My writing residency at Vermont Studio Center

I’m in the middle of a monthlong writing residency at Vermont Studio Center. What does that mean and entail? Read on, writers (and artists)…

What is a writing residency? How is it different from a writing retreat?

There are a few differences. A writing retreat is something you book much like you would a holiday: it’s first come, first served and as long as you pay, you’re in.

A residency is something you apply for and get accepted based on your work, and they’re either free or offer some kind of funding or financial aid.

What is Vermont Studio Center?

Vermont Studio Center is the biggest writers and artists residency in the US. They host up to 50 artists and writers at a time, with about one third writers and two third visual artists. Everyone gets their own bedroom and their own studio to work in.

There are several artist studio buildings, and almost all the writers work in Maverick Studios. Every studio has a view of the Gihon River. Here’s what it looks like from the bridge at sunset:

Would you like to see my studio? Sure, come on in. Every one is named after a writer. I’m in the Jane Austen Studio, I suspect because I’m the only English writer:

What about meals?

The Red Mill is the epicentre of VSC, and three meals are served there a day as part of the program, in tight windows so everyone ends up socialising. This is what the Red Mill looks like:

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The food is great: healthy, wholesome, served buffet-style with a salad bar, and there’s always dessert at dinner.

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What’s the town like?

It’s not what you’d call a metropolis. Johsnon, Vermont is a town of about 3,000 people and it reminds me of Stars Hollow, the town in Gilmore Girls. It’s leafy and quiet, and we’re expecting an explosion of fall colours any minute now. It has an excellent bookstore (with a fabulous selection of fancy chocolate), an art supplies store, a small supermarket, a lovely cafe, a laundromat, one bar, three hair salons…

…and numerous hiking trails:

  Dog Head Falls

Dog Head Falls

Last night we wandered out to the park to go star-gazing, which to a pair of city eyes were pretty spectacular.

What does a typical day look like?

Here’s mine: wake up sometime between 7 and 8:30 (depending on how late I’ve worked the night before), go to breakfast in the Red Mill, where there is also coffee and cereal available 24hrs a day. I tend to linger around meals because the people are so interesting and fun to be around. Then we all go to our studios to work.

At noon, we all go to lunch, then back to our studios.

Around 4:30pm most days, I go to the yoga studio (you can purchase a class pass on the VSC website). Classes usually last until 6pm, when we all go back to the Red Mill for dinner.

There is usually some activity or event in the evening; visiting writers come and give talks, or residents give presentations at the local theatre where everyone gets seven minutes to show slides or do a reading, and often we’ll arrange our own activities (the writers recently did a reading in the local laundromat). Or we’ll head down to the town’s one bar where there is karaoke on Saturdays.

Quite a few of us have formed the habit of going back to our studios after the social event of the evening, and working until midnight or 1am. (I’m pretty tired. I should probably stop doing that.)

At some point in the month visiting writers and artists arrange studio visits, where they will come and appraise your work. I spent an hour with poet, artist and memoirist Sebastian Matthews, who gave incredibly useful and encouraging feedback.

Is it productive?

God, yes. Your only job here is to work on your project. You can squeeze months of work into a couple of weeks.

Does anything about this residency suck?

Yes. This morning, two of my besties at the residency left because their residencies were only two weeks and mine is a month.

And then new people came.

It’s fine, really.

But we are quite mourning the loss of our people, so if you’re offered two weeks at VSC try to come at the start of the month.

How do I apply?

The website is here and you apply through Slideroom.

If you’re interested in the book I’m writing - THIS PARTY’S DEAD, a journey to seven death festivals following the sudden death of my father-in-law - you can preorder it through Unbound.com

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