence. Please limit your description to this sheet only.

While in Residence

Before I left for MacDowell, I got the best piece of advice from novelist and dear friend Mary Volmer who warned me not to place too much expectation or pressure on myself. “You’re not going to get everything you want done, but you will get what you need,” she urged, and she was right.

An hour feels like three in our studios. It’s amazing how much work you get done when you sit down to it, and let your mind settle with the tasks in front of you.

Some of the highlights are not just spending evenings talking with fellow artists but having a real

Mansfield Studio at MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.
Mansfield Studio at MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire.

dialogue with your project. I found that once I was tucked into my cabin and allowed myself to reacquaint and essentially renew my vows to the craft and to the piece I’ve dedicated years of my life to, the project started speaking to me and telling me what needed to happen to it. I learned how to read and write all over again.

One of the many traditions practiced at the Colony is for fellows to give presentations of their work, whether it be a reading or an open studio, you’re encouraged to share your artistic endeavors. The idea wasn’t that appealing, really, until a fellow explained that its best to present earlier rather than later during residency so that other fellows will have much needed context in terms of why you’re here and what you’re doing. This context cements a substantive foundation to conversations at dinner, breakfast, random encounters on the hallway or on the way to the studio. The whole purpose of the colony is not just for individual, solitary work but to be a part of the community, and being a part of a community means sharing.

Mansfield Studio in the mist at MacDowell Colony
Mansfield Studio in the mist at MacDowell Colony

What to Bring

All your favorite creature comforts: chai tea, scented candles, warm socks, an eye mask, if you have trouble sleeping in strange places, blank pads of paper and post-its, permanent markers, push pins, chocolate, nice stationary and stamps to write to loved ones, a wall calendar to keep on task, a hard drive to back up regularly, a pocketknife, and gin, lots of gin or your personal choice of poison because you deserve it after a long day’s worth of reading and writing.

These websites are chock-a-block with listings of residencies and colonies:

For more insight on MacDowell click here, here and here and for Hawthorden click here.

"Shyness is nice and shyness can stop you"

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