(First posted on the LiteratureWorks website: 11th July 2015)
What is a writer’s residency?
In the UK at least, there is a distinct difference between a “writer’s residency” and a “writer’s retreat”. A retreat offers time and a place to write, often in the company of other artists, but there is no fee attached. As a writer in residence, you will work for a host institution. Residencies may be based pretty much anywhere: a university, a school, a theatre, a business, a library, a prison, a hospital, a zoo – even in your own home, if you become a “virtual” or “online” writer in residence.
How long does a residency last for?
Residencies can last from a few weeks to a few years. A university-based residency usually runs for one academic year, during which time you may typically be required to be on site for around two days a week, but this is a guideline only. The Royal Literary Fund offers ‘Fellowships’ in universities throughout the UK, for writers who have had two or more books published. RLF Fellows generally work for two days a week in a university, helping students to develop their writing skills
What will be expected of me?
The residency brief will set out the precise demands of the post for which you’re applying, but in general, as well as pursuing his or her own writing project, a writer in residence is expected to contribute in some way to the life of the host organisation. The requirements of each post can vary enormously but typically include offering one-to-one tutorials (to help aspiring writers with their own work), giving talks, workshops or readings, and perhaps writing a blog or other type of report on the progress of the residency.
What should not be expected?
You’re under no obligation to take on extra tasks that haven’t been outlined in your job specification or contract. Writers in residence who are based within universities and schools should not be expected to take on normal teaching tasks or to stand in for regular teachers while they take time out from the class.
What will a residency offer me as a writer?
Like a retreat, a residency can offer you time and space to concentrate on your craft, away from everyday distractions. Uninterrupted time for working on your writing in this way can make a critical difference to the development of your craft. A residency also provides an opportunity to broaden your experience, raise your profile, reach a wider audience and expand your networks. On top of all that, the income should mean you are able to clear your diary of other, less desirable commitments.
So where should I look for such an opportunity?
Writing residencies are advertised online, in the national press and in specialist journals such as The Times Literary Supplement and the London Review of Books. There are also several specialist websites with listings of current vacancies. See next point for details.
Residency Listings on Websites
The following websites have comprehensive, searchable databases of current residency vacancies, both in the UK and abroad:
Creating your own residency
It’s also possible (though more time-consuming) to initiate, manage and secure funding for your own residency. Start by making a list of the type of place you would most like to work (library, school, theatere, business, etc) and then gather information on venues that fit the bill in your chosen locale. Next, you’ll need to put together a proposal that will include the suggested length of the residency; how many days you’ll work per week; what you will provide for the host organisation during that time (e.g. weekly workshops, one-to-one writing surgeries and so on); and what you want from the organisation (e.g. work space, time for your own writing project). Identify the most appropriate person within the organisation to approach with your idea, and send out an initial letter to gauge interest.
What if they ask me to secure my own funding?
If the host organisation is interested, they may be willing to provide funding for the residency themselves, or to match funding from elsewhere. The Arts Council is an excellent first port of call for advice and help in this area. www.artscouncil.org.uk
Before signing up…
Make sure you know what you’re signing up to.
Remember to look closely at the fine print of the job specification or contract. Some residencies cover the costs of extra expenses, while others do not. Some require you to undertake a large amount of work for the host organisation, while others are more modest in their demands. 11. If you’re at all unsure, get your contract checked by an expert. If you’re not sure what exactly is being asked of you and you can’t get the answers you want from the host organisation, you may want to seek outside advice. The Society of Authors offers its members free advice on contracts – though you do have to pay a membership fee to join.
Check you’re insured.
If you’re going to be working in a public space – especially in schools – you’ll need to be insured. Check what the situation is with your host organisation. If you find you’re not covered and think you need to be, the Society of Authors offers its members advice and discounts on specialist insurance, including public liability insurance and professional indemnity insurance.
Don’t let the residency become all-consuming.
While in residence, it’s vital that you strike a balance between carrying out the duties of your residency and continuing with your own writing. You should be clear with the host organisation from the outset about how much you are prepared to take on. Remember to protect the time you have put aside for writing: a residency which leaves you no time to write would be counter-productive. Most organisations are aware with this, and want you to be actively pursuing your own writing while in post.
How do I run a tutorial?
Most one-to-one writing tutorials are 30-60 minutes long. You’ll need to read through work that is brought to you and discuss it with its author. The advice you give may include general or detailed feedback on the piece you’ve been shown, general approaches for developing style, demonstration of relevant writing techniques and so on.
How do I go about structuring a workshop?
There are different styles of workshop, but many are run along the following lines: 1. The writer presents the workshop’s theme – for instance, “Beginnings and Endings” – and gives a brief introduction to the topic. 2. Published examples may be passed round for discussion and to model successful (and sometimes less successful!) approaches. 3. A writing exercise may then be set, based on the workshop’s theme. Participants are typically given around 20 minutes to write. 4. Participants reconvene for group feedback. During feedback, some or all participants may read their pieces aloud for comment from other group members and/or the tutor. Some workshop leaders ask their students to offer one compliment and one criticism for each piece of writing they comment on. It’s important to stress that participants should never be cruel when offering criticism.