Lucy Wang

Many of us owe the familiarity of this phrase and concept to Virginia Woolf who penned the famous essay entitled, A Room of One’s Own. Although Woolf’s essay focused on women in particular, how women must have money and a room in order to write, the concept also applies to any author’s need for creative space and freedom. Artist residencies offer just that—if you can get away and get in.

I know firsthand how much you can accomplish in three to six weeks when your only job is to create.  Oh, the places your imagination can go when everyone around you treats you like a serious artist, feeds you and makes your ability to create their top priority. With no one to nag you to cook, shop, clean up, car pool and often, no Internet—you have no excuse.

It’s just you, your muse and the blank page. A showdown. It can be intimidating, the unfamiliar and usually minimalist surroundings. And, the pressure! Oh, the pressure!

Who will triumph and reign supreme?

You will.

Why? How do I know this?

Artist residencies are precious gifts, too precious to waste.

Artist residencies are also ultra-competitive, especially when we’re talking about artist residencies that provide free room and board once you’re accepted. These artist residencies have limited funds, limited space and therefore, can only accept a limited number of artists.

The application can be daunting. Often you are asked to write an artistic statement, articulate your short-term and long-term goals, and propose a project that will benefit the community—on top of submitting your resume, writing sample and letters of recommendation. You can’t help thinking, I don’t even know if I can get away, and it sounds like a lot of work considering the odds are against me and I’ll probably be rejected!

Believe me, I know.  I feel your pain.  I have been on both sides of the admissions process. I’ve applied and been accepted to some wonderful places (knock on wood) like the Annenberg Community Beach House, Djerassi Resident Artists Program, MacDowell Colony, Tin Shop, Hedgebrook, James Thurber Fellowship—and I’ve also sat on many panels, where we must sift through the piles of hopeful applications and select the few, or the one, that ultimately wins the prize.

It’s no easy task and as an artist who has suffered more than her fair share of rejection, I’d like to offer some suggestions to ease the pain and beat the odds. First of all, when you apply for a residency, please read and reread the instructions. It kills me when a talented writer answers the wrong question, or completely neglects to address the question at hand.

First of all, when you apply for a residency, please read and reread the instructions.

It is becoming increasingly common for artistic residencies to require writers to give back to the community that supported them. So, when this is the case, please give your proposal some gravitas. Please don’t just write, I will read from my book! I will discuss the highlights of my career! How exactly is this a benefit to the community? Please explain. Sometimes it pays to do a little research on the community. Who are these avid supporters of the arts? How can you make your presence and your work resonate with them? How will you pay it forward?

Stay humble.  Nobody on the panel is particularly impressed when you claim the next Nobel Prize in Literature belongs to you. Don’t waste your word count limit on what others say about you. Trust your work to speak for you.

Stay humble.  Nobody on the panel is particularly impressed when you claim the next Nobel Prize in Literature belongs to you.

Stay on point. When you read hundreds of applications, people who are direct and succinct stand out. Don’t pepper your application with politically correct “buzz” words—it makes your application read the same as everyone else’s.

Submit the best and most relevant writing sample you have.

Don’t submit a first draft application. I know we’re all pressed for time, and deadlines have a way of sneaking up on you. But remember your competition is fierce. Proofread, spellcheck, edit. Yes, this should be a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised.

Why you? With many more qualified applicants than spaces, so often a residency will ask you, why now? Why you? Why our residency?

One of the most common responses:

It would be nice to write at the beach/in the woods.

Yes, we on the panel agree!

But you know what, almost every applicant says this. Quite frankly, no one is stopping you from writing at the beach, or in the woods.  This answer by itself is not good enough.  Show us the need, why it’s a perfect fit, why there’s no way we can pick someone else.

What distinguishes you from someone else equally deserving? Show us.  Sometimes the difference between first place and second place is minuscule. Really. That competitive.

Yes, sometimes it is your voice, your point of view, your vision that catapults you to the top. That’s what I’m hoping for when I pick up an application. I’ve sat on many panels with professionals across many disciplines and it’s uncanny how often we’ll come up the same short list. It brings me such joy to discover time and time again that talent rises.

Serving on the admissions panel has certainly improved my application process. I hope I’ve helped you too. I encourage you to apply, and re-apply. Judges change, the pool of applicants change, but one thing that usually doesn’t change—we only get better at our craft.

If you’re wondering, where do you find these residencies? One great resource is Residency Unlimited.

Residency Unlimited (RU) supports the creation, presentation and dissemination of contemporary art through its unique residency program and year-round public programs.

 If you like their Facebook page or join their email list, you can stay current on many of the artistic residencies available worldwide.  Ever wanted to write in the South of France? Pas de problème, RU can help you discover those opportunities.

Aerogramme Writers’ Studios is another treasure trove for writers.  Their website and Facebook page offer numerous tips and resources including submission opportunities, fellowships and artistic residencies.


LUCY WANG is a contributing editor of LitChat. Read her full bio here.