I’ve been meaning to share some thoughts about writing retreats, conferences and workshops. What can you expect? How do you choose the right one? Here are a few ideas.
Last week I spent five glorious days in California at Sonoma County Writers Camp (SCWC). Run by New York Times bestselling author Ellen Sussman, and writer Elizabeth Stark, SCWC offers workshops and master classes suitable for writers at every level, plus tons of private writing time! This was my second time attending SCWC and I loved every minute!
Held at the Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, SCWC truly has a camp feel, with stories told round the fire and frogs croaking all through the night — but with comfy beds and indoor plumbing. Check out the compostable toilets! 😆 The food is all fresh and healthy vegetarian, much of it grown on site, but because it’s Sonoma County, the long weekend kicked off with a local wine tasting, hosted by Eric Kent Winery. Cheers!
One thing I love about SCWC is that the sessions led by Elizabeth and Ellen are generative. The means you write during the classes vs. presenting polished work from home for critique. Generative workshops are perfect for beginners, because you simply dive in and write, with a little support. The generative approach also works well for experienced writers who want to break out of a rut or bust past a block and get that creativity flowing!
Other fantastic conferences I’ve attended that offer generative workshops include Vortext (for women only) on Whidbey Island, Washington. Writing By Writers, founded by writer Pam Houston, puts on conferences all over the world, and often includes generative workshops in the mix. I’ve attended both these conferences multiple times as well, and I highly recommend them!
But what if you have a piece of writing you’ve been laboring over? You’ve taken it as far as it can go on your own but you know it still needs work? A critique workshop may be what you need. For this type of conference, you submit a writing sample in advance, and receive pages from other writers to review. During the conference, each writer’s work is discussed in depth by the group and you leave with a ton of feedback from everyone. Critique workshops can feel a little bruising if you’re not used to the approach, but a good instructor should ensure that comments stay productive. Writing by Writers offers critique workshops, as does the magnificent Sirenland, offered by Dani Shapiro and Hannah Tinti in Positano, Italy.
At a retreat or a residency, everything revolves around writing time, though guidance may be offered. At Linda Sivertsen’s amazing Carmel Writing Retreats, attendees discuss their projects together, brainstorm, set goals and then spend hours quietly working. Linda also meets one-on-one with each attendee and helps with everything from editing, to pep talks, to advice on finding an agent. For myself, I’ve learned that events with lots of writing time with built in accountability to other writers works really well for me, which is what Linda offers, but you can create the same productive atmosphere with friends at a DIY retreat.
Industry or pitch conferences are a great way to learn about the business of publishing and how to market your work. I’ll be speaking on a panel later this month at the American Society of Journalists and Authors Conference in New York. Rudri Bhatt Patel, Jenn Morson, Jen Simon and I will offer tips on pitching essays and articles to magazines. Our May 19 presentation is part of non-members day at the conference, geared to writers just starting out. If you have a book idea, industry conferences offer a the chance to find out what agents and editors are looking for, and to get feedback from pros on your project if you’re ready.
Sometimes the lines at conferences and workshops get blurred. Craft may mix with industry, and a retreat might include critique workshops. For example, Sonoma County Writers Camp always includes a publishing industry panel, to give attendees a taste of what agents, editors and booksellers do. The important thing when choosing a conference or event is to figure out what YOUR objective is in participating. Do you need writing time? Instruction? Feedback? Inspiration? Are you looking to network and make publishing industry connections? Read the conference description carefully to be sure you understand what’s on offer, try to get feedback from past attendees, and then go for what you need.
Have you attended a really great writer’s conference or retreat? Have you created a conference? Feel free to share info and tips in the comments.