Summer is high season for writing "retreats," and there are many to select from—if you have the time and the money. These outings aren't cheap but they're usually beneficial to aspiring and practicing writers. Being a newbie is no reason to avoid them, but pick what suits you best. Looking through Writer's Digest, Poet & Writer or The Writer magazines will provide lists of summer workshops in Massachusetts and elsewhere. I can name a few opportunities.
You can tie workshops to a vacation or find workshops closer to home. Some combine recreation with creation, supplying both inspiration and fun. You'll often find sessions led by noted authors in a variety of fields, as they seem to be fond of working in these lovely surroundings.
Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative's last seasonal workshop, on writing emotions, was scheduled for Saturday, May 17, and that's the last one until fall. The best thing about these workshops is that they're filled with quality content, presented by working writers, and free. You do not find free very often. Catch us in the fall.
For less "retreat" and more "hands-on work," Grub Street in Boston—near Emerson College and Boston Common—offers a lot of specialty courses. Costs are relatively low, depending on the length and intensity of the course you choose. You'll have to move fast, though, as deadlines approach and classes fill fast. (https://www.grubstreet.org/)
Nearer the beach, Cape Cod Writers Center presents its annual summer retreat Aug. 7-10 in Hyannis. CCWC members also have the opportunity to participate in a special publish-shared profits event with Books by the Sea book store, by the way. At least a dozen authors lead the sessions. (http://capecodwriterscenter.org)
Write It Out an "Expressive Writers Retreat" for sharing life-altering events in writing, is held Aug. 18-22 at Wellfleet-by-the-Sea. (http://www.writeitout.com/WIOcapecod.html). Cost is $540 for the weekend, and you have to find accommodations separately. Like I said ...
Juniper Summer Writing Institute, in Amherst, Mass., June 22-28, offers specialized workshops and an impressive faculty of coaches. It, too, is costly—$1,250—and doesn't include room and dinner. (http://www.umass.edu/juniperinstitute)
What should you know before you go?
You don't have to know a thing, actually, other than who-what-where-when and how much. Read the information carefully, explore them on the internet, tally up the costs. Once decided, here are some tips:
* Dress comfortably but nicely. Jeans are fine, as are shorts in the summer. Halter tops? Not really.
* Bring a notebook and/or laptop for research, taking notes, or referring to a piece you're working on.
* Listen. To others. I can't stand people who dominate a class with their own-little-worldview while others are waiting for a turn to ask a question or comment. Share the time and learn from others by using your ears more often than your mouth.
* Say hello. That doesn't mean to sit in the back of the room all day and never talk to anyone. Tell the leader what you gained from the session and say thanks. Visit with other members during breaks.
* Don't be afraid. We're writers—which makes us all rather nervous about revealing ourselves. But we're there for the same reasons, and willing to help others learn. We've all been beginners (some for longer than others).
* Try to attend as many sessions as possible without skipping an important session or being rude. People who waltz in and out of rooms during a session aren't easy to tolerate, as they cause distractions.
* Depending on your level, go easy on the agent meetings. Nothing is more discouraging than going away from an agent with a list of how many ways your book fails, and new writers take the words much too much to heart. Remember, an agent is just one person, who has likes and dislikes. Take what you can from it, but don't let it discourage you. But that's why I'd advise against these meetings when you're just getting started. You're vulnerable to criticism, and you're not likely to hear great things when you're starting out. There are exceptions, though, and meeting an agent is usually instructive. You'll pay for it, of course, but on the whole the agents aren't charging. The workshops use face-to-face meetings as a way to raise funds for their workshops and seminars.
* Write down all contacts you make. You'll forget later, and these can lead to all kinds of information or opportunity.
* Be a little cautious about unknown retreats. Nothing wrong with having a good time, but some, I suspect, are focused on income over quality. Do some research or make calls to writing centers to research an unfamiliar center. You may do well, or you may waste money.
* Bring a satchel to tote hand-outs or new books. This is especially true if you're taking the T back home.
* Have fun. Writing and meeting writers should be enjoyable. Have a drink, ask others about their writing (people love to talk about themselves), and don't overdo, leading to missed sessions the next day!
Regardless of whether you go to a retreat or not, keep on writing! Daily writing, no matter its length, is critical to establishing the best writing habits. In the end, it's the writing that is at the heart of what we do.
Ann Connery Frantz is a retired journalist turned freelance writer and editor, and cofounder of the Seven Bridge Writers Collaborative. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org