I love running writing classes and workshops. I teach my deep writing workshops all over the world, in places like Paris, London, Rome and Prague and at conference centers like Esalen, Kripalu, and Omega. I also run writing classes online: a favorite of mine is the one I teach about the importance of place and setting in writing. Typically, I run my deep writing workshops as five-day workshops, though I’ve also run them as weekend workshops, one-day workshops, and half-day workshops. I quite love it!
If you’re a writer, you likely need to supplement your income, since few writers can make a living just by writing. One excellent way to supplement your income is by running a workshop, class or retreat.
While it may prove important for you to run classes, workshops and retreats because the money they bring in helps you survive and permits you to continue living the writer’s life, their value goes far beyond that. They can prove the place of connection for you, your best way of being with other human beings, and a place of real excitement and satisfaction. Once you embrace the idea that running classes, workshops and retreats might be something you actually love and not just a revenue stream and a way to help you cobble a life, you may feel your enthusiasm grow. And a place of actual love they can be!
While you may wish to run your writing class, workshop or retreat completely by yourself (and I highly recommend it), you may also want to consider partnering. Here are some of the options.
You could apply to a traditional workshop center like the Esalen Institute, the Omega Institute, or the Kripalu Retreat Center and ask to be a workshop leader and to be added to their many offerings. These workshop centers typically provide participants with all meals, many extras (like free yoga classes, free meditation classes, beautiful grounds, etc.) and advertise widely, both by their online presence and because they still (as of this writing) send out print catalogues, in some cases to half a million people.
There are many upsides to teaching at one of these workshop centers. They are likely to fill the workshop from their advertising, which is a great help if you don’t have a large email list, they take care of all the details (like payment, lodging, food, etc.), they provide you with meals and lodging at a beautiful location, they pay you reasonably (on the order of $100 to $200 per participant, meaning that if 20 participants sign up for your week-long workshop, you will make between $2000 and $4000 for the week), and it is a relatively prestigious thing to be able to say that you teach at a place like Esalen, Omega or Kripalu.
The major downside is that they are likely not to want you if you do not have a rather large reach already—and if you haven’t already been running your own successful writing classes, workshops and retreats. So in all likelihood you will have to run your own workshop a number of times before they will be interested in you. Another minor downside is that you must keep to their daily workshop schedule, which may not exactly match your vision for your workshop. (A typical daily schedule is 9 a.m. to noon and 2 p.m. to 5 p.m.)
It of course does not hurt to ask. Reach out to a workshop center that interests you—there are many of them around the United States and around the world—pitch your workshop, and see what happens. I have taught at many of these—Esalen, Kripalu, Omega, Rowe, Hollyhock, etc.—and I have found it a great experience.
Colleges and universities
You can sometimes teach your class at a junior college, community college or university as part of their roster of extended education programs or, of course, you can try to become a part-time or full-time faculty member. Needless to say, trying to become a faculty member of a writing program is beyond the scope of this article. But you might look into extended education possibilities if you live near a college. I taught a specialized class for about a dozen years at St. Mary’s College (in Moraga, California) as adjunct faculty, teaching returning adults (most typically firefighters and police officers) how to write life experience essays that would garner them college credit. Opportunities of this sort may exist in your locale and you might want to check them out, though they typically do not pay well and of course involve you in the institution’s bureaucracy.
Non-degree writing schools
There are many small and large writing schools where you may be able to become one of their faculty members. Many of these are online (such as Writer’s Online Workshops, Gotham, or MediaBistro); some exist in physical locations. I taught for some years at a small writing school in a quirky house in a quirky San Francisco neighborhood run by a woman named Jane who shepherded the entire operation. The rooms were so small that you could only run a class of 12 or smaller—and 12 was really tight. Jane’s “thing” was shoes and the rooms were decorated with high-heeled shoes and other excellent oddities.
The upside to teaching at a writing school is that they tend to advertise and promote well enough that you will have (some) participants for your class, though it’s rather likely that you will also have to market and promote in order to fill your class. The downside is that they typically pay rather little and often demand that you have a lot of interactions with students (in old-fashioned language, “a lot of papers to grade”)—more interactions than you may either like to do or feel are really necessary.
On balance, teaching at a writing school, whether physical or online, like teaching at a junior college or a university, may serve you and you may well want to look into the possibility; but I’d strongly consider teaching under your auspices first a few times, to see how that feels and to see how that goes.
Consider bookstores, New Age gift-shops, libraries, community centers, and other venues where classes and workshops are offered as part of what they do. Typically they do only a little advertising and promoting (usually by including your offering in the long list of offerings that goes out to their newsletter subscribers), pay very little, and tend not to fill their offerings up.
If the venue is good at what they do, this can be a decent opportunity: I taught fairly regularly at a bookstore in Marin, California that was good at advertising and promoting and so my class with them did tend to fill up (that is, a dozen or more folks tended to show up for each new class). But offering your workshop, class or retreat on your own is likely a better bet than going with a venue that does not specialize in classes and workshops and that does not do much advertising or promoting.
Running your own classes
You can run your workshop, class, or retreat yourself. There are fundamentally four ways that you might go about this:
- You might run it in your own home: literally or metaphorically in your living room.
- You might run it in your town or city, renting space at a nearby college, yoga center, church, library, event center, office complex, etc.
- You might run it far away from your own home, in some locale that you and participants would like to visit, like Paris, London, Rome, Hawaii, Costa Rica, Taos, etc.
- You might run it online.
The main upside to running it yourself are the following: you keep all proceeds (minus expenses) and you get to run it exactly the way you want to run it, for as many days as you want to run it and for as many hours each day as you want to run it. The main downside to running it yourself are the following: you must make all the arrangements yourself, handle all of the details yourself, and market and promote well enough that you have customers.
I believe the upside trumps the downside and that it is a good idea to try to run your class, workshop or retreat by yourself a few times before looking into other options.
Note from Jane: Eric is an excellent teacher, and he’s offering a 9-week online course on Run Your Own Writing Workshop ($225) that starts March 6. Learn more. He also has written a guide: Start Running Writing Workshops, Classes, and Retreats.