A couple months back Alison gave us a heads-up about the various travel writing conferences and classes available in 2008 – including, of course, Rolf’s annual classes at the Paris Writing Workshop, and the Book Passage Travel Writers and Photographers Conference in Corte Madera, CA, where I made some invaluable contacts last summer. But even once you know the where and when of these classes, a big question remains: Is it worth it?
The short answer: Yes. I’ve had almost uniformly positive experiences with the writing classes I’ve taken here at home over the years (with the exception of one college prof who never seemed to get beyond reading us excerpts from his own books), and I have no regrets (far from it!) about flying across the continent last August for Book Passage, either. But I think it’s important to be realistic about what you’re likely to gain from whatever class or conference you may be planning to sign up for.
Can “good writing” (or even “great writing”) be taught? Well, maybe not exactly. But a good teacher can expose you to new styles, voices and ideas, push you to expand your comfort zone, and offer a second opinion on what’s working and what isn’t in your writing. In the right environment, a room full of classmates can also offer advice and serve as guinea pigs for you to test your writing on. Are they laughing at the right times? Are they confused? Are they bored? Most importantly (for me, at least), a writing class will force you to actually sit down and WRITE, and writing an awful lot is the only surefire way to improve. There’s nothing quite as inspiring as a deadline, especially (as in my high school writing class) when your college admission is potentially riding on the results.
As for shorter-term conferences like Book Passage, well, no one is going to try to convince you that four days is long enough to radically alter your writing skills. You won’t spend hours and hours having your writing critiqued word-by-word here. What is so amazing about Book Passage, though, is the opportunity to meet, and gain insight and tips from, industry insiders ranging from agents to publishers, newspaper editors and, of course, successful writers – all in the laid-back, warm and friendly environment that the Bay Area is so famous for.
The bottom line is: know what you are looking for in a writing class or conference, and be realistic about what you can expect from the various offerings. Do you need someone to force you to write a couple of pieces every week? Are you looking for some new and inspiring reads? Or do you want insider info on the pitching and submissions process? When your needs and the expected results meet up, go for it!
For more on Book Passage, here’s an article I wrote called “9 Things I Learned About Travel Writing at Book Passage“. And if you’re sticking close to home for the time being but still want some writing advice, check out my post on “The Pros and Cons of Writing Manuals“.