The ‘So You Want to Write’ Workshops

A Brief History

Marge Piercy is the author of seventeen novels of astonishing breadth; seventeen critically acclaimed volumes of poetry, and a highly praised memoir. In January, 2007, her new non-ficion book will be published by Schocken / Random House. She is one of the few contemporary American novelists whose work continues to move, inform, and significantly change the lives of her readers.

Her science fiction novels, Woman on the Edge of Time and He, She, and It are classics of the genre, taught in universities all over the world. Her historical fictions have reconstructed entire eras: City of Darkness, City of Light: the French Revolution; Vida: the tumultuous Viet Nam war era and its aftermath. The Los Angeles Times has called her Gone to Soldiers: “the most thorough and most captivating, most engrossing novel ever written about World War II."

The New York Times Book Review calls Ira Wood a novelist with “a special gift for heartwarming comedy." He is also the publisher of Leapfrog Press. As an editor and a teacher, he has been praised for his ability to help his students transcend their inner censor and simplify the fundamentals of both writing and the publishing world.

In their many years of teaching experience Piercy and Wood were struck by the gap bet ween their students’ rich material--the great life stories they had to tell--and their knowledge of the craft needed to write them.

Many students long out of college, often successful in their careers, had assumed that writing their life stories would be easy…until they found that they could neither finish their books nor get them published. Many had taken uplifting workshops which encouraged their potential, their spirituality and their creativity, but did little to teach them the basic tools which would enable them to lift their writing from mere self expression to a level at which it might some day be published.

For over fifteen years, the Piercy/Wood workshops have taught both experienced and beginning writers:

• How to begin a piece by seducing your reader
• How to create characters that embody the infinite contradictions of human behavior
• How to master the elements of plotting fiction
• How to create a strategy for telling the story of your life
• How to learn to read critically, like a professional writer
• How to write about painful personal material without coming off as a victim
• The overlooked powers of dialogue
• Creating descriptions that move readers emotionally

In addition, they found that many people wanted to publish, but had no idea:

• How to get an agent or if they needed one
• How to read the sub-text of rejection letters
• How to submit work effectively
• How much writers really earn

Many writers had personal issues, such as:

• How to proceed when continually rejected by publishers
• How to carve out the personal time and space to write
• Overcoming shame and the difficulties of writing about loved ones

In universities and at retreat centers all over the United States, Piercy and Wood have been conducting workshops both in writing Fiction and the Personal Narrative (defined as memoir and the autobiographical novel). The workshops vary in length. The shortest is a one hour session; the longest five days. Typically, it is an intensive weekend. Sometimes, depending on the venue, either Piercy or Wood will teach the workshop alone. (No surprises; this is ALWAYS advertised beforehand).

Marge Piercy also teaches an intensive poetry workshop.

What to Expect at the Workshops

The format of both the Fiction and the Personal Narrative Workshop is one that has been well-tested over time. Following many short talks about craft, participants are given selected writing assignments which are then read aloud. Writers are encouraged to read to the group but no one is ever pressured to do so.

The session lengths vary according to the venues where they are taught. No two workshops are ever the same. Not only have the lectures, the exercises and the structure evolved over time but, because the focus is always on the participants’ writing, each workshop is a reflection of those who take it. Criticism is never harsh or judgmental. To the extent that there are any rules, it is required only that writers attempt to help, and never bully, other writers.

What is the Relationship to the Book of the Same Name?

After teaching the workshop for about seven years, a common concern kept coming up. Participants felt that the talks were so valuable they found themselves spending a lot of energy and attention taking notes. As a result, they felt they weren’t able to “be present,” to absorb as much as they could. In response, Piercy and Wood wrote So You Want to Write, which is a compilation of all the lectures in the course in any easy to read style, but offering more nuance, example and depth of subject than any workshop situation allows time to include. In addition, there are entire topics that are seldom touched upon in the workshops, such as research, and the intricacies of point of view, voice, and writing description. In 2005, Leapfrog Press released a Revised Second Edition which added over 100 new pages with chapters on writing humor; short stories; titles; genre (sci-fi, fantasy, historical, mystery), as well as thirty all new exercises and new information about publishing.

The difference between the book and workshop is the emphasis the workshop places on participants’ writing and the constructive feedback on their work. The book is about all you have to know about the craft of writing. The workshop is all about the writing of those who participate.

Over the years, thousands of writers have studied with Piercy and Wood at universities, writers' conferences, and retreat centers such as Omega, Esalen, World Fellowship Center, Kirkridge and Elat Chayyim. A number have gone on to publish, some with New York publishers, others with independents and in magazines.

Typical Course Descriptions for SO YOU WANT TO WRITE Workshops

Overcoming the Barriers to Creativity in Writing Fiction

This workshop offers a weekend of wisdom and practice — an opportunity to study the elements of the art of fiction while putting these techniques to use through a series of guided meditations and specially created exercises. Intended for experienced writers as well as those who are just beginning to try to sculpt imagination and daily life into narrative, our emphasis is craft. Our method is short lectures with examples read aloud, to be followed by in-class assignments geared toward beginnings, plot, characterization, dialogue and the skills necessary to become successful at reading aloud. Our work written during the workshop is discussed, as well as habits that may keep one from writing at home. We will share our work with other participants in a non-judgmental environment designed to support each other’s individual skills, hone our abilities, and mine our memories to creative interesting and involving fiction.

Crafting the Personal Narrative

A memoir is nothing less than the archive of your inner life, your effort to find meaning, to explain the past to another generation, to keep memory alive. But enhancing self expression and being able to write vividly depend on developing skills and work habits that aid creativity, instead of hampering it. This workshop offers an opportunity to study the elements of the art of writing memoirs and autobiographical fiction while putting these techniques to use. Intended for experienced writers as well as those just beginning to sculpt their life into narrative, the course’s emphasis is on craft. Its goal is the overcoming of barriers that keep us from sharing our stories with others. In order to learn to trust our differences as well as our similarities, we'll share work in small groups and as the weekend progresses (for those who choose) with the larger class. Through short lectures, guided meditation and writing exercises assigned in and outside of class, we'll concentrate on beginnings, characterization, dialogue, strategies for organizing our material, and other elements of the craft of writing the prose narrative with the ultimate goal of capturing our experiences more fully, more powerfully and more honestly on the page.

Check out the Ira Wood Publishing Lectures, too.

Poetry Workshops

Marge Piercy’s poetry workshops are similarly craft oriented and follow the general format of those workshops in Fiction and the Personal Narrative: short, intensive lectures in craft, followed by poems illustrating the types of poems talked about, and an assignment to write that kind of poem. Poets are then asked to read their poems aloud to the entire class, instructor and participants offering comments and criticism intended to enable the poet to better the poem; or in any case help the writer with her/his intention.

The Classes generally include the following subjects:
-If you want to write poetry, read poetry & learn how to concentrate,
-Oral Techniques,
-Line breaks and line length,
-Stanzas and verse paragraphs,
-Voice and personae,
-Pattern poems,
-Work habits,
-How to get readings and how to give them,
-How to get your poems published.

To sign up for any of the workshops, see the Events page and call or e-mail the contact of the workshops you're interested in attending.



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