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
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. 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.
If you’re interested in travel writing, you can also sign up for my one-on-one online travel writing course.
2. Best Summer Writing Workshops for Beginners
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.
7. Algonkian Pitch and Shop Workshop NYC
Got a book to sell? If you’re looking for a writing workshop in NYC that’s focused on selling your manuscript, the Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop Conference might be the best choice for you. Held in the Ripley Grier Studios on the 16th floor of 520 Eighth Avenue in Midtown New York, Algonkian NYC Pitch & Shop is a workshop for writers who want to get their books published.
How is Algonkian Different from other NYC Writing Workshops
It’s a 4-day event which involves developing a synopsis, honing it with your workshop leader (and 15 writers) and then pitching it to an editor. If they like what they hear, they’ll request a copy of your manuscript.
Algonkian Writing Workshop in NYC: Review and Tips
- Soak up the excitement. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with aspiring actors auditioning for Broadway shows, kids in tutus and sixty other writers. Get ready for an electric atmosphere charged with nervous energy and use it to fire your pitch.
- Algonkian doesn’t attempt to create a “feel-good’ atmosphere. Expect criticism and use it to your advantage
- Lessons begin before you arrive. Pre-conference assignments revealed problems in my book – structure, conflict/complications and characters– I didn’t even know existed.
- Don’t believe the website. Bring your computer. You’ll need it to hone your pitch – over and over and over again.
- Be happy if you’re told — like I was — that your book isn’t literary. These editors are looking for books with commercial potential. Market-friendly is good.
- If you’re looking for an agent, you won’t find one here. The focus is on editors. The best agent tip I got came from Single Gal in the City, the lovely and talented Melissa Braverman who referred me to Publishers MarketPlace, which lists all the best deals plus the agents who finessed them.
- Stay positive – even if your name isn’t picked the first or second time.
- Get inspired. You’ll be surrounded by talented people. I enjoyed meeting the quirky and fabulous Tanya Eby aka Blunder Woman, published novelist Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa ( Daughters of the Stone) and talented NASCAR cutie Raygan Swan. I hope we meet again on the shelves at the bookstores if not sooner.
- Expect surprises. I won the book draw and learned a lot from Roberta Gately (LIPSTICK IN AFGHANISTAN) and her publicist, the irrepressible Susan Schwartzman. Her message? Hiring your own publicist is a must.
- Forget about shopping. I know it’s NYC but between fixing your pitch and drinking at Cooper’s Tavern you won’t have time to score many deals – although I did manage to hit Macy’s dress sale, take a NYC culinary tour of Little Italy and try on 100 bathing suits. In that order.
- Don’t be shy. You’ll have to pitch your book in front of 15 people. Think American Idol – manuscript style.
- Never ever compare your book to Eat, Pray, Love. Just don’t.
- I loved our workshop leader Susan Breen (The Fiction Class) – she was patient, tough, committed and kind.
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
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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