Chip MacGregor

March 27, 2013

What makes a good writing workshop? (A guest blog)


Thinking about that first all-day writing workshop I was paid to speak at still makes me cringe. I don’t know how the organizer found out about me, but she invited me to speak, and made me sound really good in the glossy colored brochures she printed.  This workshop was going to draw a crowd.  We might have to add more chairs to the hotel’s conference room.

What a disappointment when the day before the event, she was begging people to come, even letting them in for free.  These people had no idea who I was and the big bucks the organizer was charging was too much for those she had targeted. I know that in the end, the only big thing about the workshop was that she lost big money.

But that experience taught me. Ten years later as I set out to conduct my own all-day writing workshops, I had that first workshop experience in mind.  I focused on what the organizer had done right and especially on what she had done wrong. They say bad experience is a good teacher— or something like that. Some thoughts on creating a good workshop…

Plan in advance Don’t think of an idea and then have a workshop the next Saturday.  Plan at least three to four months ahead. A Saturday far from any holiday is good. Avoid the Christmas or New Year season. Ask potential attendees to choose between two or three dates that suit them best. Spend hours working on all aspects of the workshop. Will you serve lunch? Snacks? Coffee?

Book a choice location – This should be easily accessible. Where I live, I like the Hampton Inn and Suites in Raleigh, North Carolina, for a variety of reasons from the inviting lounge to the cushioned chairs in the conference room to the mints they place in bowls at each table to the outdoor garden where attendees can write during one of the silent sessions. Don’t select a location without first checking it out and asking yourself if the participants will appreciate it.

Advertise – This doesn’t have to cost a lot. Craigslist, Facebook, your own website, and blogs are obvious places to promote your upcoming event. You can guest post on other’s sites by providing an informative article on whatever your workshop is about. Target groups that can benefit most from your workshop. My workshops are for those experiencing heartache in their lives, so I post at parental bereavement groups and within my own circle of friends who have lost a child as I have.

The right price – You need to make some money. Even if you love facilitating writing workshops, there is nothing wrong with earning money. In fact, if you are going to look at facilitating workshops on a regular basis, you need to take something home and not just break even. Look around to see what others are charging for what you are offering and price accordingly.

Agenda – The titles of your sessions need to speak to the needs of the people attending. Often the thing that convinces someone to attend is the specific titles you’ll be offering in your workshop. As well as making the day full of value for each attendee, be sure to allow time for potty breaks and snacks. (I like to have plenty of dishes of chocolate because I feel chocolate always bring out creativity.)

Be open – Flexibility, I tell myself. Which is more important: To get through every detail of my outline or to allow for conversation during my presentation?  I often tailor the last segment of my workshop to make sure I meet the needs of the attendees. Some are interested in getting their work published, while others only want to write for healing and hope for themselves. My last Journey through Life’s Losses workshop went overtime due to the many questions the attendees had for me about how to get published. That’s when I went home and created another all-day workshop, solely for writers desiring to sell.

Prayer – You may not agree with this, but in my area of expertise I’ve found that spending time praying over those registered for a workshop is vital.  Each day before the event, I pray that their goals for attending the workshop will be met.  Of course, if you are going to serve a catered lunch, you might want to pray that the food arrives on time!

I love the gift of writing and how it can be used to unleash the gravity of anguish and sorrow.  I would be thrilled to hold a writing workshop at least once a month. Every day I remind myself that I think I’ve got a great idea, and I want to share it with others.  I feel I was born to conduct workshops, and perhaps one day those doors will open.  Right now, I am grateful for the four or five events I conduct a year.


Alice J. Wisler is the award-winning author of five inspirational novels, two cookbooks and one devotional.  She’s represented by the MacGregor Literary Agency.  Read more about her Journey through Life’s Losses and Write to Create (brand new for aspiring writers) workshops at her website: Her next workshops are in Raleigh on June 15 and July 27. 

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  • Meghan Carver says:

    Thank you so much, Alice. This is quite timely for me. I was thinking of approaching our small public library about facilitating sessions on writing or blogging. I wouldn’t have to choose a location, and I’m sure it would be volunteer, but your other points such as preparation, flexibility, and prayer are spot on.

    • Alice Jay Wisler says:

      Thanks for reading, Meghan, and good luck to you! I have done library workshops as well. They are always fun.

  • Kit Tosello says:

    Hi Alice!
    It would be fun to attend one of your workshops in a bricks and mortar location someday (chocolate for creativity? yes please!). Alas, I live on the opposite side of the country, so I keep an eye on your online class schedule. Thanks again for helping facilitate my grief-writing process.. Next, I’m venturing farther out of my comfort zone to attempt your Developing Memorable Characters workshop. See you there!

    • Alice Jay Wisler says:

      Kit, you are a bright spot in my day! Thank you! I look forward to meeting you and I hope that day is soon! See you at the Developing Memorable Characters workshop online!

  • Alice Jay Wisler says:

    Thanks, Chip! Glad to be a guest here today!

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