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Cheryl's Musings: Staying Motivated: WRITING CLASSES & WORKSHOPS

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road



When I first started to write seriously (seriously meaning that I started to aim for publication; I wrote regularly for years before that,) I took several different online and correspondence classes that helped my writing to improve dramatically. Writers of all levels can benefit from the high-quality content and feedback that a structured class provides. Here are a few that I've explored:

  1. Writer's Online Workshops ( Sponsored by Writer's Digest books, this program offers a variety of courses on beginner to advanced topics. Years ago, I took the "Writing Effective Dialog" and "Creating Dynamic Characters" courses and found them extremely helpful. Pros: these courses are online (a plus for those of us with busy schedules,) competitively priced, and offer individual feedback from published authors. They also have great content, especially for beginning writers. Cons: the other writers in the class vary widely in both writing level and commitment, so the "group critique" aspect isn't always useful.

  2. Institute for Children's Literature ( ICL offers, in my opinion, the best comprehensive course for children's writers. This course begins at an elementary level (some more experienced writers might find the first assignment a little TOO elementary) but quickly moves on to topics relevant to all levels. Pros: This course moves at your pace. It also pairs you with an instructor who best suits your needs. The price tag seems high, but for the amount of information and feedback provided, the per-lesson cost is extremely economical. Cons: This course can take a long time to complete if you have a particularly slow turn-around instructor. Some people don't like the non-fiction focus of the first few lessons--but, in my opinion, this focus is actually another of the course's pros. Some of us (like me) wouldn't have explored nonfiction writing without ICL. Nonfiction writing is easier to break into. It also provides beginning writers with valuable publishing credits and helps in the development of important writing skills. Besides, some of us discover that we enjoy writing nonfiction when forced to try it! Maybe it's the "try it, maybe you'll like it" routine applied to adults.

  3. Highlights Foundation Chautauqua Workshop( Want an information-packed week with one-on-one feedback from established authors, editors, and writing instructors in a gorgeous, peaceful location? The only downside to this conference is its price tag--but the Highlights Foundation offers generous need- and merit-based scholarships every year, which help dedicated writers to attend. This event will keep you inspired for an entire year. I attended in 2005, and I still pull out my notes from various seminars. Pros: See above. Cons: Expense, plus a week-long event is a bit long for some writers.

  4. Highlights Foundation Founders Workshops ( Although I haven't attended one of these personally, I've heard raving reports from those who have. Pros: Beautiful location, great studen/faculty ratio, excellent faculty, and most offer personal feedback on your WIP. This is also a great way to get insider information about how Highlights for Children works. Cons: They're a little expensive, which is why I haven't attended one yet!

  5. SCBWI Conferences ( for listings): The Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators' conferences are a great way to connect with fellow writers, meet industry professionals, study the craft of writing, and learn about marketing. Pros: Regional conferences mean that you won't have to travel clear across the country for a big-name venue. Also, many offer critiques and pitch sessions with industry professionals. These are a best bet for meeting local writers, getting inspired, and keeping up on craft--and usually the price tag is very reasonable. Cons: Some conferences are big enough that you can get lost in the crowd. One way to make connections is to volunteer.

  6. Big Sur Writing Workshop ( This is another workshop I haven't attended, but keep hearing glowing reports about. I hope to attend next year's session! This workshop is a good bet for those farther along the writing path. Pros: Beautiful location, small workshop size, and one-on-one meetings with multiple industry professionals. You have to submit a writing sample in order to qualify, so this is not a workshop for absolute beginners; but you get to focus on that manuscript throughout the workshop. Great for someone looking to identify ways to take their writing to the next level. Cons: Price--a lot for one weekend. I won't be going until I can take the best advantage of the opportunity!

  7. Anastasia Suen's Online Workshops ( Anastasia Suen offers several classes for both fiction and nonfiction picture book writers, with a heavy emphasis on reading, reading, reading. I keep hearing rave reviews. Pros: Online intensive instruction, with personal feedback from a highly successful writer. Cons: These classes take a fair bit of time, so be prepared to fit several hours of homework into your weekly schedule.

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I stuck with courses and workshops that I or close friends have experienced. If you're interested in a face-to-face class, check with local SCBWI members for recommendations; I know, for example, of several great author-taught classes in my area. Or ask around one of the writing listserves for more online class recommendations. Margot Finke has a great article on Harold Underdown's site ( listing additional online courses, writing listserves, and writing websites.

Some people are ready for the greater commitment of time and money of an MFA program. Occasionally I drool over the literature for one of these, but they definitely don't fit into my current life! Explore the options, and you're sure to find something that works for you.


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At November 25, 2007 at 9:48 PM , Blogger Ray Davis said...


Great ideas. Thank you. Do you ever use affirmations?

At November 26, 2007 at 11:57 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Yes! I LOVE using affirmations, but I've slacked off with the practice over the past month. Thank you for the reminder. I wrote a post about affirmations, because they're a powerful way to boost motivation and confidence. ~Cheryl


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