You may or may not know the difference between a writing workshop, a writing conference, and a writing retreat. All three are wonderful places to continue learning the writing craft and meet new people. All three cost money. And all three will make you a stronger writer and help you learn more about the industry. However, there are a few differences.
A workshop typically lasts anywhere from 50 minutes to 8 hours. The shorter workshops of 1-2 hours are likely part of a conference or retreat. Other workshops can be half-day or full-day events, with 1-2 instructors to help you dive deeper into a specific topic related to writing, whether it be picture books, how to blog properly to maximize your marketing efforts, or world building for any kind of novel.
Workshops are a typical component of conferences and retreats. Workshops, no matter if they are stand-alone or part of a larger event, always dive deeper into the nitty gritty. You may learn more about how to woo editors and agents, or how to properly write a query letter with a fabulous pitch (and even get a chance to work on your own), or do writing exercises that can be a part of current manuscripts or simply to get the creativity flowing.
Writing conferences typically last 2-3 days, and include workshops as a main portion of their schedule. The workshops can be small-group or large-group. Conferences usually focus on networking. There will definitely be lots of authors there, and more often than not, a good handful of agents and editors as well.
There may or may not be a few social events mixed in, such as trivia games, a book signing gala, or a dinner with live music at a local restaurant. With your days packed full of workshops, and possibly the chance to get a professional critique on one of your manuscripts (you would know this ahead of time), you likely won't have much free time to get any writing done, aside from any short exercises prompted as part of a workshop.
This option to learn the writing craft is hands down my favorite, though it is also the most costly. Writing retreats typically last anywhere from 4-14 days, usually 5 or 6. The main focus is on networking with other writers, learning the craft, and having the time to implement what you learn on the spot during free writing time.
Some retreats are in exotic locations like Peru, Mexico, the Bahamas, Italy, or Ireland. Other retreats are right here in the states, whether you choose Texas, Colorado, or North Carolina. Some have a focus on swimming, yoga, or exploring the lore of the land. There's even one that has a focus on running (that one's mine). Retreats usually don't have an emphasis on wooing an editor or an agent. Some are very small and you write all day in your own private cabin or cottage and convene in the evening to eat, socialize, and talk about your writing progress, maybe even critique each other's work. Other retreats are larger with a bit more structure and workshop instruction.
All retreats should be a chance to get away, learn more about the craft, get some writing done, connect with others, and relax and rejuvenate.
If you're thinking about going to a writing retreat, check out the Writers Who Run (or Walk) Retreat in the secluded mountains of western NC every June. The inaugural 2016 year was held in August. It incorporates a daily 2-mile morning run, jog, walk, or hike and even offers a 10k race on the final day. If this excites you, definitely go check it out!
Have you ever been to western North Carolina?
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Christie Wright Wild
Founder, Writers Who Run
Creator, Plot Like a Novelist
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