Wednesday, May 03, 2006

What to Look for in a Workshop

Manhattan Misanthrope writes in:

I am planning to take writing workshops this summer and fall to build a
writing portfolio from basically scratch, since my undergrad work was in
several different genres and my recent work needs work. Is there anything I
should look for in a workshop, or will any workshop at any institution be
good enough?

A great question. I'll address it eventually here, but until then, let's ask everyone else: What should one look for in a good workshop? And just as importantly: How can a person measure this before he/she has taken the class?


Anonymous said...

I don't know much about summer programs, but I do know you should make sure most of your time there will be spent critiquing. Some, er, 'conferences' are just a bunch of guys w/ one published book getting paid to talk down to desperate folks w/o one book.

I always assumed every summer workshop would in fact be a workshop, but apparently that isn't the case.

Anonymous said...

Other than looking at the usual factors (cost, location, possible aid), I'd say what I look for most in faculty are connections to well-respected programs. If the workshops are headed by writers from Iowa, Irvine, or Indiana (three nice I's to live by), I would much more inclined to attend, than if they came from programs most aren't familiar with. I realize there are many, many lesser-known programs that produce fine writers and (more importantly) teachers, but I just don't have the time or money to take chances when there are enough mfa grads out there from schools I know and trust.

That said, I live in NYC, have attended several workshops throughout the city, and I have to say that I'd recommend the Sackett St. workshop in Brooklyn. The faculty there are really dedicated and, honestly, they know how to run a great workshop. I swear I don't represent them in anyway; they're just the best for the money and atmosphere and feedback.

Anonymous said...

To fulfill the goal of writing and getting feedback on your stories, look for a true "workshop":
It meets regularly for several weeks or consists of daily sessions for 5+ days.
The leader has some publication credits.
There are no more than 12-15 participants.
There is very little "theory" about writing; most of the learning will come from critiquing the work of others, and having your own work critiqued.
Towards the end of the workshop, you might avail yourself of a private conference/consultation with the instructor for 15 or 30 minutes, and this is included in the price of the class.
An acceptable amount of your own work will be critiqued ie. 5-10 pages, perhaps?
I mention the last point because once I attended a 5 day workshop in which the professor's goal was to critique just 2 double spaced pages of each person's work!

Depending on where you live--I am in the Midwest--I think UW-Madison (5 days in June), or Iowa Writing Festival in Iowa City might be good choices. If you can afford it the Kenyon Review workshops in Gambier, Ohio have a great reputation for quality and intensity.
Good luck!