There are writing workshops, writing conferences and writing retreats. So how do you know which is the best for you?
Long answer short: All of them.
At different times of the writing life, you will reap benefits from attending all three of these functions.
Let me break it down for you. * insert funky hiphop music here*
THE WRITING WORKSHOP
This program can start as early as elementary school. Sure, at this age, you may be more into writing love letters to the cute boy who sits behind you, or, if you’re like me, hate letters to the dork who threw mud at you in the playground and ruined your white blouse, but… Mrs. Garbus knew what she was doing when she instituted an interdisciplinary writing technique which can build students’ fluency in writing through continuous, repeated exposure to the process of writing.
And I don’t mean staying after class and writing 600 times, “I will not laugh when someone wets their pants in science class.” But, yeah, I had that punishment way too many times, and as a result, I’m a very fast, yet sloppy writer to this day.
Adult writing workshops will give you writing time, as well as social and lecture time. Most of the attendees are there to work with a particular professional. A wise workshopper will attend not only to showcase existing work and add to works in progress, but also network with peers and have one’s work read and seen by industry pros who can help you get a leg up…or at the very least… a foot over the transom.
Workshops can be found as online courses, offered through community schools, colleges, literary magazines, publishers and even writers clubs. Generally one or more professional writers/authors/poets and or screenwriters are brought in and attendees are charged a fee to attend. It generally lasts one to two days, possibly a week.
- Online and in New York City, The Gotham Writers Workshop is very popular.
Sometimes new writers get discovered at workshops like these:
- TINHOUSE Summer Writers Workshop. See last year’s agenda
- And the super fabulous 2 year program at the University of Iowa, Iowa Writers Workshop
THE WRITING CONFERENCE
This type of program is generally longer, and more social or lecture based than the workshop. You may not have any writing time at all, unless you skip the nights in the bar and at least a few of the daytime readings. But if you do either of those things, you won’t reap what you came to sow. And that’s connections.
The conferences I’ve been to are about running and gunning 24 hours a day. You may catch the tail end of Robert Olen Butler’s reading because you were in another room listening to Dennis Lehane but trust me, he didn’t even notice you slip out the back of his crowded to capacity and then some space. You’ll pitch agents over cocktails, introduce yourself to editors at breakfast and if you’re lucky, get stuck in the elevator with a famous bigshot author, whose book you just happen to be reading. Yep.
Preparation is huge at these conferences. I have taken 4 days to map out the who, what, when and where of a big time event. Your phone and planner, and a few cheat sheets are a must. Nothing says amateur more than forgetting the name of the main character in the novel the author onstage is talking about. Even worse if you mispronounce the author’s name.
Do your homework. Prepare your pitch. Learn a few jokes and have some current industry knowledge… more than who’s sleeping with whom… because we all know how fast that can change.
- For Writers and Writing Professionals, The annual AWP Conference is the ultimate gig, whether you’re a guest, hosting or sitting on a panel, or merely attending, this is one bad boy of a conference.
- Webdelsol puts on the well repected and well attended Algonkian Writers Conferences, all over the US.
Many conferences are area specific, drawing on local talent. This is a great, inexpensive way to get your feet wet.
Some of my favorites, now that the Maui Conference and Southampton are kaput include:
- The SCWW
- The Key West Literary Seminar (part workshop, part conference)
- The Eckerd College Writers Conference
Check your local colleges and become a member of a local writers club, discounts may apply.
THE WRITERS RETREAT
Some people cannot really write at home. There are too many distractions: phones, doorbells, TV, kids, laundry, Ebay auctions and the distant cry of the cookie that will not be denied.
For these writers, the solution is a retreat.
This may take the form of a solo trip to the mountains and two days alone in a rustic cabin, or perhaps a month in France with a group of creative strangers and no Internet. Or, for some of us, it’s the combination of unique locale and writing friends who know just how to motivate you.
Your retreat is an individual choice, and as you grow in your career your needs will change, so never say never to a retreat option.
I suggest you try them all.
I have kicked everyone out and made my own home retreat, have driven to a resort in the mountains and written for 2 days alone, have rented a cheesy hotel room and snuck off with a writing partner for 2 nights, have traveled to the Florida coast, solo and with groups to stare at blue, blue water and let my mind create a place a reader will one day become just as blissfully lost to reality.
If you need some retreat ideas, there are a few places listed below, but understand this. A retreat means doing the work. Whether that is the mental part of figuring out where the story is going, or what’s not working, or the pounding out of a rough draft, your retreat is from society and distractions… not from the page.
Be sure you don’t make your retreat about shopping or visiting relatives… of course, you need to eat, and some downtime is expected, but for the most part this is dedicated butt in the chair time.
Listen to that little voice in your head. You owe it to yourself to escape- at least once a year.
Read more about workshops, conferences and retreats:
- Poets and Writers
- Writers Conferences and Centers
- Shaw Guide
- American Society of Journalists and Authors Annual Conference
- Writers and Editors One on One Conference
- International Women’s Writing Guild Summer Conference
- Scotland retreat
And of course, you can retreat with other women writers at Write By the Water ( a favorite of mine, of course!)
Don’t miss out on an opportunity to share time and space with other writers. It’s an experience that will not only provide you with the dedicated time to work on your craft, but you’ll come away with new friends and connections that will prove invaluable in your writing journey!
Have you attended a retreat or workshop? If so, we’d love to hear about it.