Why every writer needs a writing residency

8 Mar 2022 | The Writing Process

Time and space to write is a precious thing for every writer, which is why a writing residency is so damn powerful.

Above and beyond the daily time you’re able to carve out of your busy schedule, going to a writing residency offers a beautiful pause for you to focus totally on your work.

But there’s a stubborn idea I have encountered again and again that I’d like to dispel – that writing residencies are for established writers only.

That’s bunkum.

I have been very fortunate to have been granted four writing residencies in my time as an emerging writer – two up at the Katharine Susannah Prichard Writer’s Centre in the Perth hills, one at Varuna, the National Writers House in the Blue Mountains, and a residency at John Curtin’s historic home in Cottesloe through the WA National Trust.

These residences were granted to me before, during, and after the publication of my debut novel Locust Summer and had very little to do with my place in the artistic career ladder.

I got them because I applied for them and was lucky enough for my work to be picked.

Don’t ask, don’t get!

My misty desk at Varuna, the National Writers House in the Blue Mountains of NSW.

A writing residency can turbocharge your work

My writing mentor Laurie Steed recently accepted an offer for publication from Fremantle Press for a memoir he wrote at Varuna during a writing residency.

In just two weeks he completed a draft of the manuscript that – after revisions and editing – will be published as Better Than Me: The Story of a Dad.

That’s the power of a residency. Time and space to write. To focus on your work and get it done, with no distractions.

Above all, a residency gives you permission to do the work. You don’t have to justify it to anyone. They’re there to work too!

Laurie Steed at Varuna – a good place.

You don’t have to write at all

But writing residencies aren’t just about writing.

They are for thinking. Discussing your work with other writers who might be there with you. For taking long walks in the bush, alone, so you can hear your thoughts undiluted.

A few months ago, a writer got in touch with me to ask for some tips on making the most of their residency in WA’s south.

I wrote back with some tips, but added:

“Let the residency breathe. Let it be what it is… from the outside looking in it seems there could be pressure to hit a certain word count or achieve a certain amount of progress. But for me the value of a residency is the time and space to think. To sit with the work. To be a writer as we’d like to be always.

“In my day-to-day practice I’m always a bit rushed. A stolen hour or two wherever possible. So, I HAVE to write. But with a residency, suddenly all that’s lifted. And naturally we feel the pressure to just go full throttle. And you probably will – I always do eventually. But not all the time. All work and no play…”

We place so much pressure on ourselves to write in our daily lives. With a residency, you have the chance to escape that.

To just be a writer. And when you take that pause, the power comes.

The front veranda at John Curtin’s house in Cottesloe was a great spot to write – or just think.

Apply for these writing residencies now

COVID has affected everyone’s ability to get away and do what they want to do.

But things are opening again, and if you can access a residency then go for it. They do come with a sacrifice of family time, perhaps even financial loss if you work for yourself or can’t take it as holiday.

But they are worth it – trust me!

If you’re writing literary fiction, you should apply for the 2022 Scribe Varuna Fellowships, which offers “publishing intensive mentorships provide a unique opportunity for up to four writers developing exceptional new work.”

It’s open to anyone, so give it a go. You never know your luck, especially if you’ve done the work. And if you miss out, keep an eye out, Varuna is always offerings residencies you can apply again.

Closer to home in WA, KSP offers a fabulous programme of residencies year-round that you can apply for at various points. You can also just pay to stay, which is always a good idea.

The Minderoo Foundation also offers grants and residencies, with its Artist Fund open now for Expressions of Interest in the latest round, with writers encouraged to apply.

There are also residencies available from time to time at FAWWA, and The WA National Trust will also hopefully have its INSPIRE residencies again.

Like my writing mate Tom de Souza always says when it comes to these kinds of things, “better odds than the TAB!”

Go for it.

Want to learn more about writing? 

Why not sign up for my writing course?

The backyard at John Curtin’s place. Great for outdoor work!


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