The Story Economy Blog
What Is a Writers’ Colony Anyway?
I’ve noticed that in my conversations with clients, friends, and other writers about why I go to a writers’ colony and what I do there, there is an air of mystery around the whole thing. A writer’s colony, people say with fascination. What IS that?
Well, it’s neither retreat, nor conference, nor workshop. It’s also not a commune (though we do all clear the dishes together after dinner).
A writers’ colony is a place where writers go for the distinct and dedicated purpose of writing, in their own space and on their own terms. Sometimes they receive a small stipend to do so and/or it doesn’t cost anything, and sometimes they have to pay their own way. Either way, the writer gets a quiet suite to stay and write.
Dairy Hollow, where I’ve gone the past two Octobers, offers cozy and charming private suites that include a bedroom, bathroom, and gorgeous writing room. (The picture you see here was my writing space.) And food! My god, the food! It is one of the few colonies to offer a home-cooked, family-style dinner Monday-Friday nights, as well as a stocked fridge and pantry with breakfast and lunch options.
Now . . . I have a writing space at home—a beautiful, newly-built office, in fact. I even have a husband who cooks very delicious dinners for the family.
So why would I need to go away to a place to be fed and write more?
It’s very simple: the writing I do at the writers’ colony is just for me. It’s not for clients. It’s not deadline driven. It’s not about content marketing, speechwriting, video scripts, web copy, or brand stories.
It’s about my own stories. It’s time I very purposefully set aside for my own creative work—and I gotta tell you, that gets lost pretty easily otherwise. Whether I’m working on fiction or creative non-fiction, my time at the writers’ colony is a week of pure creative selfishness, where I do exactly what I want all day long, with nobody else’s needs in mind. I write, run, write some more, walk to town, write some more, read a little, walk some more, enjoy a great meal with fellow writers, write some more, read some more . . . and then do it all again the next day—or do it completely differently. It’s all up to me.
Another question people often ask: is there a social aspect? If you want, there can be. At Dairy Hollow, you are always invited to go to any public events associated with the colony, but unless you have a fellowship and are leading a public program, you are never under an obligation to do so. I read from a chapter of my young adult novel at the colony’s monthly “Poetluck” (like potluck) dinner, and it was a wonderfully supportive environment of about 20 other writers. Also, for me, the nightly dinner together with other writers (usually 3 ‚Äì 6 people) is a very nice bonus. I’ve met some great people, who I’ve kept in touch with. Basically, how you manage your existence at the colony is on your own terms.
(I love things on my own terms.)
And what does this all cost? Other colonies range in price, but I can tell you that Dairy Hollow is $75/day without a fellowship. That’s less expensive than just about any B&B or inn—and it’s ten times better because of the supportive atmosphere, the tailor-made writing spaces, the food, and the overall creative vibe of both the space and the town. Eureka Springs, Arkansas is off the beaten path for sure, but still accessible. It’s an eleven-hour drive from Cincinnati, but I choose to drive instead of fly because I enjoy the solitude and romance of the whole thing. The long miles alone give me a chance to reset. (It takes until around the time I see the St. Louis Arch until my breathing deepens and I just let go.)
I stay a week at Dairy Hollow, because that’s what is manageable for me now. I had great fun getting to know Janet, a writer who was staying for a month. When I asked her how she swung that, she said, “I’m retired and my kids are in college.” It’s all about what works for you for where you are in your life.
There are other writers’ colonies out there. The big Eastern ones include Yaddo, MacDowell, and VCCA. There are big ones out west as well, like Ucross, as well as many smaller ones (this post from The Write Life does a great job distilling down different residencies available). I’d love to explore them all! But for now, I’ve found my October happy spot, where Judi gets to be Judi, and nothing else matters for a week.
I encourage any writer (emerging or established) to think about applying for a residency at a writers’ colony. I still have moments where I feel guilty about leaving my family (and paying work) for a week for something with no traditional ROI (versus a writers’ conference, where I get new leads for business). Then I remember that having this time to myself to write, uninterrupted, not only makes me better at my craft, it also makes me a happier person and a better parent to my kids and partner to my husband.
That’s not so mysterious after all.
PS. An essay I worked on while at Dairy Hollow ran in the New York Times last week! Check it out.