A Guide to Summer Writers Workshops and Retreats

Posted by on May 29, 2021 in Destinations, Writing Craft | Comments Off on A Guide to Summer Writers Workshops and Retreats

Kids might dream about summer camp, but come spring if you’re a writer you’re likely thinking about summer writers workshops, retreats and conferences.

They’re a perfect opportunity to escape your home office, explore a beautiful natural setting, make new writing pals and invest in your writing craft.

And, like summer camps for kids, they’re great fun. Here’s what to look for when choosing a writers workshop, travel writing conference or retreat.

1. Inspiring Summer Writing Workshop Locations

Buildings of Ojo Caliente hotel with desert background in New Mexico.

Who wouldn’t be inspired by the landscape in New Mexico?

Sure, with some discipline you should be able to write anywhere but seeing a new part of the world can prompt you to view your writing through new eyes.

The best summer writing workshops are held in an inspiring location. There are many to choose from. Are you drawn to spending time outdoors or walking in the footsteps of literary greats?

You can find summer writing workshops everywhere from Paris, France to Grand Lake, Colorado. For me, New Mexico offered a magical setting.

And I’m not alone.

The big-sky landscape of New Mexico has inspired generations of famous painters including Georgia O’Keefe, Gustave Baumann and Andrew Dansburg as well as writers such as D.H. Lawrence, Tony Hillerman, Denise Chavez and George R.R. Martin.

If you’re interested in a summer writing workshop in Taos, several workshops take place at Mable Dodge Luhan House Conference Centre and Inn. You can participate in numerous weeklong and weekend workshops in fiction, poetry and unique sessions such as illustrated travel journalling.

Other inspiring options include the writing workshops held at the Writer’s Lab in Santa Fe hosted by Natalie Goldberg, author of the indispensable writing guide Writing Down the Bones.

Natalie Goldberg’s workshops are super popular so they fill up quickly. If you want to attend one of her writing workshops, be sure to register early!

Another inspiring location is San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. The San Miguel Writers Conference and Literary Festival is held in winter. But during the summer, budding writers can attend their series of  Summer Writing Workshops which feature in-depth classes on topics such as Travel Writing,  Memoir Writing and Writing a Page-Turner.

RELATED: Read about my experience visiting San Miguel de Allende in the post  an Insider’s Look at the San Miguel de Allende Conference.   

If you’re interested in travel writing, you can also sign up for my one-on-one online travel writing course. 

2. Best Summer Writing Workshops for Beginners

A group of women writers at a writers conference.

Meet new friends and build community.

While your own family might roll their eyes when you talk about paragraph transitions and the endless revisions to your novel,  you’re guaranteed a rapt audience at most writers conferences.

For beginners this is a valuable way to build community and support. Participants at writing retreats are as happy as you are to spend breakfast, lunch and dinner breaks discussing the craft of writing. Yet there are differences.

Some summer writing retreats such as the Tatamagouche Centre in Nova Scotia focus on quiet retreat time. Others, such as the Erma Bombeck Writers Workshop held in Dayton Ohio are more social. They feature pep talks, lectures, group writing exercises and readings.

So, think hard when choosing a summer workshop or conference. How social do you really want to be?

3. Saving Money on Your Writers Retreat Costs

Begin the planning process early. At most retreats and conferences you’ll have an opportunity to apply for a merit scholarship which will allow you to attend at no cost or on a reduced basis.

At the Summer Workshop in Creative Writing at Humber, student can apply for a scholarship to be applied to the tuition.  However, accommodation is extra and costs in Toronto can add up.

At the Tatamagouche Centre, while the cost for a private room is low you’ll need a rental car which will add to the costs.

4. Consider the Faculty at Your Writers Retreat

At the Summer Workshop in Creative Writing offered by Humber College in Toronto, an impressive faculty is on hand. They can help hone your work whether its memoir, fiction, poetry or creative non-fiction.

Past faculty have included Margaret Atwood, Edward Albee, Esi Edugyan ( Half Blood Blues), David Bezmozgis (The Free World) and many others.

Note that these programs, such as the Banff Centre of the Arts have a rigorous and competitive application process. So even if you want to attend, you may not be accepted. Begin early if you hope to attend.

Best-selling author Joyce Maynard offers an annual spring writing workshop at her home on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala. Over the course of the retreat, each person’s writing will be individually workshopped.

5. Writers Conferences vs Writers Retreats

If you’re looking for quiet time to finish a manuscript, you may not need such  stellar guidance and may be able to  consider workshops with a smaller faculty. Or perhaps you’re shopping for a publisher?

Different conferences have different purposes. Four times a year in New York City (March, June, Sept., Dec.) the New York Pitch Conference  provides  writers with completed manuscripts or works-in-progress an opportunity to  workshop their novel with professional fiction editors plus meet and pitch top acquisition editors from major publishing houses.

Other conferences focus on specific aspects of craft  such as the Iowa Summer Writing Festival which offers dozens of  weeklong and weekend workshops across all genres during June and July.

RELATED: Read about  Inside the NYC Pitch & Shop Conference.  

6. Writers Festivals

Another option for writing workshops for beginning or established writers is to attend a Writers Festival. While festivals are focused on celebrating the art of the written word through readings, meet-the-author events and talks, many festivals also include writing craft talks.

These presentations by  published authors often feature readings as well as in-depth discussions of topics such as point of view, voice and genre such as memoir.

The Lakefield Literary Festival, held in the Kawartha Lakes region tucked between Toronto and Ottawa, was inspired by celebrated Canadian writer Margaret Laurence who lived in Lakefield.

She actually wrote “The Diviners” in a cabin on the Otonobee River during the summers between 1971 to 1973.

The program of the Lakefield Literary Festival includes a mix of informative activities as well as inspiring talks on writers craft.

Another one of the best writers workshops is specifically designed for humour writers. The Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop is an entertaining and inspiring event that takes place biennially at the University of Dayton in Dayton, Ohio.

It’s the most important conference for writers in the Midwestern United States.

This multi-day event features craft workshops, speakers and a Pitchapalooza where you can pitch your one-minute elevator speech of a book concept in front of hundreds of would-be authors.

There are plenty of things to do in Dayton in between sessions so it’s worth adding on a few days.

7. Algonkian Pitch and Shop Workshop NYC

Got a book to sell? If you’re looking for a writing workshop in NYC that’s focused on selling your manuscript, the Algonkian NYC Pitch and Shop Conference might be the best choice for you.

Held in the Ripley Grier Studios on the 16th floor of 520 Eighth Avenue in Midtown New York, Algonkian NYC Pitch & Shop is a workshop for writers who want to get their books published.

Michele Peterson at the Algonkian College Pitch & Shop session.

I attended Algonkian College Pitch & Shop in NYC.

How is Algonkian Different from other NYC Writing Workshops

It’s a 4-day event which involves developing a synopsis, honing it with your workshop leader (and 15 writers) and then pitching it to an editor.

If they like what they hear, they’ll request a copy of your manuscript.

Algonkian Writing Workshop in NYC: Review and Tips

  1. Soak up the excitement. You’ll be rubbing shoulders with aspiring actors auditioning for Broadway shows, kids in tutus and sixty other writers. Get ready for an electric atmosphere charged with nervous energy and use it to fire your pitch.
  2. Algonkian doesn’t attempt to create a “feel-good’ atmosphere. Expect criticism and use it to your advantage
  3. Lessons begin before you arrive. Pre-conference assignments revealed problems in my book – structure, conflict/complications and characters– I didn’t even know existed.
  4. Don’t believe the website. Bring your computer. You’ll need it to hone your pitch – over and over and over again.
  5. Be happy if you’re told — like I was — that your book isn’t literary. These editors are looking for books with commercial potential. Market-friendly is good.
  6. If you’re looking for an agent, you won’t find one here. The focus is on editors. The best agent tip I got came from Single Gal in the City, the lovely and talented Melissa Braverman who referred me to Publishers MarketPlace, which lists all the best deals plus the agents who finessed them.
  7. Stay positive – even if your name isn’t picked the first or second time.
  8. Get inspired. You’ll be surrounded by talented people. I enjoyed meeting the quirky and fabulous Tanya Eby aka Blunder Woman, published novelist Dahlma Llanos-Figueroa ( Daughters of the Stone) and talented NASCAR cutie  Raygan Swan. I hope we meet again on the shelves at the bookstores if not sooner.
  9. Expect surprises. I won the book draw and learned a lot from Roberta Gately (LIPSTICK IN AFGHANISTAN) and her publicist, the irrepressible  Susan Schwartzman. Her message? Hiring your own publicist is a must.
  10. Forget about shopping. I know it’s NYC but between fixing your pitch and drinking at Cooper’s Tavern you won’t have time to score many deals – although I did manage to hit Macy’s dress sale, take a NYC culinary tour of Little Italy and try on 100 bathing suits. In that order.
  11. Don’t be shy. You’ll have to pitch your book in front of 15 people. Think American Idol – manuscript style.
  12. Never ever compare your book to Eat, Pray, Love. Just don’t.
  13. I loved our workshop leader Susan Breen (The Fiction Class) – she was patient, tough, committed and kind.

Do you have a favourite summer writers conference or retreat? Let’s hear about it! Let us know in the comment section below


Resource Guide for Writers Conferences, Travel Writing Workshops and Retreats

Two people at La Grutta hot springs in San Miguel de Allende Mexico.

Immerse yourself in writing and thermal hot springs at the San Miguel Writers Conference and Workshop.

A valuable resource for searching for a summer writing workshop, conference or retreat is the Shaw Guide to Writers Conferences & Workshops.

You can search by location, interest, month and more. No matter which type of workshop you choose, you’ll enjoy the opportunity to invest in your craft, make friends and escape the ordinary – a lot like summer camp.