So…workshops. As a writer, you hear a lot about them, especially the big, flashy ones: Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, Taos (see John Joseph Adam’s recent guest post for a complete listing). You start to wonder if they might be of some benefit to you; might take your writing to the next level, allow you to make important connections in the industry, and/or create a sense of community with fellow writers. Workshops do all of these things. They aren’t necessary for success certainly, and there are other ways to learn about writing, but there’s no doubt they can be useful.
But what if you apply to one of the biggies and don’t get accepted? I applied to both Clarion and Clarion West two years ago, got waitlisted for the latter, and didn’t make it in. It happens.
Or what if you can’t afford the high price, or the two to six week’s worth of time away from family and work? What if you’re just starting out and don’t feel like your writing is up to snuff? Or what if you’re skeptical about this whole workshop thing, and only want to dip your toe in?
Fortunately you’ll find a plethora of other opportunities, if you do a little digging. I’ve attended numerous workshops locally, and I’ll discuss these below.
How to Write the Breakout Novel
This was the first workshop I ever attended, and was taught by Donald Maass, genre literary agent extraordinaire, who has written a book by the same name. It was a one day affair which consisted mostly of a lecture and some writing exercises, which weren’t critiqued due to the large number of attendees (hundreds). I learned a lot but perhaps more importantly, came away energized to write.
I cannot recall the cost, but believe it was between $100 to $200.
How did I find out about this workshop? A friend saw it advertised at the public library and told me. Indeed, bulletin boards at your local library are an excellent resource for this sort of thing. In addition, this particular workshop was hosted by the Alberta Romance Writers, which I might have discovered with a quick Google search. Often local writing groups hold workshops, and sometimes these are open to non-members.
And while we’re on the topic of writing groups, these can also be a valuable (and ultra affordable!) resource for learning, in place of or in addition to workshops. See my previous post on this subject.
How to Plot a Novel
This was my second workshop; one I registered for through the Continuing Education program at one of the local universities. Again, it was just one day (a Saturday), and was mainly a lecture followed by a discussion of each student’s work-in-progress novel. I didn’t find it particularly helpful to be honest, but it was cheap (around $50) and might’ve been better with a better instructor.
Creative Writing 1 and 2
Maintaining faith in the Continuing Education program despite my first lackluster experience, I registered for an eight-week session simply titled: Creative Writing 1. I believe the cost was in the neighborhood of $300 to $400.
This once a week, three hour evening class included lectures, in-class writing exercises, take-home assignments, reading and analyzing published work, and, most importantly, a critique of my work by the instructor. In my opinion there is no better way to learn about writing than to have your work critiqued by someone better and more experienced than you. I learned a tremendous amount in this class, and quickly registered for level 2.
I should note that these classes had a literary, and not a genre focus, but were extremely helpful nonetheless. I felt no guilt or shame whatsoever about subjecting my instructor and class-mates to my fantastical stories about witches and monsters and wizards, and you know what? For the most part they enjoyed them!
Sound interesting? Explore the Continuing Education programs in your area.
Chances are good that there is some sort of annual writing convention in your area, or at least nearby. Chances are also good that there is a workshop associated with the convention, for which you could register. Do some investigating.
My local writing group, the Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (not open to those other, unimaginative fiction writer-types, hehe), goes a bit further. Each year we recommend a writing guest-of-honor to the convention committee, then contact the GOH to see if they’d be interested in holding a two day workshop for 12 members of our group, just prior to the start of the convention. Their airfare will likely be covered by the convention, so the group saves on that cost, and we then offer the GOH a $150 honorarium plus board at a member’s house, or to pay for the cost of a hotel room for two nights, whichever they prefer. We also cover their meals. The cost to register for the workshop is $125 per person, so our not-for-profit group actually makes money, which goes towards things like buying tables in the dealer rooms at conventions, and holding a short story contest.
I have attended three such workshops, taught by Robert J. Sawyer, David B. Coe, and Walter Jon Williams (who is, incidentally, an instructor at Taos). Each student submitted up to 8,000 words in advance, and critiqued everyone else’s work. We also received a written critique from the instructor. Each student’s piece was discussed in class, in addition to brief lectures and question-and-answer sessions.
Our instructor this year will be Penguin editor Adrienne Kerr, who will be critiquing our novel synopses and first couple of chapters. I’m excited.
I have not participated in any of these myself, but am aware of several. For example, respected authors Jeremy C. Shipp and Cat Rambo offer online instruction for a reasonable price. If you prefer to learn in the comfort of your own home, or can’t find a workshop locally, these might be excellent options for you.
So there you have it: lots of other workshops besides those expensive and time- consuming behemoths. To find something in your area, browse library bulletin boards, Google local writing groups, look into Continuing Education programs, and/or investigate workshops associated with conventions. You’re sure to find something that works for your schedule, budget, and experience level. You can also register for online programs.
Any other suggestions? Please chime in!