How to Choose the Best Summer Writing Workshop or Retreat

Kids might dream about summer camp, but if you’re a writer you’re likely thinking about summer writers workshops, retreats and conferences. They’re a perfect opportunity to escape your home office, explore a beautiful natural setting, make new writing pals and invest in your writing craft.

And, like summer camps for kids, they’re great fun. Here’s what to look for when choosing a writers workshop, conference or retreat.

1. Inspiring Summer Writing Workshop Locations

Who wouldn’t be inspired by the landscape in New Mexico?

Sure, with some discipline you should be able to write anywhere but seeing a new part of the world can prompt you to view your writing through new eyes.  The best summer writing workshops are held in an inspiring location. There are many to choose from. Are you drawn to spending time outdoors or walking in the footsteps of literary greats?  You can find summer writing workshops everywhere from Paris, France to Grand Lake, Colorado.

For me, the Taos Summer Writers Conference in Taos, New Mexico offered a magical setting. I’m not alone. The big-sky landscape has inspired generations of writers, artists and dreamers from D.H. Lawrence to Dennis Hopper.

If you’re interested in a summer writing workshop in Taos, several workshops take place at Mable Dodge Luhan House Conference Centre and Inn. You can participate in numerous weeklong and weekend workshops in fiction, poetry and unique sessions such as illustrated travel journalling.

Other inspiring options for 2018 include the writing workshops held at the Writer’s Lab in Santa Fe hosted by Natalie Goldberg, author of the indispensable writing guide Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within Pencil Underlining Edition by Natalie Goldberg published by Shambhala Publications (1986) Paperback
Natalie Goldberg’s workshops are super popular so they fill up quickly. Her workshop “The Secret of Writing” scheduled for Madeline Island on Lake Superior in August is already waitlisted, so if you want to attend one of her writing workshops, be sure to register early!

Another inspiring location is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival is held in winter but during the summer, budding writers can attend their series of  Summer Writing Workshops which feature in-depth classes on topics such as Travel Writing,  Memoir Writing and Writing a Page-Turner.

RELATED: Read about my experience visiting San Miguel de Allende in the posts Inspired by Colour in San Miguel de Allende and an Insider’s Look at the San Miguel de Allende Conference.   

2. Best Summer Writing Workshops for Beginners

Meet new friends and build community

While your own family might roll their eyes when you talk about paragraph transitions and the endless revisions to your novel,  you’re guaranteed a rapt audience at most writers conferences. For beginners this is a valuable way to build community and support. Participants at writing retreats are as happy as you are to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks discussing the craft of writing. Yet there are differences

Some summer writing retreats such as the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia  focus on quiet retreat time while others, such as the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop, held in Dayton Ohio each April, are more social with pep talks, lectures, group writing exercises and readings. So,  think hard when choosing a summer workshop or conference. How social do you really want to be?

RELATED:  Tatamagouche Writers Conference in  A Maritime Writers Retreat and a Labyrinth. 

3. Saving Money on Your Writers Retreat Costs

Begin the planning process early and at most retreats and conferences you’ll have an opportunity to apply for a merit scholarship which will allow you to attend at no cost or on a reduced basis. At the Summer Workshop in Creative Writing at Humber, student can apply for a scholarship to be applied to the tuition.  However, accommodation is extra and costs in Toronto can add up.

At the Tatamagouche Centre, while the cost for a private room is low you’ll need a rental car which will add to the costs.

4. Consider the Faculty at Your Writers Retreat

At the Summer Workshop in Creative Writing offered by Humber College in Toronto, an impressive faculty is on hand to help hone your work whether its memoir, fiction, poetry or creative non-fiction. Past faculty have included Margaret Atwood, Edward Albee, Esi Edugyan ( Half Blood Blues), David Bezmozgis (The Free World) and many others.

Note that these programs, such as the Banff Centre of the Arts have a rigorous and competitive application process so even if you want to attend, you may not be accepted. Begin early if you hope to attend.

Best-selling author Joyce Maynard offers an annual spring writing workshop at her home on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala as well as a one-day intensive session at her home in California where, over the course of the day, each person’s writing will be individually workshopped.

5. Writers Conferences vs Writers Retreats

If you’re looking for quiet time to finish a manuscript, you may not need such  stellar guidance and may be able to  consider workshops with a smaller faculty. Or perhaps you’re shopping for a publisher?

Different conferences have different purposes. Four times a year in New York City (March, June, Sept., Dec.) the New York Pitch Conference provides  writers with completed manuscripts or works-in-progress an opportunity to  workshop their novel with professional fiction editors plus meet and pitch top acquisition editors from major publishing houses.

Other conferences focus on specific aspects of craft  such as the Iowa Summer Writing Festival which offers dozens of  weeklong and weekend workshops across all genres during June and July.

RELATED: Read about  Inside the NYC Pitch & Shop Conference.  

6. Writers Festivals

Another option for writing workshops for beginning or established writers is to attend a Writers Festival.  While festivals are focused on celebrating the art of the written word through readings, meet-the-author events and talks, many festivals also include writing craft talks. These presentations by  published authors often feature readings as well as in-depth discussions of topics such as point of view, voice and genre such as memoir.

The Lakefield Literary Festival, held in the Kawarthas tucked between Toronto and Ottawa, was inspired by celebrated Canadian writer Margaret Laurence who lived in Lakefield and wrote “The Diviners” in a cabin on the Otonobee River during the summers between 1971 to 1973.  The program of the Lakefield Literary Festival includes a mix of informative activities as well as inspiring talks on writers craft.

RELATED: 21 Amazing Things to Do in the Kawartha Lakes 

Do you have a favourite summer writers conference or retreat? Let’s hear about it! Let us know in the comment section below

Resource Guide for Writers Conferences, Workshops and Retreats

La Grutta hot springs in San Miguel de Allende Mexico

Immerse yourself in writing and thermal hot springs at the San Miguel Writers Conference and Workshop.

A valuable resource for searching for a summer writing workshop, conference or retreat is the Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops. You can search by location, interest, month and more. No matter which type of workshop you choose, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to invest in your craft, make friends and escape the ordinary – a lot like summer camp.


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Updated May 2018

Michele Peterson
Michele Peterson
Dividing her time between Toronto, Mexico and Guatemala (or the nearest tropical beach), Michele Peterson is an award-winning writer, blogger, editor and publisher who specializes in travel, cuisine and luxury lifestyles.
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Showing 13 comments
  • Carol Perehudoff

    Considering that Michele and I met at a writers conference, Taddle Creek at the University of Toronto, it’s no surprise that we are both conference fans. You have a great point about setting, Michele, and I’ve done a number of workshops abroad because an exotic locale definitely brings an added element to a conference. I’m thinking of doing the New York pitch conference after reading this post – and by the way, I’ve signed up for the Bloody Words 2012 conference in Toronto this weekend. Great article, thanks.

  • P.C.

    These are really useful links. Now that I’m retired, I’d like to take up writing, maybe do my memoirs. Your photos are sure inspiring.

  • Laura Davis

    Michele, thanks so much for the mention of my retreat to Bali and these other great ideas. I’d also like to add for people who want an intensive writing retreat in Northern California at half the price of an international retreat, I have my 9th annual retreat this summer in Bolinas California, on the Pacific coast:

    • Michele Peterson

      Thanks for the tip, Laura. I had to look up Bolinas to see where it is and soon found out that it’s a “haven for surfers, artists and musicians” – how perfect that sounds for a writers retreat!

  • Claire

    Summer workshops look like a great idea to improve writing skills!

  • Alexa Meisler

    This is awesome! I had no idea about any of these retreats! This is going on my wish list!

  • Kathleen

    I never thought of doing something like this before 🙂 Love the idea!

  • Global Brunch

    Thanks so much for sharing this Michele!I’ve never done anything like this, but always imagined how inspiring the Italian landscape must be for a retreat. So I completely get your point that you should pick a stimulating and inspiring surrounding.

  • Donna Janke

    A writing retreat in New Mexico or San Miguel sounds delightful, but I am going to check more into all the ones you’ve listed. A few years ago I attended the Desert Nights Rising Stars Writing Conference at the University of Arizona and enjoyed that. While not a writers conference per se, the free Tucson Festival of Books in March offers a number of workshop sessions for the writer. Both are weekend events. I like the idea of being tucked away somewhere for a week or more to focus on writing.

  • Anita

    These look like great options, Michele, and well worth considering. Another one, and a very fond memory for me, is Book Passage, held each summer in Corte Madera, California. Founded by Don George, and with a faculty of great travel writers, it’s incredibly inspirational summer session for writers and photographers.

  • Janice Chung

    Thanks for the ideas. I love to attend conferences and continue to learn. Little did I know Humber College had summer workshops! I love to combine travel with a little learning and what a great idea to be inspired, particularly in a beautiful setting.

  • Doreen Pendgracs

    What a fabulous post, Michele! Thx so much for sharing your insights about these writers’ conferences and retreats. I will check out the additional links you have posted, too. I am a member of several writers’ associations, and I can tell you that some of my best connections and most meaningful experiences have occurred when writers gather. It is a magical experience that every writer should experience at least once–if not regularly!

  • Bola

    These are useful tips. I love the idea of summer writers workshops or retreats and always wanted to be part of one. So much writing can be achieved away from the noisy city!

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