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“Fellowship of (and for) Writers”

Fellowship of (and for) Writers

Cynthia’s Column June 2006

Let’s get practical.  You’re a writer and you need two things to be able to get your work done.  Two things that are always in short supply.  You know the ones I mean.  Time and money.  Right?  Help is on the way, my friends.

First of all, most of you, like me, live in Oregon.  A great place for writers and readers.  That Willamette Writers is one of the largest organizations of writers in the U.S. is a testament to this fact.  We have nearly 1,400 members.  Literary Arts offers fellowships to writers living in Oregon.  Not enough of you are aware that it’s possible to get financial help.

Literary Arts is non-profit group dedicated to supporting writers in Oregon.  That’s you.  Someone can actually give you money so you can take that research trip to Albania or Alaska or Alabama.  Or take a month off work to finally finish the novel you’ve been working on in stolen minutes for the last ten years.  Or pay for a babysitter so you can escape to the Starbucks on the corner with your laptop for one afternoon a week.

The deadline for Literary Fellowships is June 30, so there’s not a moment to waste.  (In their office by 5 pm on 6/30; NOT postmarked by 6/30.)  Go to their website:  http://www.literary-arts.org.  Click on Literary Fellowships and download the application forms.  There’s no fee to apply.

The categories are:  Poetry, Fiction, Literary Nonfiction, Drama and Young Readers’ Literature.  You submit 25 pages of manuscript for prose or playwriting.  For poetry the maximum length is 15 pages.  There is also a special category for Women Writers.  Winners will be announced next January.  By then you will have forgotten you applied, and then in the dark, bleak, frosty days of mid-winter you may get a delightful surprise in your mailbox.  A backer for your dreams!  Or as they’re called in the theatre, an angel.

These fellowships aren’t like winning the lottery.  The amount of a literary fellowship may be as low as six or eight hundred dollars.  But acknowledgement that someone thinks your work is worthy of support, even financial support, is much bigger than the bank balance.  It is also one of the best things you can put in a query letter to an agent or editor.  “My novel won a fellowship from Oregon Literary Arts.”  Believe me, they will want to read you.  And as it turns out a high percentage of Lit Arts Fellows go on to be published.  Many even win Oregon Book Awards.

From the Literary Arts Guidelines:  “The main criterion will be literary merit, but financial need and grantsmanship may also be considered.”  The judges are from out of state, so they’ll be impartial. And (except for Young Readers’ Lit) work is judged by a panel, so individual preference isn’t a factor.

Recently the John Gray family gave Literary Arts a challenge grant of $50,000. to start a $100,000 endowment for the Oregon Book Awards and Literary Fellowships.  If you are looking for a way to make a tax deductible contribution to writers in Oregon, you can be a part of this fantastic project.  It will benefit writers for years to come.  And if the law of karma is real, what you send out may even come back to you many times over.  (Kristy Athens, who directs Literary Fellowships, wants me to make sure you understand there’s no actual correlation between who contributes and who wins fellowships.)

Let me mention a few other opportunities you may not know about.  Oregon Writers Colony owns a beach house in Rockaway dedicated as a writers’ retreat where the writing vibe and peace and quiet are fantastic.  There’s even a ghost in residence.  All you need to do to have this sanctuary available to you, is join Oregon Writers Colony.  $35 a year.  Their website is http://www.oregonwriterscolony.com.  You understand, I’m sure, that if you can only afford to belong to one writers organization it should be Willamette Writers, right?  I thought you did.  But if you can fund your writing life to this extent, go for it.  The Colony House rates are reasonable, particularly in winter months and you’ll be sharing the space with other writers, so fellowship and good company are part of the deal.

When my writing group goes down to the coast, we have “silent hours.”  From nine a.m. to noon and again from two to five p.m. no one speaks.  Silent writing time for six solid hours each day.  We often write longer, but an occasional remark or word is fine outside of the Vow of Silence Hours.  Then we cook together, eat dinner together and read aloud what we’ve accomplished during those hours.

I get more work done in one day at the beach than in a week at home.  I don’t know why it’s so much harder to work at home, but it is.  Isn’t it?  It’s not just me, I’m fairly sure.  There are too many distractions.  Daily life is a hard mistress.  It’s not just the ringing phone, but the pile of bills, pile of dishes, pile of mail, pile of laundry.  You know.  The piles just won’t shut up.  At the moment I also have piles of puppy droppings, loudest of them all, demanding IMMEDIATE attention.

Sadly the Denny’s I wrote in for almost twelve years, is no more.  They turned it into something else and instantly the vibe was gone.  Denny’s could be relied on to deliver the iced tea all afternoon with the perfect writing vibe.  When it closed I nearly cried.  Writing vibes can be hard to find.

Starbucks doesn’t work for me.  The tables are too small and I can’t write on my lap without getting a stiff neck.  Plus I always feel like writing in Starbucks has a weird poseur vibe.  Like you’re trying to look like a writer as opposed to just writing.  It’s worse in L.A.  There can be as many as ten people writing screenplays in a Starbucks at any given moment.  Even in the Valley.

Plus people look at each other in Starbucks.  A lot of them are there thanks to the meetamate.com  And so they’re looking at everyone very pointedly.  In Denny’s I could be completely invisible.  There are still a few Denny’s but I’m not driving twenty minutes each way.  If there’s one in your neighborhood, you’re lucky.  Writing sanctuaries can be hard to find.  I just had a vivid mental image of the Hunchback of Notre Dame swinging from the gargoyles shouting “Sanctuary!”

I have recently found a new sanctuary.  A breakfast place, and I’d tell you all the name of it and they deserve the free ad, but I can’t afford to have my cloak of invisibility yanked off.  The magic is strangely fragile.  In order for it to work, it needs to be supported.  Protected.  It needs time, funding and fellowship.

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