Choosing the Right Writing Retreat
This article belongs to The Writing LifeóThe Good, the Bad, and the Ugly column.
As with any job, you want to reach an ever higher level than where you are now. There are always ways to perfect your plot, technique, character formation, and reporting skills. I found that writing workshops, festivals, seminars, and conferences are great places to go to hone one's craft. But, since you don't want to waste your time or money, I'll zero in on tips on how to choose the one that's right for you.
Decide Why You're Going
This may sound easier than it is, especially if you are both a fiction and non-fiction writer. Most writing retreats and conferences do not focus on both. Or, if they do, one is still likely to be given more attention. Pick your poison, and then decide what you want to gain from the retreat. Do you want to learn how to craft better pitches? Is character development key? Is your idea of a worthy conference one in which you attend minimal seminars and then are left alone to pursue your Walden-esque muse among serene shady spots? Is networking your main reason for going? (If so, a much cheaper, two hour lecture may be what you are looking for.) Once you have answered all these questions, you can narrow your search.
Choose a Location
Buying property isn't the only time location matters. Some people work better amid noise and city excitement. Others love tranquil environments where they can connect with their inner writer while sitting beside a lake or hiking as the sun sets. Knowing what makes your creative juices flow will help you weed out more conferences. If money is no object, the next paragraph doesn't apply to you, but if you are like most freelancers keep reading.
A conference may sound inexpensive at first glance, but when you factor in the cost of gas or plane, accommodations, and additional helpful workshops (often there are networking nights or speakers you want to hear that are not included in the conference fee), the total price can be beyond your means. Therefore, when you look at the conference website or call the director, be sure to find out about any non-advertised fees.
Ask the Right Questions
Even if the itinerary seems good, it doesn't hurt to ask a few important questions that will paint an even clearer picture of the event. Start with these:
1. If there are classes, what is the teacher/student ratio?
2. If you are hoping to speak with authors, editors, publishers, agents, etc., how long is each networking opportunity and what is the expert/student ratio?
3. Are you looking to get your novel, article, poetry, etc. critiqued? If so, how much time is allotted for this and what percentage of your work will be critiqued (e.g. the first 5 pages of your novel or the whole thing)? Is there an extra fee for this service?
4. Will there be a big opportunity to write and hone your writing skills? Some conferences allow very little time to work on your projects and instead focus on the instructor given assignments. This is fine unless you are attending the conference with the hopes of finishing or bettering your current work through the workshops.
5. Do they have many great seminars but all the ones you want seem to conflict with each other? I have often been close to paying for a conference only to find out that of the advertised workshops, I could only attend one or two because they were occurring concurrently.
Network Before You Go
Network with others who have attended the conference in the past. There are a few retreats, for example, which are considered prestigious, but I have heard from lecturers and other authors that they are just high end hook-up retreats. Now, if you want to get some action while putting that pen to paper, by all means apply. But, if you just want to write, it would do you well to look elsewhere.
Past attendees can also give you other behind-the-scenes info. Is it better to get a roommate or go it alone? What level are most workshops? (Even if you have to send your work in for acceptance, you may still find some classes to be below or above your level.) Is the conference best for dabblers who want to beat writer's block and just go for the experience or is it a series of intensive lectures, discussion and critiques?
Begin Your Search
Now that you have some prep, start looking for the conference, retreat, or workshop that's right for you. A good site is http://www.right-writing.com/conferences.html. It provides links to conference websites as well as other helpful writing information. Another site to check out is http://writing.shawguides.com/. It has links to conferences in the
This is the time to look be it for the summer, fall or winter. Happy hunting!