If you’ve ever applied for a writing residency, retreat or fellowship, it sometimes feels intimidating to know your application is lumped into a pile with highly accomplished and well-established writers.
As a young writer, the application alone was a big enough barrier to scare me away from life-changing opportunities and thinking ahead in my writing career. For many writers like myself, it’s easy to fall into a hole of self-pity and invalidate our own personal achievements.
Luckily, the application process doesn’t have to be this way.
To learn some strategies about applying to residencies and fellowships, I reached out to a handful of writers who have been accepted to and completed prestigious opportunities. Here are their tips.
1. Communicate clearly in your application
Mailee Hung, a 2017 Bitch Media Writing Fellow, stresses the importance of effective communication in your letter of intent.
Your statement should “clearly outline what your project is, how you’re going to do it, [and] why that particular residency/fellowship is the best venue to do it in,” she says. “You need to state your claims early, if only to show that you’ve thought about it seriously and you know how to build an argument.”
Overall, you need to be ready to sell your best self.
Articulate why your work is particularly unique and special. Poet and former Artist-In-Residence at the Everglades National Park Miriam Sagan even recommends addressing some weaknesses.
“I heard through the grapevine I was once rejected for a residency because I asked for ‘too short” of a stay,” she explains. “From then on, I addressed my need for short stays directly.”
2. Understand your needs
Poet and teacher Laura Wetherington, who participated in residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the Centre d’Art Marnay Art Centre, recommends writers begin their program search by identifying their own artistic needs because, as you’d expect, programs can be very different from each other.
“Are you looking for a place to collaborate with other artists and feed off the collective energy, or are you looking for a solitary, quiet situation?” She says. “Do you need the internet, access to the post office or to bring a bunch of books with you?“
Knowing the answers to these questions will strengthen your statement of intent, because it provides you with a stronger connection to the program and its accommodations.
3. Go abroad
Sagan has completed more than a dozen residencies and fellowships, both domestic and abroad.
She says international residences are far less competitive compared to those within the United States.
“[International programs] cost about the price of a Motel 6 daily or less and tend to be government subsidized,” Sagan explains. “If you need funding, look at short-term Fulbrights for artists and other exchange programs. Look at your city’s Sister Cities too.”
For potential funding opportunities as a Philadelphia-based writer, I can look into my city’s affiliate Sister Cities, which include Tel Aviv, Israel; Florence, Italy; and Aix-en-Provence, France.
4. Fundraise as needed
“The slightly funded residencies are much more competitive,” Sagan explains. “Go for unfunded ones as well.”
Sagan recommends pursuing crowdfunding if you’re pursuing an unpaid residency and all other funding opportunities fail. “A GoFundMe campaign can get you anywhere,” she says.
She also adds to keep your expenses as low as possible. Minimize your luxuries by cooking on a budget rather than eating out, for instance.
Also, remember to maximize your time and use it to the fullest if offered the opportunity. Take advantage of the financial investment (especially if the program isn’t funded) you’re making.
After all, it’s unlikely that you’ll fit that much writing into your regular schedule without a residency or fellowship.
Think about what you can do with sustained time that you can’t do on your regular writing schedule, and prioritize that,” explains Gemma Cooper-Novack, a writer with a CV of over six residencies including the Betsy Hotel Writer’s’ Room in Miami, Florida.
5. Just do it
But most of all? “Don’t get discouraged!” Mailee adds.
Most writers will be too intimidated to even consider applying. Slap on some imposter’s syndrome and the application process becomes a nightmare. However, it’s important to just do the thing and at the very least submit an application.
The worst that could happen is, well, you won’t get an offer.
“Some of my most devastating rejections have led me to make the best decisions of my life,” she elaborates. Apply to anything you’re excited about, and know the value of your own work. There are a lot of reasons for rejection beyond “you just weren’t good enough.”
Plus, applying to programs gets easier over time.
“If it’s at all possible, I strongly advise taking the first residency you’re accepted to, even if you have to put down some money, get into one however possible,” stresses Cooper-Novak. “I do think that after I got my first residency [at Can Serrat in El Bruc, Catalonia, Spain)], other residencies started to look at me more closely.”
As you can tell from these writers’ advice, applying to a residency and/or fellowship doesn’t have to mean beating imposter syndrome. The process may still be a little intimidating, but not so much that it prevents you from actually submitting your application.
Take it from the experts: apply and apply again until you’re accepted.