Writing Workshops: Get Thee a Community


Writers think of ourselves as solitary souls, for the most part.

Or at least sometimes I’ve fondly imagined I’d like to be solitary; especially about the time I’d be staring out the window mentally composing a brilliant, culture-changing sentence that would immediately and permanently pass into the lexicon of pop culture references . . . and one of my roommates would announce that perhaps I might think better while loading the dishwasher, since I wasn’t actually doing anything, right that minute.

Solitary or not, writers need other writers.

Here’s the thing. You can Google “writing weekend” or “writing workshop” or “genre conventions” in your geographical area. And you’ll probably get a bunch of hits. Some of those aren’t going to be worth the tuition, some of them are. Chances are excellent that you can pay money to go to a worthless event and still have a terrific time. After all, the endorphins really kick in about the time you’re starting to feel sleep-deprived—and it’s just plain fun to hang out with a bunch of other writers, being excited together about writing. But, look beyond the website testimonials, okay? Look at the history of the event, investigate the venue and the staff, the publishing qualifications of the instructors, the publishing track record of the graduates. Look carefully at the complaints, as well as the raves. Some of those criticisms might be sour-grapes, sure—but some of them might make really good points.

I learned firsthand about the delights of spending quality time hanging out with other writers when I found the forums at AbsoluteWrite.com—a Website I liked so much I eventually bought it—and made a handful of close writerly friends. We quickly and easily jelled into a small online writer’s group. Then I actually flew across the country to hang out for a long weekend at a local Holiday Inn, and meet up with some of the other people in our little online writer’s group (one of whom is our Lovely Hostess here at Brainstorms & Bylines).

Maybe we were all a little nervous at first; but before long we were sitting around a table in the hotel bar, laughing like the oldest of good friends. It was a phenomenal weekend. We talked writing, nonstop. We read scenes and acted out some of the choreography from this WIP or that, to see if the blocking worked. We brainstormed. We made a field trip to the Frazier Museum. We stayed up way too late, and met again, early each morning. When it was time to go our separate ways, I remember feeling perplexed and sad and more than a little lost. We got together again the next year, to do a writing retreat in the woodsy mountains outside Gatlinburg. This communal writing experience changed me in ways I’m not sure how to explain.

I took myself off to Martha’s Vineyard to attend Viable Paradise, in 2006. 28 writers who were essentially complete strangers to each other, were tossed together into a week-long, intensive writing workshop. Many of us came out of the experience almost as close as siblings. I’m still in touch with most of my classmates, and since I’m now a staff-member for VP, I’m in touch with many graduates of subsequent classes, as well.

I imagine you saying about now, gentle reader, “Okay, Mac. That’s really lovely for you! But . . . rrrmmmm . . . is this actually going somewhere?”

My point is this: As a writer, finding a community of other writers—either large or small—is a tremendously validating experience, and you’ll be better for it.

No matter what you write, fiction or non, advice columns or poetry, novels or flash—there are other writers out there for you to spend time with, gain energy and inspiration from, hone your critiquing skills, learn from, and celebrate with. It’s not as difficult as you might think. There are a number of national writers’ organizations with regional chapters, like SCBWI, SFWA, RWA, MWA—but even more promising to a shy and antisocial writer-type are the smaller conferences, workshops, and conventions that happen in your own area. Here are just a few of the workships, retreats, and cons that I know about, all over the country:

  • Killer Nashville: A Conference for Thriller, Suspense & Mystery Writers and Lovers
  • Cascade Writers: Seminars and workshops for the general public interested in writing and publishing original works.
  • Delaware Dangerous: Introductory hands-on weapons and hand-to-hand combat instruction for writers
  • Viable Paradise: A one-week residential workshop in writing and selling commercial science fiction and fantasy.
  • Clarion: An intensive six-week summer program focused on fundamentals particular to the writing of science fiction and fantasy short stories.

MacAllister Stone runs AbsoluteWrite.com, staffs at Viable Paradise, and
occasionally writes stuff.

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9 comments on “Writing Workshops: Get Thee a Community

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Stacey Graham and Barb Tyler, Barb Tyler. Barb Tyler said: #Writing Workshops: Get Thee a Community: http://t.co/iGyEz9S Guest post by @macallisterstone […]

  2. Not to mention the feedback you get from other writers!

    Great post.

  3. I like having more than one writing community, too. Every one I’ve joined or experienced has improved my writing or even me as a person, and I get different improvements from different microcultures.

    I’d like to recommend http://www.onlinewritingworkshop.com, which boasts several award-winning authors as both past and current members. (The secret to using it effectively: read the reviews other people have written, and then review work by people who write reviews you think are helpful.) OWW is $49/year, though you get a month free when you sign up, as a trial period. If you want a free place to build community through critique, I recommend the Share Your Work forum at AbsoluteWrite. I got honest, insightful review of my entire novel from one of the board regulars. Later, I used his comments to rewrite my first three chapters, and they got me into Viable Paradise. 🙂

  4. There are so many terrific online options, now – and with everyone’s real life being swamped with job and family obligations, sometimes a regularly-meeting, in-person writing group just isn’t that practical. I realized after I sent this off to Barb to be posted, I’d forgotten a ton of excellent online resources and communities: Forward Motion, Bookview Cafe, WOW-Women On Writing, and countless others.

  5. I agree that a community is key. I had been away from writing for about 15 years. When I started writing again last year, I was excited to find Absolute Write so quickly. Then I started a blog last month. It’s been so good to communicate with other writers, even if it’s not face to face. I’m learning so much and getting so much inspiration.

  6. […] Writing Workshops: Get Thee a Community (barbaratyler.wordpress.com) […]

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