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Imagine yourself in a secluded cabin overlooking a peaceful lake. With laptop in, well, lap, you gaze out at the local wildlife as you work, uninterrupted, on your novel. The only other people around occupy the cabins nearby, but they are also quietly pursuing their writing projects. Sound ideal? This is the beauty of writers colonies (also known as writers residencies or writers retreats).

The demands of everyday life often leave little time for the actual craft of writing. Between day jobs, errands, family, and the never-ending submission process, it’s hard to carve out time each day for creativity. This is why many writers seek residencies or writers colonies. They offer a place for writers to live in a community of fellow writers and artists for a specific period of time. They offer instructors, discussion groups, and direction for those who want it; best of all, it’s a place where writers can set their own schedule and concentrate on craft. Personal space and free time for creative writing—who wouldn’t jump at the chance?

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Here’s how to begin the search for the perfect retreat:

There are hundreds of writers retreats and residencies to choose from. Would your muse take flight in a cabin in Alaska or in the southwest desert regions? Perhaps even overseas? Keeping transportation costs in mind, narrow your choices to those areas that appeal to you. Search the Internet for “writers colonies,” “writers retreats,” or “writers residencies,” and you’ll be amazed by the diversity of choices. Do an Internet search to find residencies, or see our link above in the first paragraph.

Start the application process early, as spaces are highly coveted and limited. You’ll provide samples of your work and a mission statement outlining your goals and/or projects. You may be asked to submit details on a specific project, although some colonies are more flexible and writers can work on whatever they choose. You’ll also submit professional references and, of course, an application fee. Some programs offer scholarships as well. Learn more: How To Build Up Your Writing Bio.

Your work will be judged by a panel of professionals who will choose the most outstanding candidates. There will also be a short list to replace candidates who are unable to take their spots.

Apply for residencies that pertain to your genre or area of interest, and make note of what they’ll require once you’re there. If you work best in total and utter silence, do not choose a residency in which you will be sharing a house with six other people. Some people are stimulated by urban settings, while others flourish in the mountains. Some programs offer more amenities than others, and some can be more like camping trips. Are you prepared to hike your food in to a remote area, or do you require Internet access and close proximity to a Starbucks? Are you looking to network with other writers or simply hoping for total seclusion?

If you want to work with writing gurus and have your writing critiqued, look for programs where this type of interaction is available. You should also be aware of any expectations—will you be expected to lead a group, teach a class, or share your work with others?

To improve your chances of acceptance, apply to as many programs as you can afford. Summer residencies are the most popular, and you might have more luck applying for spring, fall, and winter programs. Include a few high-end residencies in your application process, plus a few that might be easier to get into. It’s a competitive venture, but one well worth investigating…especially when the cat is throwing up on the carpet, the plumbing’s on the fritz, the car won’t start, and the kids want dinner.

The gift of free, uninterrupted time is yours if you want it. Treat yourself to a writing residency!

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