[Updated 15 August 2022 for clarity and to fix links and add new information.]
The Writers Studio in New York City and its branches in Hudson Valley, Tucson, San Francisco, and Rome, Italy offer many writing workshops and craft classes, including workshops I teach, but it can be difficult to sort through all the offerings to pick which classes are best for you or the writer in your life. Here, then, is a guide to our offerings, depending on your writing goals and interests.
But why the Writers Studio? The Writers Studio is unique in its focus on persona writing and critiquing. With persona writing, students try out the narrative voices and styles of many different writers and poets, while developing their own unique narrative voice and style. With critiquing, students learn to provide to each other helpful and encouraging feedback that focuses on the persona narrator, narrative techniques, and elements of craft used in a piece of writing rather than the content. What you write is up to you; how you write it is where we think we can provide each other the most useful feedback.
First, I’d like to mention that the Writers Studio has returned to a few in-person classes (with proof of vaccination and masks) at some of its branches as of 2022, but it also continues to hold classes remotely and online because of the ongoing pandemic(s). The Writers Studio offer three formats for online classes:
- Remote live classes – these used to be in-person classes held in each branch city before the pandemic started. We moved to live video chats instead and this has worked out very well, allowing us to offer our local workshops to writers from all over the world. Students submit their exercise writing responses to everyone before class and then we spend class time reading everyone’s work out loud and providing helpful and encouraging live critiques.
- Online classes – these classes have always been held online, with students submitting their work online and receiving written critiques from other students and the instructor. An optional weekly text-only chat provides space for questions and discussions.
- Online hybrid classes – This new class model replaces the weekly text-only chat in online classes with a live video chat.
Whether in-person or online, there are are two types of classes you can take at the Writers Studio:
- 8-week Level workshops
- 6-week genre- and craft-specific workshops
8-week Level Workshops
The 8-week workshops at the Writers Studio provide a guided experience with writing exercises to help you learn and practice persona writing and various other narrative techniques and elements of craft while discovering your own voice and improving your ability to provide helpful and encouraging critiques to others. Students take at least two workshops at each level before moving up to the next level:
- In Level 1/Workshop, students respond to exercises with their own writing based on a prewritten preamble (a short summary of techniques to be practiced.)
- In Level 2/Intermediate Workshop, students continue to respond to exercises with their own writing but they write their own preambles.
- In Level 3/Advanced Workshop and Craft Class (two classes taken together), students read a book each week, write their own preamble based on the persona narrator and narrative techniques in that book, and respond with their own writing.
- In Level 4/Master Workshop and Craft Class (two classes taken together), students read a book each week while working on their own long-term writing projects.
Your writing in response to exercises may serve as kernels for longer and finished pieces in the future, but it’s important to note that you won’t necessarily finish any poems, short stories, essays, collections, memoirs, or novels during the Level 1 through 3 workshops. Instead, you’ll be practicing and experimenting with various persona narrators and narrative techniques in a relatively short space (generally up to a page and a half each week.)
All students who take these 8-week workshops, regardless of their previous writing experience, education, and publication history, start at Level 1/Workshop. Level 1 will teach you about the Writers Studio method, which may be quite different than methods you’ve learned elsewhere. When I started taking my first Tucson Workshop, I had just received my undergraduate degrees in Creative Writing and English from the University of Arizona, but even with these degrees, the Writers Studio was a revelation that transformed my writing for the better!
If starting from the beginning to learn about persona writing and various narrative techniques would make you impatient, if working through writing exercises rather than finishing your own writing projects sounds tedious, or if you prefer other methods and approaches to writing, then the Level workshops at the Writers Studio may not be the best fit for you. On the other hand, you might not know for sure until you give it a try for one or two sessions!
Another important note: all students learn from exercises pulled from poetry, fiction, and memoir or creative nonfiction. Persona writing and narrative techniques are important regardless of genre, so everyone receives a mix of exercises. That said, you can generally respond to any exercise with your preferred genre. You’ll be amazed at what a poetry exercise will do for your fiction, and vice versa.
Finally, I think it’s important to acknowledge that taking writing workshops is expensive, and not everyone has the financial resources (or the time) to take classes. I’m single and have the privilege of a good-paying job and few major financial responsibilities, so it was relatively easy for me to adjust my budget so that I could afford taking writing workshops quarter after quarter. The Writers Studio may offer discounts and work-study opportunities to help with the cost of workshops. Know, though, that it gets more expensive as you move up each level.
6-week genre- and craft-specific workshops
While I recommend a beginning Level 1/Workshop to everyone new to the Writers Studio and the persona writing method, there are also several classes available outside these levels. These 6-week classes focus on specific genres and writing topics and don’t count toward the Level 1 through 4 workshops. In the past, I’ve taught a 6-week class about writing science fiction, fantasy, and horror, for example. Other instructors have offered classes in memoir writing, essays, journal writing, prose poetry, flash fiction, submitting work to literary magazines, and more.
See the full list of courses for these online classes. These classes may change quarter to quarter and may change instructors, and new classes are frequently being introduced, taught by instructors with a particular background or interest in a topic.
There’s one other class the Writers Studio offers that is unique and required for students in Level 3/Advanced and Level 4/Master workshops but open to everyone: Craft Class.
For eight weeks each quarter, students close read a list of books that might include collections of poetry or short stories, novels, memoirs, or the latest edition of the Pushcart Prize anthology, and they get together each Tuesday for an online craft discussion led by a Writers Studio instructor and/or the author.
Much more information is of course available on the Writers Studio website. Taking workshops at the Writers Studio helped improve my writing so much and led directly to my first publications. After three years of attending workshops, moving up levels until I was in the Master Workshop, and practicing persona writing while improving my ability to provide useful critiques, I was asked if I wanted to be an instructor, and I gladly accepted. I’m delighted to share the Writers Studio method with new students!
Of course, there are other schools and approaches out there for writers. Not everyone enjoys workshops. Some writers do very well writing on their own or forming their own local writing groups. If you have any interest in the Writers Studio, I hope this guide was useful. As a student, I also gathered “A Few General Tips About Attending Craft Classes and Writing Workshops” that might also be useful.
Happy writing and learning!
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