Screenwriters Need a Change of Scenery Too: The Importance of Writers Residencies

Script contributor Sonya Alexander shares three reasons why screenwriters should consider participating in a writers' residency to focus, network, and find complete isolation in your work.
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When people hear about writers’ residencies, they usually associate them with novelists, poets, scholars or essayists. However, most writers need a change of setting, even screenwriters. In some circles, screenwriting isn't considered as "serious" as novel writing or poetry. What makes screenwriting unique is that after a script is read, it not only lives on in our imaginations, but is transferred to a whole new medium, visual, on the big or small screen. It's no minor fete to accomplish this in 90 to 120 pages.

Sometimes that local coffee shop is too noisy or there are too many distractions at home to get the appropriate amount of focus. Writers’ residencies present the opportunity to network with peers. They also provide an environment that's conducive to being creative, whether it's the quiet of nature at rustic farmhouse or the buzz of urban activity in a city. There are residencies that cater exclusively to women and those that are fashioned for certain age demographics. You might wonder what the difference is between a residency and a retreat. They’re virtually the same with minor differences. Retreats are places that are specifically for writing and for a designated amount of time, where you can commune with others, but you pay for it much like you would a vacation or getaway. Residencies vary, with different stipulations and atmospheres. Sometimes you have to pay for them, other times they offer a stipend or grant.

Here are the top three reasons to attend a retreat:

Commune with nature. If Thoreau did it, so can you. Residencies that are in the woods or forests and on farms and ranches provide a particular type of atmosphere for writers to tap into. Crisp, clean air, birds chirping, and a lush landscape might be the catalyst for the inspiration you need. Following are some of the best residencies if you want to commune with nature and cranking out your script.

The Vermont Studio Center is nestled in scenic Johnson, VT. Of course, there’s no part of Vermont that isn’t scenic and beautiful, but according to Sarah Audsley, the center’s Writing Across Media Facilitator, “The gorgeous natural scenery of northern Vermont invites contemplation and provides an ideal setting for focus and productive writing time. VSC's Visiting Writer Program invites prominent professional writers to join our community during each residency session to offer readings, craft talks, lectures, and one-on-one mentorship to writing residents. The Visiting Artist/Writer Program events are free and open to the public as well. Finally, writing residents are invited to present their work each session and are encouraged to participate in open studios.”

Some other nature escapes are Jack Kerouac’s Cabin in Orlando, Florida, stylish treehouses in Switzerland at Fondation Jan Michalski, lush vineyards in Canada and California with Writing Between the Vines or in a rustic cabin in the woods at Maine’s Hewnoaks.

THE KEROUAC PROJECT

THE KEROUAC PROJECT

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To get feedback from peers. Many writers’ residencies don’t just provide solitude, they provide a sense of community where you can share your work with other writers and get their thoughts on yours. There are some online sites, like American Zoetrope, where you can upload your work and get feedback from other writers, but that’s not the same as breaking bread with someone and getting to know them before they give their opinion on your possible masterpiece.

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The Bellagio Center offers the Arts and Literary Arts Residency in a setting that’s conducive to creating and communicating. Known at the “Pearl of Lake Como,” Bellagio is a coastal village with sett streets and cultivated gardens. Artists of all stripes are invited to apply for the residency. Their work should align with that of the mission of this Rockefeller Foundation-sponsored residency: “Foundation’s mission of promoting the well-being of humankind and produce work that enhances our shared understanding of pressing global or social issues. Successful applicants will demonstrate decades of significant contributions to their artistic field or show evidence of being on a strong upward trajectory for those earlier in their careers.”

The Bogliasco Foundation Fellowships, Hedgebrook, Mineral School, and the Camargo Foundation are a few others where working solo then presenting your work to others is key.

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Getting off the grid. Sometimes putting away the comforts of modern life can ignite raw inspirations. No cellphones. No internet. No distractions.

The Arctic Circle has got to be one of the most remote places to consider for a writer’s residency. And, yes, there’s a residency there! You’ll be on a Tall Ship that navigates the icy international waters of Svalbard. You’re opting out of comfort for an experience that can keep you on your toes, literally, and provide a unique adventure. You might freeze your heinie off, but you may also be motivated to finally finish that gestating script.

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Other isolated, unique environments to work on your screenplay include the Shetland Island Lighthouse Residency, the Offshore Residency (at sea on a sailboat), the Civitella Ranieri Foundation 15th Century medieval castle in Italy, and The Creative Centre in Stöðvarfjörður’s fish factory. Voices of Wilderness in Alaska doesn’t only present seclusion but makes you an active participant of the wilderness by sending you on hikes with a park ranger. An encounter with a grizzly bear could certainly get the creative juices flowing!

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There are tons of writers’ residencies to suit every need. Do a little research on what appeals to your proclivities. Just because you’re a screenwriter doesn’t mean you have to be limited in the environments that you work in. And while those more advanced in their careers can pay to go wherever they want to write, residencies provide an inveterate setting with new people to meet. Screenwriting, unlike other artforms, is as much about being social as being isolated. A residency is a salubrious conduit for creativity and a new avenue for networking. 


Learn more about the craft and business of screenwriting from our Script University courses!

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