If you follow this blog frequently, you probably fall into one of three categories:
- Applying for an MFA this year and anxiously waiting for the results of all your application labor.
- Highly or hardly considering an MFA and wanted to find out if current or past candidates got the most out their experience.
- Currently in an MFA and looking to help out who are navigating the treacherous waters of MFA applications or are considering one.
Regardless of where you are, I highly recommend thinking about a workshop, conference, and/or retreat this summer if you aren’t already.
Some of these places have their applications due this month or the next (VONA, Kundiman) or in March (Clarion West, Sewanee). Like the MFA program, a workshop or conference experience can vary. When I first started to get serious about writing and wanted to know more about craft, writing lifestyles, and the business, I went to my first local writer’s conference at the time, the Philadelphia Writers’ Conference. I got a feel for others in the community, learned a few things, and got a sense of where my current style matched with others. Two years after that I went to the (now closed) Rutgers-Camden Writers Conference, and then the next year (when I started applying to MFA programs) I applied and was accepted into the 2017 Clarion West Writers’ workshop.
Pause for a Clarion West plug: The Clarion West Writers workshop was the strongest and most helpful workshop that I have done so far to measure if I wanted to really be a writer or not. Our class was diverse, well-rounded, and every single one of them is a caring and intelligent individual. There were so many stories that I read over that six-week intensive that fucking inspired me.
I owe everything to that workshop and the generosity of the SF/F community, the CW staff, my classmates (Team Eclipse), and those who back CW writers year after year. Thank you all, and I am eternally grateful. For more information on the Clarion West experience, please check out my classmate Robert Minto’s blog post.
What should I look for in a workshop as a first timer?
You will get something out of every intensive writing retreat or conference you go to if you put the work in. Even if the workshop is bad (i.e filled with only people from a higher income bracket, lack of diversity in class or instruction, or if you just had an oddball experience) you’ll know a little bit about yourself as a writer, how you interact with others in your field, and at the very least know what areas you need to improve on like craft or professionalism.
When I started going to conferences, I knew that I did not want to go hard on ‘networking’ or get too friendly with other writers. I wanted to be a forward observer: establish an OP, gather information, and turn it into intelligence. I wanted to stay close enough that I could listen and learn from others in the field without feeling pressurized to contribute extensively.
A local conference or book festival can be good if you want to dabble and see if this is right for you. For one, you will not be traveling too far and wasting too much time or gas. If the place is a sketch or you get anxious, backing out won’t be a big deal. Frankly, some of these conferences can set you back a few hundred or so dollars if you are applying close to the date of the event, but others offer discounts or scholarships for early applications or are free and open to the public.
If this is your first time going to one of these things, I recommend looking now or (if you are reading this in May or so) look at what is either the cheapest or near free and what is closest to you.
I have either been to a local workshop or something similar once, and I am thinking about one of the big workshops that are fucking expensive. Oh, and I’m only going to go if I get a grant or a scholarship with it. What should I be looking for?
As Cady listed out in her post, here are some of the well-known or prestigious workshops out there:
In-person and online weekly workshops
Local universities, which may offer the chance to take individual workshops to people who are not current students.
Conferences and Weeklong Workshops
Tent (Jew-ish, but admissions are open to the goys)
VONA (POC only)
In addition to that, here’s a listing for speculative/science fiction/fantasy/horror writers:
Clarion West Writers Workshop (In Seattle)
Clarion (In California)
The Gunn Center for the Study of Science Fiction
Viable Paradise (Workshop is in October but applications open now)
Shared Worlds (For Teens)
Alpha (For Teens)
Bear in mind that some of the above genre workshops offer classes year round (either online or one-day workshops for locals)
While you are checking out her post, check out the rest of her advice on the MFA Years to include her post on SOP’s, submission cover letters, and others.
Footnote: You should listen to pretty much whatever advice Cady gives you.
Looks dope. As a fiction writer, what do I generally need to apply?
It would be good to have the following handy as most applications are the same with a few differences:
- A personal statement (less than 1000 words or so. Around the 500 mark is solid) that states what you write, why you need this workshop to help you, what you hope to learn from it (including any writers that you admire who are going to be there), and a brief bio of your background and publishing history (if you got one. If not, no big).
- A short story of fewer than 5,000 words (or one that you can cut down to 3 or 4,000), or two smaller stories that total up to 4 to 5,000 words. Some places like Kundiman, are only asking for 5 pages (12 pt, double space) with a 1,250 max. I recommend having a handful of short stories at the ready because it will demonstrate to the gatekeepers that you can, at the least, set up a story and finish it.
- Around $100 saved up, depending on how many workshops you want and can apply to. If you are applying to about one or two, I’d venture about $50 or less squared away is good enough.
That’s it! Of course, read through every single place you apply, proof-read your essay or sample so that it’s tailored to them, and much like the MFA application process, they each have their unique stipulation. However, the three criteria above will make things smoother for you in the process. I think applying at the same time as your MFA application season puts you at an advantage because you’ll have an easier time adjusting your already made statement of purpose essay to whatever conference or workshop you’re applying to.
Some offer generous backing, some offer half, and some don’t offer shit.
Keep in mind that most of the scholarship applications are early, some even weeks before the final due date for general admission. If you’re past that deadline, there are still some options available to you for alternative funding through a quick google search on Grants for Writers and the like. I haven’t done this method (yet) so I can’t vouch for any sites or programs that work the best outside of University grant funding.
Like an MFA, please do not go broke over a workshop. If you didn’t get funding this round or going to the workshop is just not financially in the cards for you, do not worry. You have options. Which leads me to the next question.
I’m unsure about summer workshops/conferences/fairs for XYZ reason or I didn’t get into a workshop
Also, like the MFA, you don’t necessarily need one of these summer workshop things to become a writer.
There are resources out there where you can learn craft, listen to author interviews, or study for little to no cost online. In your area, you’ll probably find a local writing group. If your local writing group is not what you’re looking for, there are places online that you can go to.
What the workshop or places like the MFA does is expedite where you may end up in your writing career and, maybe, find one or several writers who you may end up working within some capacity for the rest of your writing career. I’ve met writers from cons that I still occasionally email today or cheer on when I hear their novel gets picked up by Scholastic or gets pubbed in a magazine, regardless if it’s The Ma and Pa Review or Granta. I strongly believe that the writers I met at Clarion West will continue to be my friends throughout the rest of my writing life and we’ll continue pushing each other as well as being honest with one another’s work.
When I first putting myself out there and applying to these things, I was looking to just gather info, but as the years went by I knew that having a small tribe of writers you click with and understand is worth its weight in gold—it’s as important as picking out the hours of your day to sit down and finish your writing projects.
Here are a few online writing communities that you can join today:
Fanfiction.net (for fandom)
Archive of Our Own (Also known as AO3 for more fandom writing)
Here are some videos that I’ve found helpful when it comes to craft:
Daniel Jose Older’s lectures on Skillshare
Advice that runs the gamut (Craft, business, the writer’s life…)
Chuck Wendig’s blogs on writing
Podcasts on craft
Business side of writing info
Of course, there are hundreds more that I’ve left out, but many of the above sites I’ve used at one time or another and learned a thing or two.
If you want to add anything to the list (a helpful site, a great writing podcast, etc) that you can vouch for and really got a lot out of, feel free to leave a note into the comments and I’ll add it to the list.
Mark Galarrita is an MFA fiction candidate and McNair Graduate Fellow at the University of Alabama. He attended the 2017 Clarion West Writers’ Workshop, the 2016 Rutgers’ Summer Writers’ Conference, and graduated from Marymount Manhattan College with a BA in political science. His work has appeared in Bull Magazine and the Kelsey Review. His fiction was nominated for the 2017 PEN/Robert J Dau Short Story Prize for Emerging Writers and a Pushcart Prize. He has written for the “The Aethera Campaign Setting: a Pathfinder Compatible RPG” and narrative scripts for Global Gamer Jam events. Follow him on Twitter @MarkGalarrita or on his website.