Last blog, I talked about some things to do over the summer while you’re most likely away from other writers and without a routine of classes and deadlines. I suggested submitting your work to publications, but sometimes a piece still needs some work and feedback. So, here’s my second suggestion: go to writers’ workshops!
I’m a bit of a novice when it comes to these workshops, but I just recently returned from one in France and can personally attest to the astounding progress I made with my writing. I learned about this particular program in Chamonix through a cohort member who had applied and encouraged me to do the same: spend two weeks in the Alps with the inimitable Pam Houston and a handful of other writers. At first, I was skeptical, because spending two weeks away from home with a bunch of strangers isn’t my idea of summer vacationing. But the promise of working with a great writer like Pam (as well as the wine and cheese selections) convinced me. Plus, my professors at Columbia encouraged us to try workshops out if we ever had the chance.
Like I said before, I missed the routine of having trustworthy eyes on my work every few weeks. In this Mont Blanc Writing Workshop, my work was given that attention and consideration that I find so helpful and vital. And what surprised me were the positives of having new eyes on my work; I’d been so comfortable with my cohort reading and knowing my work very intimately, but it truly was refreshing having completely virginal readers giving me feedback. There’s something to be said about both groups, I suppose – those that know your style and your intent can help you get to a place you’re aiming for, but those that are just discovering your work have the advantage of seeing all the possibilities that you as a writer weren’t even aware of.
I’ve also learned new things about myself as a writer by going to this workshop. I’d always been a creature of habit, but uprooting myself and writing in a new place really did wonders for my creativity. Stories that had stagnated suddenly opened up. I woke up early most mornings to write on the balcony, and just knowing I was thousands of miles away from home gave my brain a sort of permission to explore settings and scenarios that had always felt too clichéd or crowded when I worked on them in my familiar bubble.
I went the whole nine-yards in terms of travel for my first workshop, but you certainly don’t have to! These workshops are offered all over the country, during most of the year (but more frequently during the summer). I applied and got accepted to a few others right here in the United States ranging from Tennessee to California to New Jersey. They’re sometimes hosted by universities, other times by literary magazines, and always with a great array of successful and talented writers as faculty. Most offer scholarships if finances are what keep you from applying, and there are plenty that are just a weekend if you can’t take that much time off even in the summer.
There are workshops for everyone, at every level, and I promise they’re worth it. If you want to know where to start, look up some of your favorite authors and see if they teach at any places. And go from there!