Friday Find: September Giveaways for Writers (Redux)

The reason I am reminding you about the September Giveaways coordinated by “The Writer Mama” (Christina Katz) is twofold. First, Christina’s energy in maintaining this project over this past week is impressive enough–the idea that she’s going to keep this going another three weeks is almost awe-inspiring.

And second, well, tomorrow is the day that the giveaways will include two of our e-books. So if you want to try to snag free copies of our “Guide to No-Cost Literary Contests and Competitions” AND our “Directory of Paying Essay Markets”, tomorrow you’ll have your chance. Be sure to visit Christina’s blog on Saturday, September 8. Look for the post about the September 8 giveaway (I promise it won’t be hard to find, but I’ll try to post an update here with the link in case that helps). And comment as directed. Good luck! (I would love for one of this blog’s readers to win!)


No-Cost Contest Update

It wasn’t easy (mostly because of a troublesome technical glitch), but the job is complete: The latest version of our famous Guide to No-Cost Literary Contests and Competitions has been uploaded and is ready for you! As always, “dead” programs have been removed; new opportunities have been added; and all links have been checked (and updated as appropriate). The result of this semi-yearly update: 266 competition possibilities for your writing, not one of which requires entry or processing or application or reading fees. Read more about this fabulous guide (and download a free preview with several sample listings) right here.

From My Bookshelf: An Insider’s Guide to Creative Writing Programs

This review originally appeared in the January 2007 issue of The Writer magazine.

Help for Choosing a Writing Program

An Insider’s Guide to Creative Writing Programs: Choosing the Right MFA or MA Program, Colony, Residency, Grant, or Fellowship
by Amy Holman, Prentice-Hall Press/Penguin, 208 pages plus CD-ROM. Paperback, $18.95

Review by Erika Dreifus

If you’re tired of Googling for online lists of MFA programs or writing grants or residencies, and if you’re not interested in seeking separate print volumes dedicated to each of the same, Amy Holman’s new book, An Insider’s Guide to Creative Writing Programs will make you very happy. A published poet and literary consultant who indeed demonstrates an insider’s knowledge of the field, Holman has assembled a no-nonsense guide to several key aspects of writers’ professional development. Both beginners and more advanced writers should be grateful.

Holman defines “creative writing programs” broadly; she wants to “open your minds to possibilities you might have overlooked, thought were closed to you, or worried were too hard to pursue, and to change your mind about them.” So she doesn’t limit herself to academic (MA or MFA) programs in creative writing–although she profiles 60 such programs, including some administered through the popular low-residency option, in the book, and lists another 93 on the accompanying CD-ROM. She covers residencies, colonies, grants, and fellowships, too.

The book’s first sections introduce you to this vocabulary and offer advice on “choosing the right program at the right time” and preparing an application. Holman provides the context, background and guidance for you to proceed on your own, because, as she rightly notes, “How you become encouraged about your writing ability, how you improve, hone, or perfect it depends largely on your personality and also on your personal engagement to the literary community to date.” She wants to help you identify the “right environments” for your own development as a writer; she understands that that will be a personal process.

Program profiles fill most of the book. Those covering graduate schools (presented alphabetically, as Holman has wisely avoided ranking them) stand out for the way they highlight distinguishing features/program “perks” while following an economical and easy-to-follow template: For each program, Holman tells you what kind of degree it offers, a “nutshell” summary, a faculty list, and information on “defraying the cost.” Non-academic program descriptions are similarly highly individualized. Holman also does the reader a favor by signaling when colonies or grants are truly open to early-career writers and when they’re really looking for very experienced, very published people. Holman complements the listings with informative quotations throughout.

Since Holman limited the number of profiles printed in the book (which keeps the text both readable and portable), one of An Insider’s Guide to Creative Writing Programs‘s selling points is its accompanying CD-ROM, “with listings and links for 300 programs.” This bonus sounds fantastic, and in many ways it is (especially in listing and linking programs located outside the United States). But take note of my experience:

*I could not initially access the promised searchable database on my Mac; when I tried the disc on a library PC, that problem seemed to disappear.

*The desktop left me confused. I didn’t know which file/icon to click; I would have appreciated a file labeled “Read me first.” When I did find the database, I learned that I could search only one category at a time (type of program, state, or subject of program).

*Although I searched successfully for “low-residency MA programs,” an attempt to identify “low-residency MFA programs” yielded what seemed to be a list of residency and low-residency programs combined.

*Similarly, the 300 promised programs are divided among multiple categories (Resident MA; Resident MFA; Low-Residency MFA; Low-Residency MA; Artist Colonies and Writers Colonies; Artist-in-Residence Programs in National Parks and Community; Academic Writer-in-Residence Programs; Grants and Fellowships; and Paid Writing Spaces). Holman provides an excellent introduction, but to identify additional programs you’ll still need to make use of other resources (including those helpfully linked in a “Resources” section).

*If you’re hoping that the CD-ROM will contain program descriptions similar to those Holman provides in the book, be forewarned that it offers program links only. In other words, you won’t find another 93 MA/MFA program descriptions there.

Those observations notwithstanding, Holman has done something exceedingly useful here. “No matter at what stage–beginning, emerging, or established–you are in your writing career, you have goals,” Holman writes. An Insider’s Guide to Creative Writing Programs will help you meet them.

Residency Notes: Post #3

At the end of my previous post in this series, I promised to tell you about the daily routine I followed while at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation this fall.

Meals were served up at MacBarn three times each day (except for Sunday morning breakfast). So at 8AM, noon, and 6PM you’d find me (and everyone else) up there. All of us (the seven residents plus staff members) sat around a gorgeous table and ate. The cooking was very high-level (much fancier than I’m used to). Our first breakfast, for instance, included scrambled eggs; chicken and apple sausaged; hot blueberry muffins; English muffins; cereal; yogurt; fruit; juices; coffee/tea. In other words, there was something for everyone. Lunch was, thankfully, usually lighter! Dinners often included fish/seafood (absolutely fresh–we were in Maine, after all!). One happy night we had a huge lobster fest.

After breakfast I usually returned to “my” place and started working. Since Internet access was pretty limited (no high-speed connections; up at MacBarn I could use the “public” computers and in my Irish House room I dialed-up through my own account but that got expensive) I was able to focus a little better than I do at home! When I needed to research on the ‘net, though, I did get a little frustrated.

Anyway, I tended to take a quick jog late in the morning, just before lunch. The afternoon was more or less the same as the morning–writing and reading–though I often snuck a nap in, too. What a life!

Fridays had their own routine. After breakfast, we were all driven into the nearest town-with-a-laundromat (Damariscotta). We spent the morning doing our laundry (while my laundry was drying I usually walked on over to the nearby public library or bookstore or ran a couple of other small errands).

As you can probably tell, it was a relaxing, refreshing experience all around!

Residency Notes: Post #2

Here’s the second installment of a short series of posts about my recent residency at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation.

In my previous post, I discussed the application process–how I found this particular opportunity and what I was thinking as I applied. Now I’ll tell you what I found when I got there.

The place–both the Foundation’s buildings and the general location (an hour north of Portland)–is stunning. Residents are housed in one of two buildings: MacBarn (pictured elsewhere on the blog) and what’s called the “Irish House.” I was assigned to the Irish House. I had an upstairs bedroom/bath (practically the size of my entire apartment at home). Take a look at the photo included with this post to see the back porch.

Alas, all’s not perfect even in paradise! The Irish House is about one half-mile down the road from MacBarn; I was ultimately very glad that I had my car, especially when returning from evening meals/gatherings at MacBarn; street lights aren’t exactly as common in rural Maine as they are in my urban hometown. I’m also not quite “a dog person”; apparently, leash laws aren’t uppermost in some of the Foundation’s neighbors’ minds.

My room was, simply, huge. I wrote (typed) at a table, and read most of the books previously listed in a big, green chair right by the window. For variation (when it wasn’t too cold) I read outside on the porch.

Since I drove up from Massachusetts, I was able to bring more “stuff” than I’d brought with me to previous residencies (when I’d traveled by air or bus). But so much was provided–down to extra toothpaste in case I’d forgotten it–that I didn’t need some of what I’d brought.

I arrived early on a Friday afternoon. By the end of the day, all seven of us were there: five visual artists and two writers. We came to the residency from six different states (two of us from Massachusetts). The first evening began with drinks and hors d’oeuvres up at MacBarn, followed by dinner, giving us the chance to get acquainted with each other and the very dedicated Foundation staff.

I’ll tell you more about my daily routine next time.

Residency Notes, Post #1

Well, you asked to hear more about the residency, so here’s the first in a series of posts I’ll be making about it.

Let’s start with some background. Last September (2005) I submitted my application for a residency at the Robert M. MacNamara Foundation. I frankly knew little about the Foundation or the residency program, because I could not find a dedicated Web site (I suspected that might dissuade a number of potential applicants, which might be helpful to my own application chances). So initially, my main source for information was the Foundation’s listing on the Alliance of Artists Communities Web site.

I had to request the application materials (something else that I suspected might discourage applicants who might limit themselves to programs with downloadable materials). And when I received those materials I was immediately intrigued by a number of things:

1) The professionalism of the program description;
2) The generosity of the residency, including six weeks’ accommodation (private room and bath for each artist) plus all meals and a stipend for travel/materials;
3) The idea of spending time in coastal Maine;
4) The absence of an application fee (or any residency fee);
5) The relative simplicity of the application process (and the serendipity of my request, which arrived with time to spare before the single, annual September application deadline).

The Foundation runs four residency periods (for up to seven artists and writers at a time) each year. Last January I heard back: I’d received my third choice, a fall 2006 residency. As it happened, this worked out beautifully considering personal/family matters that developed after my application had been submitted (I would have had to turn down my first-choice summer assignment). And I imagined that fall in Maine would be pretty spectacular. I was right about that, as you can glimpse from the photo I’ve included with this post.

Six weeks away seemed a real luxury, and I began plotting how to maximize my freelance/teaching time before the fall. Ultimately, however, I was unable to stay the full six weeks, in part so I could work at the conference I referenced in yesterday’s post. Another artist had to leave when I did, too, four weeks into the program; this is by no means the ideal way to go about things.

I drove from Cambridge to Westport Island (about an hour north of Portland) the last Friday in September. I’ll tell you what happened after that the next time I post within this “series”!