Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Getting More Writers of Color to Workshops: A Modest Proposal

Taking a break from talking about the Hugos and Jonathan Ross for actual important stuff.

A few days ago I tweeted:

Writers of Color, raise hands if you want to attend writing workshops but can’t afford one financially.

And I got many responses. One of the reasons I asked is because I wanted to point out again why the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship was important and encourage people to apply[1]. Then a couple of responses made me realize I needed to do something else as well.

@cafenowhere That’s me. With added complication of being main care giver to a child & living in the Midwest.

@LonAitewalker *raises hand* compound that with being disabled as well – double whammy.

Lack of funds isn’t the only barrier. There’s the inability to miss work for a week or weeks at a time, or not having anyone to leave a child with for that time, or other obligations that make going away to a workshop not possible.

As other responses point out, going to a workshop can be a life-changing experience. Not only do you gain valuable writing instruction, you also get valuable networking done and face time with authors who are generous with their advice and influence. Workshopping is an important element in developing a career. It’s not necessary, it’s just very helpful.

So how can we make workshops more widely available to writers who are more likely to miss out on these opportunities? A few good ideas I’ve seen lately:

One Day Workshops: Clarion West does these occasionally (and lately doing more of them). They usually involve tackling a particular subject, like how to research or how to create more immersive fiction, take place on a weekend day, and cost a fraction of what the 6 week workshop costs. The downside is that they only take place in Seattle for now. I hear that there are discussions to expand into…

Online Classes via Google Hangout: I’ve heard of several writers doing this, but the only class I’m at all familiar with is Mary Robinette Kowal’s. She does two types, a weekend intensive (Friday night to Sunday) and an 8-week course that meets one day a week. Since they take place online you don’t have to travel and it may be easier to structure your time even if you have caregiving obligations. Click here to see explanations for her workshops, which will give you a good idea of how most are run.

Neither of these solutions is absolutely perfect and will work for everyone. They go a long way toward helping, though. More one day workshops in other cities and towns mean more people can attend. Doing things online through Google Hangouts open it up even more–you don’t even need a webcam, just a mic[2]. Then we’re back to cost.

These workshops are far less expensive than the long 6-week ones like Clarion or even retreat-type workshops like Out Of Excuses. That doesn’t mean they’re that much more affordable since the cost is still in the hundreds for many. Scholarships are needed here as well.

I have a request for pro authors giving workshops and organizations coordinating workshops. Would you be willing to set aside one registration per workshop for a writer who cannot afford it but would greatly benefit from attending? Could you perhaps work with an organization willing to help coordinate some of the particulars, like matching writers who want to attend with appropriate workshops?

People involved in organizations and community groups that raise awareness around diversity in the genre, would you help out by doing some of that coordinating? Or even setting up scholarship funds so that the workshop runners still get paid?

This could end up being a major project for some non-profit, but major projects take time to build. As that happens, if that happens, I’d still like to see some smaller efforts to help build momentum. Such as workshops deciding to set aside that one registration. Or writers helping each other raise money individually. A larger project like Con or Bust would be great in the long term. I just don’t want people to think we have to wait for that to come together in order to get started.

So let’s discuss this! Here in the comments, on social media, at cons, wherever. This is just the spark of an idea. Help me grow it.

Oh, and apply for the Writing Excuses Carl Brandon Scholarship! Applications must be in by 3/15. If you can afford the time but can’t afford registration, hotel, and travel, the scholarship covers those things.

Footnotes

  1. BTW – People, apply! Deadline Is 3/15[]
  2. You do need a reliable high-speed connection, and not everyone has that, I know.[]

Comments

  1. says

    Cascade Writers has scholarships for its Thursday evening through Sunday noon workshop held in the Pacific Northwest. It’s a friendly event — people bring their caregivers and children. It’s a lot of fun and filled with good classes and Milford-style workshops. See http://www.CascadeWriters.com for more information.

  2. says

    Hey Tempest,

    Glad you’re talking about this. There’s a fundamental problem with the way writing workshops are funded. I’m not talking about away-workshops like Clarion, where you go somewhere and have to be housed and fed. Those are so outrageously expensive that they could never expect students to pay for them, so they have to be heavily subsidized, and then *still* have to charge students prohibitively expensive fees.

    I’m talking about the most common type of community writing workshops (which don’t seem to be a thing in sf/f): the weekly 2-3 hour workshop that goes for 6 or 8 or 12 weeks. The locally based writing program. I do understand why this isn’t a thing in sf/f. Most cities’ sf/f scene is too small to support regular locally-based writing classes specifically in the genre. And I understand why nerds would want their own genre-based writing class.

    But serving us writing nerds has to happen locally, because away workshops will never get any less expensive. So nerds will have to glom on to and lobby their local community writing programs to: 1) start offering regular — if infrequent — genre writing classes and 2) become open and welcoming to genre writing in their general fiction classes. That’s a job in itself, and it’s not going to happen unless local nerds make it happen.

    But the other thing that has to happen is that locally based community writing programs need to stop thinking of writing classes as programs that have to “pay for themselves.” What that means is that the program pays its own overhead with student fees. And what THAT means is that students pay for the program. This is why writing workshops are such a luxury item (rather than the essential human right that they should be.) Because you have to pay to learn to write, pay to engage with other writers, pay to be supported in your writing.

    My org, Kearny Street Workshop, *not* a genre org but a multidisciplinary arts org serving Asian and Pacific Islander Americans, had a very successful community creative writing program for 15 years based on the idea that writing classes should “pay for themselves,” and we even managed to get some slightly lower income students. We did this by exploiting MFA students to be teachers and paying them low instructor fees to keep student fees low. But the students were still paying for the program. And we were exploiting our own artists. Both bad situations.

    After an org crisis precipitated by the 2008 crash, our writing program dried up because everyone started treating writing workshops like the luxury they currently are. We restrategized our entire org and one of the ideas we came up with was an alternate funding structure for classes which drew funding from grants and fundraisers rather than from student fees. (How we did that was create a project for an arts project grant that included both classes and professional arts commissions/presentations. So the grant pays for the classes as well as the presentations so beloved by arts funders.) This year we’re rebooting our writing program with our first free writing and drawing classes.

    Anyone who’s interested in starting free or extremely cheap genre writing courses in their locality, you might be best off going the nonprofit route (i.e., either joining an existing nonprofit and advocating for a new program, or creating your own nonprofit and finding a fiscal sponsor.) Once you’ve gotten your program designed and found a home for it, you’ll have to learn to fundraise (including writing grants); but you’ll notice that programs like con or bust and the Butler scholarship are fundraised for FIRST, and then miraculously have money to run their programs later. ;)

    We genre nerds may have an extra nice funding source in local fan conventions, which could be convinced to provide grants for a writing program, especially if that writing program also provides workshops *at* the con. Cons are also a good place to throw fundraising events.

    Etc.

  3. Saira says

    Is there a spot in the workshop reserved for the CBS scholarship winner? Because it looks like Out of Excuses is full for this year.

  4. says

    Yeah, there was one spot reserved for the scholarship recipient and was specifically separate from the Eventbrite thing.

  5. says

    Claire, I love the ideas here. I also agree that workshops should be free and that orgs should find alternate sources of funding. Doing so is labor intensive if you don’t know how and well worth it.

    Here in NYC it’s possible to find genre writing classes. My writing group was formed back in the day by people who attended a class and wanted to keep critiquing after. This is NYC, it’s easy to find here. Everywhere else…

    Many cons do ofer writing workshops, so I wonder if it’s worth it in terms of getting the community involved to start banging the drum for this to be a more regular thing. If we get a decent writing workshop going at every local con it’s a start. Even doing all the major regional cons first would be a huge step.

  6. says

    Just an fyi — both Norwescon and Rustycon (in Seattle) include writing workshops in their programming. Writers have to sign up separately, but it’s included in a membership, which is much less than a typical writers’ workshop.

  7. says

    There’s also local sff bookstores and comics stores, which you may not find in smaller cities but definitely in larger ones. It would be worth it to propose writing classes to take place in the stores at night. The store puts up the cash to hire the instructor, and in return gets community-building around sff literature and their location. They also put on a student reading in the store at the end of the class and bring in the writers’ friends and family to the store. Maybe instead of charging student fees, prospective students for this free class have to join the store’s frequent buyer’s club and show a number of book purchases to be allowed to register.

    All it takes is a nerd with some gumption to go in and lobby the store owner. The store itself will know all the sff writers in the region and can tap them to teach classes. Oh, and some folding chairs.

  8. James Worrad says

    I come to this exceedingly late, for which I apologise, but it’s a matter that’s been bugging me of late. I help run an SF workshop in Leicester, UK: *the* most multicultural city on the crust of the planet. It’s arguably the greatest jewel of all multicultural successes; a great big hurdle to anyone who says diversity has been a failure. Inter-racial violence is below the UK’s inner city norm, there’s economic parity between at least some minorities and whites (themselves a minority, albeit the largest) and the city even boasted the somewhat dubious honour of having the nation’s only racially diverse soccer hooligan firm.

    And yet… My writing group is white as tippex. There’s plenty of representative workshops in Leicester, but not for SF. Frankly, it’s a glaring embarrassment. We’ve tried posters in community centres, Internet etc but thus far no luck. And the failure is ours, undoubtedly. My city, in its humble way,is a future vision of humanity a century from now. It’s only logical then there must be some kid in it right now who’s in a position to take that ball and run with it, achieve great SF. I just wish they’d know we were there for them.

    Your post and subsequent comments have been very useful for me. Much appreciated.