With my birthday fast-approaching (tomorrow, if you want to throw confetti in the air wherever you may be), I’ve been thinking a lot about what I want out of the next year of my writing life. Since last birthday, I’ve done a fair amount of publishing and started editing and blogging at Side B, all things I can be exceedingly proud of. I’m not yet halfway through my twenties, and I am shopping around a chapbook manuscript and celebrating the releases of friends’ books (shameless plug–check out Nicole Terez Dutton’s If One of Us Should Fall; I guarantee you will not regret it) and their new lives as MFA students. All of it is lovely–everyone should be so lucky as I am, surrounded by talented people writing their hearts out.
But I don’t feel ready to apply for any MFA program, and I don’t yet have a full length poetry collection ready to send around to agents and contests. I also don’t think it’s wise to rush into either avenue. If I were to go back to school just for the sake of going back to school, I wouldn’t get as much out of it as I possibly could. Same goes for putting together a full length collection just because I can; I’ve got more than enough poems to fill a collection, but I want my first collection to be cohesive and necessary, not slap-dash and forced.
I am writing and editing and submitting my work consistently, even constantly, but the forward motion from this constant practice is almost imperceptible. Waiting hundreds of days for a form rejection letter from whatever journal or magazine can be deeply demoralizing, especially when publishing is the only tangible sign of success I have to lean on lately. Some days, I get intensely frustrated with the status quo of waking up early to work my 9 to 5, only to arrive home to spend 3 or 4 more hours at my real job. This is a space of writerly limbo, one where you know what work you have to do, but the work that pays the bills (in my case, an office job requiring zero creativity) gets in the way of your creative self. Forty hour weeks are a necessary evil for me and writing is the second shift I start after clocking those forty hours. The only way I can see to carve out more time and space for my writing life is to spend the next year working towards fellowships and residencies. Being awarded the money or space (or both) to take care of my writing self seems to be the only way to bridge the gap I feel myself straddling.
There is the Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Amy Lowell travel scholarship, which pays you to stay out of the United States for a year. Both receive countless applicants and are highly competitive, but I am determined to throw my hat into both rings just to see how far I make it in the selection process. The classifieds in Poets & Writers Magazine are also a good place to start if you’ve never considered applying for funding for a project, as they have comprehensive listings of the various grants, fellowships, and prize money available to the common word hustler. I dig through them every issue, shortlisting anything that seems promising. But my new true love I found by accident through a friend’s Facebook post on architecture: the Djerassi residencies. The post talked about new individual studios designed by Cass Calder Smith, and after scrolling through the gorgeous interior photographs and then hopping over to the organization’s main website, I was completely sold. I have serious love for the Bay Area, and though the residencies are unpaid, just the idea of escaping to my own minimalist space sequestered in the bristly, rolling hills of Northern California to do my best work gives me butterflies.
As a birthday present to myself, I will be picking out 5 super competitive residencies and fellowships to apply to and following through to the very end. Because the best gift I can give myself for my 23rd is the time and space I need to keep writing.