About Writing Workshops and Retreats (A Love Letter)

I talk a lot about writing workshops and retreats, because I love them both so much. But I’m aware that sometimes in the past I’ve used the terms workshop and retreat interchangeably, causing all matter of confusion and consternation.

So let’s discuss, shall we?

During a writing workshop, writers submit work, either ahead of time or by reading it out loud in class. The work is then discussed by everyone in attendance. (Hopefully in a respectful, helpful manner.) The writing workshop is the cornerstone of every MFA program, where it is accorded sacred status. That’s because writers learn a ton from this experience, both in the process of having their own work critiqued and in reading and reviewing the work of others. And, as writing is discussed, there are many teaching moments for leaders to point out issues of craft.

But the writing workshop isn’t just for MFA programs. You partake in a writing workshop if you are a member of a critique group, and in a mini sort of way, if you have a critique partner with whom you share work.  And, many writing teachers hold private workshops, myself included. At the France workshop I offer each year, we workshop writer’s pages which have been sent in the night (or sometimes at the last minute) before. But, we do more than that. We offer in-class writing assignments and fun exercises. And, we give mini-lectures, imparting our vast wisdom on the topic at hand. It’s a great mix.  We also do this on a smaller scale at local Portland workshops.

And then there are writing retreats, like the month-long one I had the luxury of taking in March. This is when the focus is solely on writing. Period. The point is to get as many words on the page as possible. Many prestigious places offer retreats, often called residencies, such as Hedgebrook, Sitka, Yadoo and more.(Here’s a Poets & Writers link to a ton of them.)

But, you can also create your own writer’s retreat. Find an Airbnb room someplace nearby and grab a couple days to devote to your work. You can go by yourself or with like-minded writers. I’ve done this in two different Oregon coast towns and, ahem, in France, and each time come back refreshed and energized. The fun part about going with other writers is that you work all day, then spend your evenings discussing your work or reading it out loud, and trouble shooting. Sometimes talking about thorny plot issues is just the ticket to unscramble them.

So, which one is right for you? It depends. Where are you in your work? Do you need quiet, uninterrupted time to get a lot of pages done? Are you working on your first discovery draft? If so, what you need is time and space to get it done and a retreat is a perfect solution. But maybe you’ve finished the first draft and are working on crafting more complete chapters. You have questions about how it’s all coming together. You want input. And you’d love to learn a bit more about craft. In that case, a writing workshop will suit you best.

Let me also put in a plug for the person who may not have a project in mind, or has several they are thinking about. A writing retreat might overwhelm. Because: all this time to write but do you write about? But a workshop could help you focus you idea and start to shape it.

So, there you have it.  I hope this is helpful. Which appeals to you more, the workshop or retreat, at this point in your writing?  Leave a comment!

And, by the way, there are still spots open in the France workshop this September, but they are filling fast. Contact me if you are interested in hearing more!

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