Writing is a solitary pursuit. Whether you’re holed up in your home office or you set up shop at the local coffee house, writing is the kind of work that’s quiet, introspective, and (at times) isolating.
That’s all the more reason to push yourself outside of your little bubble and into the writing community. When you attend writing events, you can learn new things, meet interesting people, and take the next step in your writing career.
Perhaps you struggle to find time to work on your book or want to improve your writing skills. Maybe you’re dreaming of a book deal, but you’re not sure how to get an agent or pitch your story. And who couldn’t use a few good writer friends to bounce ideas off of?
Writers conferences, retreats, workshops, and residencies are all great opportunities to turn a traditionally solo activity into a gathering of like-minded folks. In this guide, you’ll learn more about what happens at each of these writing meetups and get some suggestions for events you may want to attend.
Writers Conferences: Where You Go to Learn
Do you consider yourself a lifelong student? If so, you’re going to love writers conferences. Usually held over the course of a long weekend, these events become like a mini college campus for a few days. Come prepared to take notes or even participate in interactive writing sessions. Many conferences have plenty of industry professionals on hand as well, giving you the chance to brush up on your networking skills.
The following are some popular picks for writers conferences. However, there are dozens of these types of events held all over the country every year, including those geared at specific genres, so don’t hesitate to search for more.
This annual fiction and nonfiction conference in Boston tackles both the creative side (“The Muse”) and the business side (“The Marketplace”) of writing. Authors, editors, and literary agents lead interactive writing sessions and provide guidance on how to get your book published during the three-day event. There are also plenty of opportunities to network with industry professional and meet fellow writers.
This conference is huge, but you can guarantee a one-on-one meeting with an established literary agent, an acquiring editor at a publishing house, or a literary journal editor if you sign up for the Manuscript Mart event. Partial, need-based scholarships are also available (no previous publication or MFA required).
Established and emerging authors of fiction and nonfiction love this conference because it has something for everyone. Over the course of four days, the San Francisco Writers Conference hosts over 100 events, including keynote addresses, panels, workshops, networking meetups, pitch sessions, and more. You can even attend open mic readings to get inspired by other authors. No matter where you are in your book’s journey, you can learn more about writing, get an agent, create a book proposal, or even sell a book at this event.
Try to attend at least one of the nightly group dinners if you can. These meals are an excellent way to connect with other writers or even meet some of the presenters. You can also apply for scholarships for this conference.
If you’re ready to take your writing career to the next level, attend the Writer’s Digest Annual Conference in NYC. This event features some incredibly useful workshops and panels that are focused on improving your craft. In addition, you can learn more about how the publishing industry works and get tips for selling your book.
Speaking of selling, one of the most exciting events at this conference is the Pitch Slam. This can’t-miss session features agents and editors who are looking for new works of fiction and nonfiction. You’ll get one hour to make three-minute pitches and get feedback from these industry professionals—and perhaps even the chance to submit your work for consideration.
Writing Retreats & Residencies: A Chance to Unplug
If the daily grind of life is making it difficult for you to focus on your writing, a retreat or residency could be the opportunity you’ve been waiting for. Typically, you’ll travel to a quiet location for these types of events. You’ll have a space free of distractions where you can write for hours a day and really concentrate on a particular project. In most cases, you’ll gather with other writers in attendance for meals and to share ideas and feedback.
Ultimately, writing residencies and retreats are both aimed at giving your creative side a chance to flourish. Residencies are often a bit longer (a few weeks or more, in many cases) while retreats may only last for a week or even just a weekend. In many cases, residencies are free or low-cost, but the selection process can be very competitive. Retreats often cost more, but there are more opportunities to find one that suits your schedule and your desired location and working environment.
Looking for retreat and residency inspiration? The following suggestions will give you a better feel for what you can expect at these writer getaways.
Each month from April to November, the Millay Colony for the Arts invites a handful of artists to stay on their picturesque campus on the former estate of Edna St. Vincent Millay in upstate New York. This is a quiet, peaceful residency experience that may include other writers as well as visual artists and composers. It’s a free residency with food included, and each artist receives a private bedroom and studio.
This artist residency program is set on 30,000 acres at the base of the Medicine Bow National Forest outside of Saratoga, Wyoming. The stunning scenery inspire writers, musicians, composers, visual artists, and performance artists as they complete a three-week residency on the ranch. Communal lunches and dinners served family-style create a close sense of community among the participating artists.
Hedgebrook is a unique program that offers residencies specifically for women writers. The residencies last from two to six weeks and take pace on Whidbey Island, located just outside Seattle. Writers are each housed in a quaint cottage and gather in the main farmhouse to share meals and talk about their work. Six writers are invited at a time, with a total of about 40 writers hosted at Hedgebrook each year.
This home in Ashfield, Massachusetts is open all year as a retreat for writers and artists. It’s in a peaceful, densely wooded area and, for those who want to disconnect for a few days, has no cell phone service. Each writer gets a private room, with both daily and weekly rates available. The communal areas offer a great chance to mingle with other creative minds.
Writing Workshops: Sharpen Your Story
Workshops are best for writers who have a story they’re looking to tighten up or improve. This type of writing meetup offers a chance to show your work to others and get detailed feedback. Think of it as an intensive writing class where you can get critical input that will help you flesh out your story and sharpen the text.
Workshops are a little bit like a combination of a writing residency and a conference; there’s the opportunity to collaborate with a small group of other writers like you would at a residency program, but it’s typically much more structured, similar to a writers conference with a detailed schedule prepared in advance. If you’re interested in a writing workshop, consider checking out one of the following options.
Every year, the Kenyon Review hosts a number of writers workshops on the beautiful Kenyon College campus in Gambier, Ohio. Each weeklong workshop focuses on a particular genre, with options available for fiction, literary nonfiction, poetry, spiritual writing, and translation. Instructors are on hand to lead critiques and writing sessions.
Located on the gorgeous coast of Newport, Oregon, the Tin House Winter Workshops feature short yet productive writing events. These four-day sessions are each focused on a particular genre (short fiction, poetry, nonfiction, or novel), giving you the chance to immerse yourself with other writers working toward a similar goal. There are no more than six writers per class, and all participants can enjoy one-on-one meetings with the instructors.
Hosted by the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, this workshop takes place entirely online, making it perfect for those with limited budgets and busy schedules. It’s more than just a virtual class, though. During the workshop, you’ll have access to a blog where you can post your work. Other participants will also publish their stories on the site, and you’ll all be able to comment on and critique each other’s work. Teachers are also on hand to assign writing tasks and offer expert guidance via email.
Are you ready to branch out as a writer? Consider signing up for a conference, residency, retreat, or workshop to help hone your skills and discover a community of other writers.
about the author
Ashley Henshaw has been a contributing writer for a number of online publications, including The Huffington Post, USA Today, and AOL City's Best. She has a BA in English from Loyola University Chicago and previously worked for a publishing house. She is an avid fiction reader and loves to edit fiction and nonfiction alike. If she could, she'd spend every spare minute on the beaches of Lake Michigan, but Chicago's weather has proven uncooperative.
Check out Ashley’s other blog posts: “Why Word Count Matters When You Submit Your Book” and “Should You Self-Publish?”