ou wake up in a strange bed and, for a moment, forget how you got there. Then it all rushes back, and you lay back and smile basking in the glow. You never thought you'd ever do this, but here you are, and you intend to relish every minute.
No, you aren't slipping off on a weekend tryst with that strapping hunk of a neighbor or your svelte office co-worker. You finally nabbed a free ticket to a writing conference, retreat or residency where you can write to your heart's content and share it with like souls.
Travel isn't cheap. But staying pent-up in your study does not sell your manuscript to agents or give you the quality time you need to research, write, and compose. So you make excuses as to why you aren't published and trudge on, stuck in the same rut.
What you need is a getaway just like the commercial teases on television. You aren't greedy or picky and don't even need some place exotic. You need time to write or opportunity to pitch your piece. Oh, yes. And you need it for free. That's not asking much, is it?
Frankly, no, it's not asking too much according to these writers who made their trips happen. Some applied never expecting to win. Others kept their fingers crossed, but they all have nothing but positive to say about their experiences, and you can learn a lot from their efforts and rewards.
Amanda Johnston - Performance Poet
Amanda dreamed of studying with professionals in New York City - a far cry from Elizabethtown, Kentucky. At the prod of a friend, she applied to the Kentucky Foundation for Women (KFW) for an Artist Enrichment Grant to study performance poetry with Taylor Mali and write new performance poems relating to multicultural women's encounters with violence.
By intelligently matching her desires with KFW's mission to assist social change through the arts, she landed $2,300 and lived her dream. When asked the impact on her writing, she replied, "Being funded by a reputable foundation did more than provide me with money. It validated me as a legitimate artist."
With that mindset and an improved outlook she returned to KFW the next year with a request to attend the Cave Canem 2005 Summer Retreat. She credits the success of her first grant and her open communication with KFW for the subsequent award of $2,920. She anxiously awaits those summer weeks to immerse herself in daily writings, readings and workshops with like minds and mentors.
Dianna Winglet - Children's Author
Dianna read the notice about the 2004 Highlights Foundation Children's Writers Workshop at Chautauqua, New York in a newsletter and almost tossed it aside. She had no chance of attending such an event without a scholarship, and winning would be a Cinderella-like dream. But she asked for the application package from the foundation director on a whim. The two key requirements to acquire a scholarship were a serious interest in children's writing and financial need. Dianna definitely had the first, but wondered if she was "needy" enough to qualify.
She submitted the application along with the early chapters of a middle-grade novel-in-progress titled Fly a Little Higher, Pipe Lee - and won the scholarship. When asked what winning did for her writing career, she replied, "Winning was a huge boost to my self-confidence. It renewed my determination to continue my writing/publishing endeavors. I made important writing contacts and received invitations to submit to publishers." The amount was $1,200 plus airfare - expenses she otherwise could not afford.
Brandi Reissenweber - Novelist
Brandi had her eye on grant possibilities for a while before finding Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs. In an afternoon Internet search, she scanned for Chicago-based grants and scholarships where she found the Community Arts Assistance Program.
She leaped at the chance to afford an out-of-state conference when she read the $1,000 grant qualifications. She not only attended a conference at the Fine Arts Work Center and learned new techniques, but she realized that the networking was even more important, and she has maintained that nexus of writers and teachers.
Empowered and enthralled with the experience, she reapplied the next year. Now that she knew the winning combination of thoughts for a successful grant, no wonder she successfully acquired another. This time she enjoyed a two-week retreat at the Mary Anderson Center where she engrossed herself in her novel writing.
But she learned an unexpected lesson along the way. "My stories are stronger and more focused from the work I did at the workshops and on my own at the residency. I'm amazed, though, at how much the grant application process helped to organize my thoughts and goals about my career. The grant process has given a focus to the way I approach my career."
Daphne Muse - Nonfiction Author and Poet
Daphne received her first fellow invitation by the Women's Leadership Institute at Mills College in 1999. She is currently enjoying her fourth year as a fellow. An active woman, Daphne Muse is a writer, social commentator, and poet as well as a curriculum and archival consultant. When asked what made these fellowships useful for her, she replied the faculty status and privileges that gave her access to major research libraries at Stanford and UC Berkeley.
The perks of the fellowship also included free parking, a phone, computer, an office, and opportunities to teach classes. Swimming three mornings a week in the school gym "got the creative juices flowing."
But as with all such opportunities, each participant comes away with wonderful unexpected memories and rewards. Daphne's cherished memories resulted from conversations with women from around the world including a senator from Iceland, an art critic from India, an American physician, a British filmmaker, and a MacArthur Award-winning prison rights advocate. These women were performing some "amazing cutting-edge research and creating tremendous opportunities for women coming up the academic, creative and activists ranks. It was just an absolutely intellectually dazzling and magical experience at so many levels."
Her writing equally amazed her as it grew in leaps and bounds from the experience and stimulation. As a result, she now hosts an NPR radio show, has a book accepted by Abrams Books, writes two more books with Abrams' interest, and once again focuses on her poetry.
Laine Cunningham - Novelist
Laine Cunningham has mastered the ability to acquire funds for her writing goals. An unassuming lady and an ordained interfaith minister, Laine loves storytelling, particularly involving Native American and Australian Aboriginal tribes. It is this love that lead her to write Message Stick, a modern tale set in the Australian outback dealing with the assimilation policy of the Australian government that forced biracial children to live in white families In hope of "breeding out" the population.
The topic matter and a well-prepared proposal landed her the first Jerome Foundation fellowship in 1999. She used the $1,500 to travel to the New York Mills Cultural Center for a four-week residency where she initiated the draft for Message Stick.
In 2001 she successfully reapplied to the Jerome Foundation for another fellowship and received $2,000. This time she attended a four-week residency program at the Cornucopia Arts Center in Lanesboro, Minnesota, and used the experience to edit and rewrite the first half of Message Stick.
The Lake Regions Arts Council selected her application in 2002 and issued $1,500 for another four-week residency at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts in Sweet Briar, Virginia. She continued massaging her novel.
All of these residencies culminated into a coupe for Laine when she won the 2003 James Jones First Novel Fellowship, a $6,000 award for a first novel. While the money gave her freedom to write, the impact of the grant did not hit her until she attended the James Jones conference. She felt she'd graduated to another level in her writing career.
"For the first time in my life I was part of a strong, supportive group of successful professionals. They welcomed me warmly." The connections made at that conference amazed her and continues to serve her well.
The list goes on and on. Writers quietly win fellowships and residencies with little fanfare, and enjoy the solitude and purposeful focus so difficult in the normal race of life. Some of them are part-time writers needing time away from the non-writing job. Others want silence away from city and family responsibilities. And yet others seek a change of scenery distant from the desk in the same old corner.
Some are educated, some are activists and others are policemen, nurses, teachers, and clerks wanting to give their writing dream some dedicated attention. But regardless of the history, the genre, the education or the experience, grants exist for writers to enhance their efforts and target goals. Arts nonprofits, local governments, retreat facilities and colleges offer these opportunities. Do not hesitate to ask for the free ride. You just might be the next one to land a ticket for the bus.
C. Hope Clark is founder of FundsforWriters.com and author of The Shy Writer: An Introvert's Guide to Writing Success.