I have been teaching English literature, developmental, and creative writing to college students for several years now. I have attended loads of conferences and workshops relating to my work as an instructor of writing, covering things like plagiarism, using technology in the classroom, incorporating grammar workshops and handbooks, and the technicalities of using online rosters and posting things on blackboard, etc. But I have never taken a workshop directly related to my job as a creative writing instructor (or my aspirations to be a novelist!). None of the colleges and universities I have ever taught at offered it, but even if they had, I doubt I would have applied.
And the reason is, to be quite honest, I found the whole concept of writer’s conferences, colonies, and retreats rather dull. But having said that, I did find the panels on historical fiction and even some Young Adult ones I attended with Sona at the Brooklyn Book Festival in the summer of 2010 to be hugely entertaining and a great learning experience. But that entire event was free. Maybe that’s what my problem is.
I probably should have added “set aside x amount of money to be spent on my writing” to my Literary Resolutions post for 2011. But I didn’t. So now I’m making things up as I go along. They do add up really quickly, so you really have to figure out if it’s worth the expense. Especially when you have to travel for them, which is the case for all of the conferences and colonies I’m even considering.
As with choosing MFA programs, I am a firm believer in saying bollocks to reputation in terms of awards and publication records. It all comes down to what you expect to gain from the experience and whether a particular conference or retreat will do it for you. So regardless of the reputation, the fundamental question I asked myself was, “Is this my cuppa tea?” Yes, that’s really what I said. And yes, it was out loud.
My wife, Sona, wrote a blog post on getting the most value out of these conferences for Teen Writers Bloc. Her priorities and those of the other writers in her MFA program at the New School are on craft, but also on networking. I have never been interested in networking. I find it utterly droll and pointless at this stage. Perhaps once I have a manuscript, I’ll become more sociable. And while I enjoy listening to writers talk about craft, I can’t see myself paying to eavesdrop on a panel discussion or to pitch an idea for a novel I haven’t gotten past the first 25.
So without further dilly-dallying, here are the places I’ve decided to apply to:
1. Macdowell Writers Colony, Peterborough, New Hampshire
This is definitely at the top of my list. It is the oldest colonies in the country with an amazing history. There are no residency fees, they provide three meals a day, and they even offer a stipend! It doesn’t offer classes, or instruction, but gives me one thing I have been craving: time. There aren’t any additional requirements for the writer, except to write. The deadline is approaching alarmingly soon: January 15, 2011 for the summer residency, which is the only time period I can entertain doing for ideally 8 weeks. It is also apparently a beautiful place to go for walks.
Electronic application, so everything can be uploaded, even the reference form.
1 reference form is required
15-25 pages of prose
No Application Fee
No Residency fees
Stipend offered covering virtually all expenses, including some travel expenses
Length of Stay: 2-8 weeks; average stay is 5 weeks
Deadline: January 15, 2011 for Summer Period (May-September)
2. The Norman Mailer Writers Colony, Provincetown, Massachusetts
The setting for this Colony is absolutely gorgeous. Every story I’ve read off the seaside brings this place to mind. It is a fusion between a place simply giving you solitude to do your work, and a full-on series of writing workshops. It creates an atmosphere of a writer’s community, but not in an obtrusive way, although there are some responsibilities in addition to just writing, such as occasional readings in the evenings. There is no stipend, but the fellowship covers tuition and housing; food and transport are your own expenses though. Still, a pretty sweet deal!
Reference letters are accepted, but not required
Up to 40 pages of prose
$50 processing fee, non-refundable
Fellowship covers housing, but not food or transportation; no stipend.
Length of Stay: 1 month (July 1-30)
Deadline: Application should be received by March 12, 2011
3. Millay Colony for the Arts, Austerlitz, New York
The Millay Colony for the Arts is very enticing. Not only do they offer one-month residencies (April to November) with private rooms, and meals, but it sits on seven-acres of pastoral land, so plenty of nature walks. Transportation to this little spot two hours and a bit from New York City is the only thing that isn’t covered and needs to be considered. There is no stipend available.
7 copies of artist statement
7 copies of prose (up to 30 pages)
No stipend, but fellowship covers everything except transportation and personal expenses.
Length of Stay: 1 month
Deadline: October 1 regardless of when you want to come
After lots of options, I narrowed the long list, which included Tin House and Sewanee, down to only one. I am excited about a) Being accepted, and b) Wondering even with the work-study scholarship, if I can afford it:
1. Breadloaf Writers Conference, Middlebury, Vermont
This is “the” conference to go to. It lasts ten days and they make no qualms about being the opposite of a quiet writer’s colony. There are a million events to go, including tonnes of workshops lead by writers with stellar credentials under their belts and whose work you’re actually interested in. And it’s in Vermont. There is no application fee, but it is expensive. Fellowships are only available to those who have publishing history, but there is a fun work-study scholarship I’ll go for. While you take part in the conference, you work as a waiter in the dining room part-time. At the end of it, the scholarship covers the $1,935, so you still owe $700 or so, plus food, and transportation. There it all seems very worth it.
Submit up to 6000 words/25 pages or so
No application fee
Stipend not available, but work-study scholarship covers $1,935 (food and transport not included)
Length of Stay: Ten days
Dates: August 10 – August 20
Expenses: $2,620 (tuition, $1,720; room and board, $900).
Deadline: March 1