So you want to go on a writing residency?

In just a few weeks I’ll be heading to my third writing residency in Nerac, France. I can’t tell you how much I look forward to residencies for the dedicated and selfish time of writing. At home it feels like there are a million things that distract me and pull me away from it, and none of those exist on a residency or at least they just get less important.

I’ve been so lucky to be accepted to residencies and sponsored to attend some so I wanted to share some tips for anyone else who might want to go on one, but isn’t sure how to, or where to start looking.

Where to start looking

My absolute best place to start looking for residencies is Aerogramme Studio – they provide a list each year of residencies to apply for. Their 2019 list is available here.

Submittable is also a great place to look for calls for residencies, competitions, and opportunities for writers.

ResArtis also has a regularly updated list of upcoming deadlines. Not all of these are for writers – some are for other artists – so make sure you read the full description.

Africa Centre has an annual Artists in Residency call. Keep your eyes out here.

Erika Krouse made an incredible list of free residencies for writers, here.

Are there any South African residencies for writers?

I’ve spent some time looking and whilst there seem to be a few residencies for artists, there aren’t any that I can find for writers. That being said, there are a number of workshops and retreats you might like to try. For example:

This year my husband took himself on a writing retreat to Bramleigh Manor in Fort Nottingham, KZN, where he thoroughly enjoyed the forest, the peace and quiet, and the wonderful fresh produce.

Costs and Funding

The cost of residencies vary significantly. Most of the time you have to pay your transport costs at the very least, as well as some fees for the time you’re staying there. Some places offer partial grants or funding too. Some organisations, like Africa Centre who I mentioned above, award residencies.

I found success in crowdfunding in 2017, and also in approaching the local consulate of the country I was visiting.

The National Arts Council also has a funding applications portal for projects, as does the Academic and Non-Fiction Authors of SA.

On the plus side, if you’re thinking of travelling to a country anyway, writers residency accommodation is normally WAY cheaper than your average hotel / AirBNB / hostel. So you might want to tick things off your bucket list and write about them too.

What can you expect?

This is also super variable (in my humbly limited experience).

For example, at the Vermont Studio Centre you get your own office to write from complete with desk, lovely view of the river, and printing facilities. You also get three meals a day cooked for you (I cannot quite express how good the food was there – phenomenal!) and talks a few nights a week to draw inspiration or technical skills from. I also got a room in a shared house with shared shower facilities. It was below freezing for most of my time there, and these were all so comfortable, warm and cozy.

At the CAMAC centre for the Arts in Marnay-Sur-Seine, which is sadly no longer operating, we got a fridge stocked with food, a workspace either attached to our room or separate from it, and incredible dinners cooked for us by visiting chefs. We didn’t have to go to any talks, but we did have to give one reading of something that we’d be working on whilst we were there.

This year I’m visiting Studio Faire for the first time and I will be provided with a working space, and comfortable room, but I have to cater for myself.

Most of the websites where you apply tell you what you can expect, so make sure you read them. The last thing you want is hungry writing or an awkward presentation you don’t feel happy about doing.

Pros and Cons?

Pro: Unfamiliarity. I can’t really explain the difference you feel when writing in an unfamiliar space. You’re suddenly aware of all your senses, you don’t give two shits if the dishes are dirty, the people are interesting, the food is new, even the grocery store has different things in it. I find this wakes me up.

Con: Writing residencies are not often free. At the very least you have to pay for transport to get there. Sometimes you have to pay for some or all of your food. You’ll probably have to take leave from work too.

Pro: You will be surrounded by people who believe you are a writer, who believe in the value of the arts and of writing, and that is just truly magical.

Pro/Con: You are far away from everything and everyone you know (no judgment here – you do you!)

Pro/Con: You have to take yourself seriously as a writer. I normally find that I take a few days to settle in to being on my own, getting used to letting go of the dictates of a 9-5 work schedule, and then I’m A-for-Away. Taking yourself seriously as a writer means different things for different people. I find that residencies are like a letter I write to myself, giving myself permission to write. You might be able to write that letter at home, or feel free enough or dedicated enough in your day to day to just do it. I applaud you. I need space and time.

So now?

I hope that some or all of this information is helpful to those of you out there who have been thinking of this.

There are literally hundreds of residencies you can go to all around the world. Good luck!