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Wildacres Writers Workshop: a friendly place to learn creative writing

Updated on November 5, 2014
Writers at Wildacres workshop
Writers at Wildacres workshop

Residential writing workshops: a growth opportunity for writers

The first summer I attended Wildacres Writers Workshop, I'd made a decision to focus more on my creative writing. I'd been trying to get publishing without much luck, so getting professional feedback seemed like my next step. I saw this workshop advertised in a trade magazine, and I loved the idea of a week-long learning vacation in the mountains. So I sent in my application and story sample -- and I was accepted.

But when summer arrived, I had cold feet and was wondering why I'd thought a residential workshop -- one where I didn't know a soul -- was a good idea. Like many writers, I'm not a socially adventurous person; I'm strictly a small-group type, with a preference for groups where I know everyone well. I was headed way out on a limb, well beyond my comfort zone.

So I was nervous. But I wasn't about to back out and lose the cost of the workshop and the airfare. So I took a leap of faith and went. And I made friends, had fun, and learned some things to boot. Yes, it was scary -- but it was worth it.

I went back the next summer and many more times in the years that followed. Every time, I felt that apprehension beforehand: what if I don't have fun; what if I don't like my roommate; will I be able to find nice people to sit with at meals; and of course, what if everyone hates my writing? The list of worries went on and on. But the things I worried about were never a problem, and I eventually learned to just do what I did that first year: take the leap of faith.

I haven't regretted it yet.

Read on to learn more about what to expect at Wildacres.

2014's workshop was held in early July. Classes offered included novel writing, short story writing, poetry and creative nonfiction.

Author Ann Hood and her students
Author Ann Hood and her students

The creative writing workshops

Wildacres Writers Workshop offers classes on a variety of creative writing forms. I've taken classes in flash fiction, short stories, and the novel, and I've always been satisfied with the experience. Over the years, I've studied under authors John Dufresne, Gail Adams, Rand Cooper, and Lance Olsen, and I've audited classes with more people than I can remember. Every instructor has a unique style and takes a different approach to the workshop: some have formal lectures, others offer creative writing exercises and promote in-class readings, and some simply treat the class as a forum for discussion, guiding the group through critiques and using the class manuscripts as learning tools. But every class is kept to a small size (roughly 10 students), and each student gets manuscript critiques from instructor and classmates. Your time outside of class is your own, so you can audit any workshop you choose in your free hours.

There's also a creative writing retreat available to workshop attendees. The retreat is held the week before the workshop. While there are no formal activities during the retreat, writers gather after dinner and have the option to read from their day's work. Each reader typically gets five minutes, and it's interesting to hear the wide variety of styles, subjects, and even genres. Plus if you're lucky, other attendees might even give you a little feedback about your work!

Students readings offer an opportunity to share your writing.
Students readings offer an opportunity to share your writing.

Popular workshops like novel writing fill up fast. Applications for 2015 will be accepted beginning in January. Reserve your spot early, since many classes are full by the end of March!

What to expect at a writing workshop

First and foremost, Wildacres Writers Workshop is a residential creative writing program: you stay at the facility for a week, attend classes where your work is critiqued, eat meals on-site, and meet other writers. You can sit in on other classes, and there are always one or two student readings where you have the opportunity to share a bit of your work with a larger group. The faculty read from their writing as well, and a bookseller is on site with books by faculty members and popular books about writing.

But never let it be said that writers don't know how to have fun! There are several social events, including a theme party where attendees and faculty are encouraged to dress in costume. And the week ends with a variety show put on by attendees and faculty; think Saturday Night Live with a writing theme.

There's also an added advantage of being on the mountain: there's no TV, limited cell phone reception, and minimal Internet access. Be prepared to leave your distractions and electronic addictions behind!

Have you tried creative writing workshops?

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Author and writing instructor John Dufresne
Author and writing instructor John Dufresne

Faculty spotlight: John Dufresne (Short stories, novel writing)

John Dufresne was my instructor my first time at Wildacres. He was teaching short stories that year, and he's returned to Wildacres several times since then. (He taught novel writing in 2014.)

I remember John providing a nice mix of lecture and discussion as well as some in-class writing exercises. I particularly appreciate instructors who incorporate examples and practice into their classes rather than just theory. Learning by example can be extremely helpful in driving home different concepts and elements of good writing, and putting that knowledge into practice is a great way to be sure the lessons stick.

If you can't make it to Wildacres to study with John, you might consider getting a copy of his first writing guide, The Lie That Tells a Truth. The web site Medium has an excerpt about crafting beginnings and endings, complete with examples from well-known stories.

The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction
The Lie That Tells a Truth: A Guide to Writing Fiction

This is one of two writing guides published by John Dufresne. This one applies to both short stories and novels, while other focuses specifically on the novel and offers a timetable to help you put together a first draft in six months.

Author Luke Whisnant (left) and student writers
Author Luke Whisnant (left) and student writers

Faculty spotlight: Luke Whisnant teaches short stories, novel writing and flash fiction

Luke is a permanent faculty member at Wildacres, and he's earned that spot by being an amazing instructor. I've never been in Luke's class, but I've audited it many times to get the benefit of his lectures; Luke spends the beginning portion of each day discussing key aspects of the craft of writing, and as a result, his class is a popular one to audit. Luke's workshop is very structured, which I believe is particularly appealing to new writers.

Two of my Wildacres roommates were in Luke's class and both said that he gave thorough critiques and offered each student in his class a private meeting to discuss their work -- an extra benefit not typically provided. They also noted that he makes a point to give everyone the opportunity to speak during class discussions.

I should also add that Luke isn't afraid of commercial fiction or genre work. Some instructors prefer literary fiction, but Luke is open to all forms of creative writing.

Luke appears several times in the following video, which highlights moments from past workshops.

For more details about faculty, cost, and other considerations, visit the workshop's website.

For more information about the workshop location, read my companion article about Wildacres Conference Center.

Photos provided by workshop attendees and used with permission.

© 2014 C. A. Chancellor

Do you enjoy creative writing? Have you attended a workshop before?

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