Writing Retreats Redux

Note from Andromeda: At this moment I’m headed south and east to be alone for a week, working on my novel at a writers’ hotel in the Virginia countryside. I considered applying for a more formal residency, but the deadlines, timelines and locations didn’t match up with my own needs to do some concentrated research in a specific locale. For that reason, I put together my own self-funded, low budget retreat (no applications! no potential rejections!) — but I love the other kind as well. Heck, I like any kind of retreat, even if it’s inside one’s own home. My only requirements are: solitude, limited or no Internet access, and lots of good drinks and snacks (I just loaded up on cheese, crackers, apples, salami, and wine; no, it’s not a good way to lose weight, but it will be a good way to get some pages done).

Because I’m traveling, I decided to use today’s post to re-run a favorite 2009 blogpost by Nancy Lord, which I remember whetting my appetite for both travel and writing. If you’re more inclined to an accidental retreat, try this 2011 post by Rich Chiappone. And if you’ve got your own wonderful retreat planned for the near future, or know of some great opportunity that might stir someone to beat a retreat, let us know.

By Nancy Lord

It happens that I’m at a writing retreat — colony, residency, whatever name you want to give it — right now. It also happens that (I’m quite sure of this) I’ve been to more writing retreats (15 different ones, some more than once) than any other Alaska writer, which must make me an expert on this subject.  …

How do you find these places? They exist all over the country and the world. Some are for writers only, while most host a mix of artists. Many of them belong to an organization called The Alliance of Artists Communities, which has a helpful website. Go there, click on “residencies,” and start dreaming—or filling out applications. (Note — there is a $25 annual subscription fee for detailed listings.)

You’ll find that some colonies charge large fees, some small, some charge you nothing (except you have to get yourself there), and some offer scholarships that include travel costs and stipends. Of course, the “free” ones are the most selective, so when you apply you will want to impress them with your very best work! (The admission panels base acceptances mostly on work sample quality, though they also look to see that you have a well-thought-out plan for using your time, and for diversity—which is where being from Alaska can help!)

There is (at least) one Alaska retreat program—a small one operated by the Island Institute in Sitka (which also hosts the summer Sitka Symposium.) This is not a colony but an opportunity for one writer at a time to be in residence and do his/her work. I had the privilege once, for a winter month, and loved getting to know Sitka and some of its people as well as taking advantage of the two libraries there.

So, where am I now? Ragdale Foundation, in Lake Forest, Illinois. I’m starting the last of my four weeks with eleven other artists (writers, visual artists, performance artists, and one composer) in a complex of buildings surrounding what was once the summer home of famous Chicago architect Howard Shaw. I didn’t bring my camera (my habit is to bring nothing with me except what I need for whatever writing project I’m focused on) so I can’t include any photos here—of my charming room in the old house, or the (snow-covered) gardens and prairie out back, or the group of us celebrating on Inaugural Day. You will have to imagine—or look at photos on the Ragdale website.

Typical day? Wake up slowly, help myself to breakfast (and the New York Times) in kitchen, go to desk and work without interruption. When the hunger pains start, head for kitchen again—the other one, the one with last night’s steak and mashed potato left-overs in the fridge. Back to work. Mid-afternoon, walk on the prairie, look at the remains of a rabbit and try to figure out who (fox, hawk, owl?) ate it. (Another day I might walk the mile to the library in town.) Then, sit at desk, write two pages and delete three. Resist checking e-mail. Dinner at 6:30 (created by Linda, our marvelous chef), with wine we take turns buying. Evening: reading in a comfy chair in my well-lit room, journal writing, trying to solve the writing problem I was having all day. Tonight, a break from that: fellow resident Marianne Boruch, a fabulous poet, and I, feeling much less than fabulous but with some new pages that give me a certain satisfaction, will present short readings in the Ragdale living room. No one has to come, but everyone will. The conversations may go on long afterwards, there by the fire, the next day, years after.

Not everyone, I know, can leave family and work responsibilities to go off and write in a retreat setting. Not every writer even wants to. But if you want and you can, I’m here to attest that it can be very, very nice—so very affirming of yourself as a writer—to accept such a gift.

2 thoughts on “Writing Retreats Redux”

  1. The Sitka program I mentioned in the post has been revised to be collaborative and has a deadline of
    May 20 for the fall session. They invite applications for TWO PARTICIPANTS who wish to COLLABORATE ON A PROJECT, or TWO PARTICIPANTS WHO EACH HAVE INDIVIDUAL PROJECTS and who anticipate SYNERGISTIC BENEFIT from each other’s presence. At least one of the applicants must be a writer with an interest in the ISLAND INSTITUTE’S scope of work. The second applicant may also be a writer, or he or she may work in another field (e.g. arts, science, history, philosophy). The historic Sheldon Jackson Campus will be the home of the residency program. Accommodations with a kitchen will be provided, along with a stipend for food costs. Three residency periods are available: Fall, 2013; January 2014; and Spring 2014. Get the full info at http://www.islandinstitutealaska.org.

  2. Nancy, thanks so much for the reminder – we'll include in tomorrow's blog roundup.

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