So, this happened: I came across a promotion for a summer writing program at a prestigious college. Curious, I clicked through to see who would be there, what they were offering, and what the fee was. Several literary authors are on the bill, with promises of panel discussions with agents and editors. I recognized some of the authors’ names, but lately I’ve not been reading a lot of what passes for Lit-RAH-chure these days, so most of them were only vaguely familiar. I’m not judging them by my lack of awareness, though. But…
Participants have to shell out, oh, around $3,000 for this ten-day program. And they’re not guaranteed a slot. They have to submit writing samples first, to see if they’re worthy, I guess. And, in the FAQ section of the website, you learn: Participants stay in dorm rooms. Un-air-conditioned dorm rooms. Rooms do not have private baths. Baths are in the hallways. The dorms do not have elevators. There’s no parking. Breakfast and lunch are provided, but dinner, you’re on your own.
Sorry, but I started laughing then. I’m thinking: Why would I want to shell out several thousand dollars for ten days of what will most likely be at least some self-flagellation as I listen to critiques of my work or hear talks on what constitutes great literary effort these days (hint: probably not my stuff) and get to add to this “pleasure” by sweating away the nights in un-air-conditioned dorm rooms with hallway baths, while paying extra for dinners and having no place to park my car?
I have a better idea. I might try this writing seminar instead. I call it The Beach Blanket Bingo Writing Program (BBBWP, for short). Here are the deets:
For less than a third of what Prestigious Writing Program costs, you can rent a beautiful, comfortable two-bedroom, two-bathroom, air-conditioned condo with great parking on the Bethany Beach coast of Delaware. There is no writing sample requirement for the BBBWP. You are, however, encouraged to bring with you your favorite book(s) about writing, from Anne Lamott to Stephen King, and any novels/short story collections that inspire you. Also bring a computer, as BBBWP does not provide any, but Wi-Fi is available in each condo.
The BBBWP schedule is as follows for each of the ten days:
- Rise early to view sunrise over the Atlantic.
- Return to condo for yoga, meditation on your own.
- Breakfast at nearby McCabe’s Gourmet Market on French pastry and coffee while engaging in amiable conversation with the Eastern European workers there.
- Return to condo for either: reading or writing.
LUNCH in condo (in addition to bedrooms and baths and air-conditioning and parking, the condos also have fully equipped kitchens).
- Spend time on beach thinking about writing.
- Exercise in heated pool.
DINNER ON YOUR OWN, either at the condo or at one of the many restaurants nearby.
As you can see, the BBBWP does have some drawbacks–you won’t be interacting with other aspiring writers or published authors or agents or editors. To compensate for this, the BBBWP will provide a phone line consultation daily. Because of call volume, however, you will hear only recorded messages, along the lines of:
- AGENT RECORDING: “Your characters must be married to theme more.”
- FAMOUS AUTHOR RECORDING: “The writing was beautiful and you are clearly highly skilled, but you seem to be stretching for a more literary feel than your writing actually achieves (unlike my writing, which is always spectacular and where everyone goes out for cigarettes and commits suicide at the end).”
- EDITOR RECORDING: “I am so impressed. But I wanted more. More plot twists. Or something. I’m not sure – so I’m going to pass with thanks.”
- EDITOR RECORDING: “I do see this working for someone else; it’s so well drawn.”
- EDITOR RECORDING: “Surely some other editor will love this, and it will be a great success.”
- EDITOR RECORDING: “I was very impressed with your unique premise, well-drawn characters and page-turning plot. But in this tight market, it won’t sell, so I have to pass.”
Most of these recordings, by the way, will have the advantage of being culled from the actual words of real editors and agents!
So, sign up today and get your BBBWP certificate (of need), along with the T-shirt and name tag lanyard (which will not have the BBBWP name on it, but will carry the name of the resort so you can get into the pool and private beach).
All kidding aside, if you do prefer the group experience with its promise of meet-ups with agents and editors, my advice is simple: Join Romance Writers of America (even if you don’t write romance) and go to a chapter conference or the big national one. You’ll find lots of supportive writers there. I’ve never come across a more supportive group of writers than those in RWA. They’re always eager to cheer you on, offer encouragement, suggest publishing routes and share information. As I said, even if romance isn’t your writing thing, you’ll still find something to like here and maybe, just maybe, a door will open. Unless you can be guaranteed one of those things — writing support and open doors — I’m not sure it’s worth shelling out thousands of bucks for any conference. But that’s just me.