As Virginia Woolf rightly pointed out, artists need a "room of their own" — physical and symbolic — if they are to create great works. There are a lot of ways to achieve such a thing if you're a writer, but one tried and true method is a writers' residency. Because sometimes getting into the right head space to write also requires you to get into the right physical space, too.
Of course, there are all sorts of writing residencies out there. Some require you to shell out lots of money, some don't charge at all, and some will even pay you a stipend. At some residencies, you're part of a community of artists and fellow writers, while at others, it's just you and a keyboard. Some are open to everyone, some are invitation only. Some take place in exotic locales around the world, and some can be found in thoroughly ordinary cities. So whatever environment would best help you focus on your writing, chances are, there's a writer-in-residence program that fits your needs.
Residency programs like the MacDowell Colony and Yaddo are highly well-known, but there are also dozens of much smaller — and often much stranger — programs, too. Like, for instance, the famous Amtrak residency announced in 2014. But Amtrak isn't the only place offering unconventional writers' residencies opportunities. So if you're looking for some residency programs to apply to in 2016 that are off the beaten bath or out of the ordinary, here are some ideas.
Have you ever wanted to live in a bridge — or at least, to spend a lot of time working there? Well, if you live in Seattle or the surrounding area, you could get the chance. The Seattle Office of Arts and Culture have teamed up with the Seattle Department of Transportation to offer a writer-in-residence position in the northwest tower of the historic Fremont Bridge, which crosses the Lake Washington Ship Canal. A movable bridge, it lifts up for ships around 35 times a day, and it's been in use since 1917. However, the northwest tower has long been unoccupied. It does, however, have a desk, a chair, overhead lights, windows and an air-conditioning unit, and what else do you really need?
The chosen writer in residence will be tasked with the goal of creating a literary work to honor the bridge ahead of it's 100-year anniversary, and will have a budget of up to $10,000 for the project and any costs associated with the residency. It is available to fiction and non-fiction writers, as well as poets. The deadline to apply is February 16.
If you're more the outdoorsy type, a residence at Artcroft might be more your thing. Located on a working cattle farm in Kentucky, writers and artists are expected to help with preparing meals and other chores as well as with community art programs. Writers-in-residence can also help out with the animals or the gardens as part of the work exchange. So if you've ever wanted to work on a cattle farm, this is your chance.
Residencies at Artcroft last four weeks and are available between May 1 and October 31. There are also fellowships and other funding options available.
For artists who might be looking for something a little more permanent, there is perhaps no residency better suited than the Write A House program in Detroit. Looking to help stabilize some of Detroit's vulnerable neighborhoods and to provide vocational training to young people in the area, Write A House is a non-profit that renovates local houses while training local youth and then gives the house away to a writer. And yes, you are reading that right — if you are chosen for this residency, you are given a house, which you then legally own and get to live in.
So far the project has given away two houses, one in 2014 and one in 2015. The program is only open to writers classified as having moderate income, and they must be prepared to make the house their primary residence. Writers of non-fiction, fiction, and poetry are all welcome to apply. You can find out more about the neighborhood and their selection process, as well as keep your eyes open for the 2016 application to open, at the Write A House website here.
Instead of taking inspiration from historic structures, the natural environment, or a neighborhood culture, what if you could instead draw inspiration from one of the great American 20th century writers? The Kerouac projects offers four residencies each year for writers who want to stay in the Florida cottage where Kerouac wrote Dharma Bums. Which could then also become the place where you wrote your great magnum opus, if you're lucky enough to be selected. After all, Kerouac had so much creative energy, there's bound to be plenty left to soak up.
The residency lasts for three months, and submissions can be poetry, plays, screenplays, fiction, or non-fiction. Applications for the 2016-2017 sessions are due March 13, 2016.
The National Parks are some of America's greatest monuments, and some of our most inspiring places. So what if you could spend some time in them just focused on writing? Well, you're in luck. That National Park service's Art in the Parks program offers all sorts residency options for artists of all kinds, including writers. There are literally dozens of offerings, ranging from a remote wilderness cabin in Alaska to a studio space in the Everglades, you can find the perfect environment to spark your creativity — though you should be aware that a lot of these locations are going to involve a decent amount of "roughing it."
You can find links to individual park programs on the National Parks website here.
There's plenty of inspiration to be found in the U.S., true, but why not also look further afield? Why not, for instance, go to the city that once boasted writers such as F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway? That's right, Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore in Paris, one that has hosted an informal writer-in-residence program for more than 60 years. Since George Whitman opened the shop in 1951, the doors have been open to all sorts of writers and artists, who Whitman dubbed "tumbleweeds." Tumbleweeds looking to stay at the store were only required to do three things: read a book every day, help out in the shop for a few hours, and write a biography of themselves, long or short, to give to Whitman.
Over the years, tens of thousands of tumbleweeds have stayed in the store, and even though Whitman himself has since passed on, the doors are still open and the policy still stands. So if you like your artist residencies informal in the extreme and with a long and storied history (literally, there are stories of former tumbleweeds all through the shop), then it might be time to head to Paris.