We gotta talk about em, folks. Writers go to these things, and sometimes they come away inspired and ready to take on the world, and sometimes they come away discouraged and angry. Sometimes, I hate to say, a bad workshop can really break a talented writer.
If you aren’t familiar with the world of writing workshops, they last anywhere from a few days to a full summer. In the science fiction world, there are some prestigious, by-audition-only workshops: the Clarions, Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox. However, a new, or cash-strapped, writer is much more likely to attend a short open-enrollment workshop like my local events Chuckanut, Chanticleer, or, the little workshop-that-could I’ll discuss shortly, Cascade Writers.
(I think Cascade is a cut above 99% of local workshops, but I’m also on the board, BUT, I joined the board because it was a cut above… more in a moment on why.)
These things are meant to attract new writers who need some networking, some schmoozing, and help those writers push their writing, and subsequently their careers, up a little higher. It’s a chance to interact with agents, editors, and mentors. A good workshop can give you some incremental pushes. You might take a class that helps you identify your strengths or weaknesses, or meet critique partners. You might learn things about the agent-querying or self-pubbing process that help you get your stuff out there.
They can also be a major stumbling block. It doesn’t take much to be a successful writer invited to conferences (I, for instance, have about 20 short story sales, and only about 5 are truly prestigious), and someone with a platform could spread disinformation or outright colonialism.
(I know James’ blog post linked above is really long, but if you care about indigenous issues in fiction, you owe it to yourself to read the whole darn thing. It’s brilliant and incisive and says it all.)
One also needs to understand the culture of the workshop. Some workshops (like Chanticleer) cater mostly to self-publishing, while others cater to traditional publishing. Any person or workshop who adopts a favorable extreme is going to spread some bullshit; there is a right way to do self-pubbing, and a right way to do traditional publishing, and both are a ton of work. You want a workshop that promotes respectful dialogue, information about all publishing paths, diversity and inclusion for all people, and zero tolerance for harassment.
I began taking myself seriously as a writer when I attended a workshop: David Farland’s Outline workshop in 2004. There, I met Eric James Stone and joined his writing group. I am also a teacher, and I work mostly with a historically underserved minority. So I am pretty invested in making sure new writers, of diverse backgrounds, have a good workshop.
And hey, now’s where I tell you that I think Cascade Writers is the best damn new-to-intermediate-to-advanced workshop I’ve been involved with. I’ve been going, either as a pro or just an attendee, since its inception, but this last year, I joined the board. I’ll let you explore the website, but I’ll just say that, with everything I’ve detailed here, we all try to make this the most helpful, worth-your-dollar workshop for everyone. We have a few memberships left for our Tacoma workshop next weekend. Although all our critique sessions spots are taken, this membership will still get you a “flash edit” with one of our publishing pros and entrance to all the classes.
Oh and, uh… I met my agent and one of my editors there. So, here’s the other thing about writing workshops: sometimes, sometimes, when you’ve done your dues, (to be fair, I had submitted a bazillion short stories and novels before this) they REALLY work.