Happy Birthday WriterHouse!

On May 21st, WriterHouse, a community for writers in Charlottesville, VA, celebrates its four year anniversary.  As many of you know, I was one of the seven founding members.  On May 21st, 2008, there were just the seven of us.  Just seven writers who wanted to share the community we had found in our critique group.  Since then, WriterHouse has grown to nearly 200 members and taught hundreds of students in classes in fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and songwriting.  There’ve been seminars on getting your work published and writing humor and writing memoir and promoting your work.  Classes for advanced writers and beginners and everyone in between.  If you can imagine a class or seminar, we’ve probably offered it.

From the website:  “The mission of WriterHouse is to promote the creation and appreciation of literature and to encourage the development of writers of all levels by providing affordable, secure workspace and meeting space, high quality writing instruction, and literary events for the public.

How it began…

WriterHouse began over a table littered with coffee cups and manuscripts. Our writer’s group had been meeting together once a week for over three years in a Charlottesville coffee shop to share our work. Although we were different ages and from different walks of life, we shared a passion for writing.

While writing is a solitary activity, we as writers thrive in community — in the sharing of ideas and questions and in cultivating a space for the craft. For us this happens for two hours every Thursday.

What if we could help other writers find a space and a writing community? The idea of a house emerged, a space dedicated to the craft of writing. And from that could come writing classes, programs, readings — a writing community.

So in the spring of 2008 — we launched WriterHouse. We hope here, you’ll find a home.”

I talk to anyone who will listen about the value of community to writers.  All you have to do to understand what I’m preaching about is to go to a WriterHouse event or class.  There you will meet passionate, dedicated artists who support each other and give each other encouragement.  Who commiserate over disappointments, and celebrate each other’s successes.  I’ve seen countless writers grow and blossom there.  Many members have had their first publications since taking a class at WriterHouse.  Many have held their very first readings there in front of members and friends.  There are kids who might not have found a safe place to share their writing if it weren’t for the classes at WH. And adults who might have continued to hide their stories or their poems in journals, convinced no one would want to hear what they had to say.

It’s hard for me to list all the ways WriterHouse has had an impact on my life as a writer.  I’ve met incredible authors I might not have otherwise met, gotten to know many talented men and women who share a passion for this thing we call art, and above all, have felt a part of each and every success story WriterHouse has played a part in.

I am honored and proud to be a part of WriterHouse’s history, and will continue to be a part of its future, no matter where I live.  To the incredible and tireless co-founders Rachel Unkefer, Elizabeth McCullough, Catherine Crittenden, Hope Mills, Burnley Hayes, and Hilary Steinitz, thank you for letting me be a part of such an amazing dream.  To the board members who continue to believe in the dream and carry on the mission, thank you.  And to the members and organizations who support us, thank you for helping to make the dream of a true writers’ community a reality.

If you live in the Charlottesville area, support WriterHouse by becoming a member, taking a class, or attending events for the public.  Check the WriterHouse website for upcoming classes (the next session starts June 11 – info will be posted soon) and events. Even if you don’t live in the area, please consider making a donation.  Help keep the dream alive and help nurture the future voices of literature. 

Polish up your best writing and apply for a residency today

It’s that time of year again – the time when I start dreaming of fall in a cabin somewhere, with nothing to do but write. Yes, I know it’s only spring, and soon it’ll be beach time, but deadlines for fall and winter residencies are looming, and I’m itching to apply.

For the first time in several years I won’t be applying for residencies, though.  Too much else is going on.  Life has interfered.  I’m still trying to get settled in Charleston, and I’ll probably be going up to Charlottesville sometime in June or early July to get my things out of storage (after 2 years, lord knows what I’ll find).  Then I’m headed to Boston for a few weeks in early September.  I’ve decided that the rest of the year I need to stay put and try writing in my own space.  There’s always winter 2013.

But damn, those deadlines make me antsy.  To make myself feel a little better, I’m going to use my energy encouraging other writers to apply.  So, I’m going to list some deadlines coming up and a brief overview of the programs, along with links to the sites.  (Check out my earlier post for some suggestions on how to decide which residencies to apply to.)

MacDowell Colony – April 15 for residencies October – January.  Peterborough, New Hampshire.  The Holy Grail of residencies, it’s very competitive, but I’ve known writers without books to their credit who’ve been accepted.  There are no residency fees and all meals are provided.  Visual artists, writers, and composers all stay at MacDowell.  There are 32 studios on 450 acres.  I haven’t gotten up the nerve to apply here yet, but plan to next year.

Hambidge – April 15 for September – December residency period.  Northern Georgia.  Two to eight weeks, 9 writers and visual artists at a time.  It is a bit remote, but amazing.  Some of my experiences are chronicled in previous posts.  Artists contribute $200 a week, but there are some limited scholarships.  Dinners are provided Tuesday – Saturday.

Virginia Center for the Creative Arts – May 15 for residencies October – January.  Two weeks to two months, 25 writers and visual artists at a time.  Artists are asked to contribute what they can afford to the daily cost.  Housing is in dorms, and bathrooms are shared.  Great for getting to know other writers and artists.  All meals are provided.

The Studios of Key West – May 15 for October 2012 – August 2013.  Key West, baby.  When I went there was only one resident at a time, but now they have several other studios.  The residency is free, but no food is provided.  Apply for this – it’s fabulous.

Ragdale – May 15 for residencies Sept – December.  Located outside Chicago.  $35 a day fee, but there is limited financial aid available.  8 – 12 artists and writers at a time, 2 – 6 week residencies.  Dinners are provided 6 nights a week.  This one is at the top of my list to apply for – I’ve heard it’s wonderful.

There are so many more, but these are the deadlines coming up.  Now get to work on that app – don’t you want to be sitting in a cabin in the woods (or a cottage in the mango trees) in November reading and writing?

To enter or not to enter…that is the question

Last week I got an email letting me know that the winner of the Compass Rose Flash Fiction Competition had been chosen and it wasn’t me.  I was, however, named as a finalist, and while that doesn’t get my story in print or earn me any money, it does validate my belief that the story is a good one, and just needs to find the right home.

When I first started sending out my work, I unrealistically entered competition after competition.  Prestigious ones. You know, Iowa Review and the big boys.  Competitions that normally have thousands of entries, from thousands of seasoned writers.  I didn’t know any better.  I figured my odds were as good as anyone else’s.

They weren’t.  I had no idea what those competitions were looking for.  Had no idea just how bad my odds were.  So I optimistically sent in my stories with $15 and $20 checks, and then waited until inevitably I got the letter or email saying thanks for entering, we had lots of great entries this year, sorry yours wasn’t one of them (not really, but that’s what it felt like).  Basically I was contributing to the prize funds for other writers, writers who actually did know what they were doing.

These days, I’m much more educated, and more selective, about entering fiction competitions.  There are a few criteria I use to determine whether or not sending in an entry is worth my time and money.  (This assumes, naturally, that the story is competition ready.)

1)      Is the competition on the up-and-up?  Scams are all over the internet, taking advantage of naïve writers who just want to see their work in print. Do your research.  Poets & Writers is a great place for this – they have a whole section on their website for legitimate competitions and their deadlines.

2)       Is this a competition that’s worth winning?  What makes it worth winning?  Adulation, money, publication in a great journal?  A win in the Joe Blow Write Like a Pro Competition does not do much for your CV.

3)      Do you have a chance in hell of winning?  Is this a competition that will attract thousands of entries, including those from already frequently published writers?  Look for competitions that offer the best odds, like those for emerging writers.  Choose respected journals, but maybe not the holy grail of journals, like  Missouri Review, at least not at first.

4)      How much is the entry fee and how much is the prize fund?  Is the pay-off great enough for the risk?  Run the other way if you see an entry fee of $15 or $20 for a $100 first prize.  This is a money making scheme, and it won’t be you who’s making the money.  On the other hand, $2000 and $3000 prizes are hard to win.  Competition is fierce, and the number of entries large, especially if the entry fee is low.  Look at it like a business.  If they’re only charging $5, but the prize fund is $3000, they have to assume they’ll get a lot of entries to cover prizes and make some money for their magazine.  That, my friends, is the primary purpose of competitions.

5)      What are previous winning stories like?  If you write straight, simple narrative, but the past two or three winners of a competition are experimental and edgy, then that’s probably not the competition for you.  Once again, do your homework.

I would recommend you start with small competitions and work your way up.  Enter local contests. One of my first publications was as winner of an annual short story contest run by The HooK, a weekly newspaper in Charlottesville, VA.  I walked away with a nice check and a publication credit, and was a minor celebrity in my circle of friends for a few weeks.

So, make sure the story is as good as it can be, do your research, and choose competitions with the best odds.  And know that even if you don’t win, just entering does some very positive things for your writing.  You’re much more likely to revise and revise again if it costs you money to submit.  You spend time researching journals and past winners, which will give you a better idea of what they’re looking for when you choose to submit to them again. You learn to carefully follow submission guidelines and to take deadlines seriously.  And most importantly, you’re sending your stories out into the world, believing in them.  Which, in the end, is what every serious writer has to do.