Writers’ Workshops – Which One’s Right For You

(This article has been reprinted from Apex Publishing’s archives. It was originally published there on February 7, 2014)

When you’ve reached the point in your writing career where you’d like to connect with other writers and improve your craft, it might be time to start exploring your options with regards to writers’ workshops.

For science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers, there are a range of options. There are six-week residencies and year-round online communities. Workshops vary in number of students admitted, costs to attend, and application procedures, so please visit their websites for the full scoop.

Nota Bene: Writers’ workshops can mean considerable expense, both in money and time spent. They are not for everyone, and they are not a guarantee of writerly success. What they are is an opportunity to focus on craft in the company of other writers, including more experienced writers. This can be a powerful experience.

Here are a few of the workshops available in the United States and online for adults and, separately, for teens, along with insights from program organizers, teachers, and students when possible. (Note, while I’ve done the gathering, errors happen and are entirely the blogger’s fault – please consider each workshop’s website as the final word.)

Please add more workshop info in the comments!  What’s your favorite workshop?

Viable Paradise
Location: Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts
Dates: October 12-17, 2014. Length: one week
Application Deadline: open through June 15
Instructors: Scott Lynch, Steven Brust, Sherwood Smith, Teresa Nielsen Hayden, Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Debra Doyle, James D. Macdonald, Steven Gould
2014 Writers in Residence: Elizabeth Bear, Laura Mixon
Cost: Tuition and partial board: $1100 See website for more information.
Workshop instructor James D. Macdonald says: “Viable Paradise is a one-week intensive residential workshop held every year on Martha’s Vineyard.  The student/faculty ratio is 3:1 with full time working writers and editors giving students exposure to a wide variety of opinions and instruction.  Social interaction, formal and informal lectures, and writing exercises fill the week.  Our goal is to take students to the next level in their writing.”
Taos Toolbox
Location: Taos Ski Valley, New Mexico
Dates: July 6-19, 2014. Length: two weeks.
Application Deadline: Rolling. Only a few spaces remain.
Instructors: Nancy Kress, Walter Jon Williams
2014 Writer in Residence: Ian Tregellis
Cost: Tuition, room and partial board: $3100-$3500. See website for additional details.
Instructor Walter Jon Williams says, “”We build writers!  Taos Toolbox has only been in existence for six years, and already our graduates have been nominated for six Hugo awards. Taos Toolbox is a two-week master class that takes place in beautiful mountain surroundings.  Students will listen to lectures, do exercises, and have two pieces of longer fiction critiqued by the workshop.  The workshop is taught by two multiple award-winning authors along an acclaimed new writer. We cheerfully accept novels, and pay special attention to novel pacing, plotting, and structure.”
Odyssey
Location: Manchester, New Hampshire
Dates: June 18 – July 9
Length: 6 weeks
Application Deadline: April 8.
Program Director: Jeanne Cavelos
2014 Guest Lecturers: Elizabeth Hand, Catherynne M. Valente, Ellen Kushner, Delia Sherman, and Alexander Jablokov, as well as editor Gordon Van Gelder.
Writers-in-Residence: Steve Rasnic Tem and Melanie Rasnic Tem.
Cost: Base tuition: $1965. See website for additional details.
Program director Jeanne Cavelos says, ”We work hard to improve the workshop each year, so I’m very excited about our 19th Odyssey this summer.  We’re adding some great new lecture material on the interconnection between character and plot, on writing powerful dialogue, on the different changes a scene can show to drive the story ahead, and–as we’ve been doing every year lately–on the changing publishing landscape.  At Odyssey, we feel it’s very important to provide advanced, in-depth instruction that gives authors the knowledge, tools, and techniques they need to improve their work, while at the same time providing feedback that shows authors where they need to improve.  The combination has proven extremely effective, triggering light-bulb moments and helping writers make major breakthroughs in their writing.”
The Clarions:
Clarion West
Location: Seattle, Washington
Dates: June 22-August 2, 2014 Length: 6 weeks.
2014 Instructors: Paul Park, Kij Johnson, Ian McDonald, Hiromi Goto, Charlie Jane Anders, and John Crowley.
Application Deadline: March 1
Cost: $3600 – tuition, room, partial board. See website for additional details.
Clarion
Location: San Diego, California
Dates: June 22-August 2, 2014. Length: 6 weeks.
Application deadline: March 1.
2014 Instructors: Gregory Frost, Geoff Ryman, Catherine M. Valente, N.K. Jemisin, Ann Vandermeer, Jeff Vandermeer.
Cost: Tuition, room, and board: $4,957. See website for additional details.
Clarion instructor Gregory Frost says, “”I’m a Clarion graduate myself (Class of ’75), so I strongly believe in this workshop. It’s six weeks of immersion. If you think you want to be a fantasist going in, you’ll know it by the time you emerge. You’ll also probably have jumped about two years in development of your craft.”
Gregory adds: ”Look, workshops are not for everyone. They present a hermetic social situation–in the case of Clarion and its like, a teaching workshop with various author-leaders. Otherwise, it is you and your peers, all of whom are there because they feel they have something they need to learn and are hoping the workshop will provide it. However, some people, honestly, do not want to hear criticism and do not handle it well. Those people should refrain from workshops. It’s not a place for taking your ego out for a walk. It’s a place for listening–to the stories you’re going to critique, and to the other critiquer-writers who are giving you their best assessment of your stories. That won’t make them right or you wrong. But most of your learning is going to come from listening.”
Recent Clarion graduate Helena Bell has written a wonderful post, titled “Why You Don’t Want To Apply To Clarion West / Clarion UCSD.” (Spoilers: you really want to.)
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For Teen Writers only:
SharedWorlds (Rising 8th-12th graders)
Dates: July 16-23, 2014. Length: 1 week.
Application deadline: Check website for details.
2014 Instructors include: Carrie Vaughn, Steven Barnes, Mur Lafferty, Nathan Ballingrud, Will Alexander, and Kelly Barnhill.
Cost: Tuition, room, board, extras: $2,200. See website for additional details.
Workshop instructor Will Hindmarch says, “Students at Shared Worlds team up and combine their imaginations to conjure vivid, inventive worlds in a week. Thoseworlds become the sparks and the settings for original fiction written by each student on their own in the second week. It’s a remarkable experience for everyone involved, seeing these worlds take shape through drawings, maps, and writing exercises inspired by multifaceted lectures and thought-provoking presentations from writers, artists, and professors. Mists form into mountains, forests rise up on imagined islands, and oceans teem with alien creatures. […] It’s a wonderfully social and collaborative way to exercise skills that are so often practiced in isolation. Shared Worlds teaches students — and reminds me, every year — that though writing is often a solitary pursuit, we’re not alone in it.”
Alpha (ages 14-19)
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Dates: July 25-August 3
Cost: Tuition, room, and board: $1100. See website for additional details.
2014 Instructors:  Tobias S. Buckell, Bruce Coville, Tamora Pierce, Rachel Swirsky
Application deadline: March 2. See website for additional details.

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Specialty workshop: (Astronomy)
Launchpad
Laramie, Wyoming
Dates: July 13-20, 2014. Length: 1 week.
Applications open: Through March 15.
Instructors: Mike Brotherton, Jim D. Verly. Guest lecturers.
Cost: Tuition, room and board: $0
Convention workshops– local conventions are a great chance to have your work read and critiqued – check local listings. Worldcon Writers’ Workshops annually offer writers the opportunity to work with two industry pros (an experienced pro and a neo-pro) as well as two other writers (that’s a great ratio!).
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Online workshops:
The Online Writing Workshop – ongoing – annual fee after first free month – http://sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com/index.shtml – $49/year $30/6 months
Authors including Mary Robinette Kowal and Cat Rambo occasionally offer online workshops.
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For YA authors
The Big Sur Childrens’ / YA Writing Workshop (March 7-9) http://bigsurwriting.wordpress.com/ and this year, Nova Ren Suma offered a YA writers’ workshop at Djerassi (Feb 9-14) http://www.djerassi.org/ya-novel-workshop.html. Sadly, both deadlines are past, but keep an eye on the sites.
(Editorial note: The author attended Viable Paradise ’11 and Taos Toolbox ’12. She is a former member of the OWW. As her last name begins with W,  she is prone to reverse-alphabetizing things.)
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2 comments

  1. Hi Fran! Let me be the first to give a big thumbs up for Viable Paradise. I went last year and it was a life-changing experience.

    Some other workshops to consider adding to your list:
    Orson Scott Card runs a workshop called Hatrack River Writer’s Workshop.

    The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction at the University of Kansas runs several summer workshops, including a 2-week short story workshop and a 2-week novel workshop.

    For graduates of VP and Taos, there is the follow-on weekend workshop Paradise Lost.

    I believe the awesome team at Writer’s Excuses are now also doing weekend workshops once or twice a year as well.

    For online workshops, James Gunn sometimes offers an Intro to writing SF class. And David Farland gets a lot of good press for his online workshops.

    -Shannon

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