January 16-23, 2021
Located on the beautiful waterfront campus of Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, this writers’ conference features professional writers at the top of their form spending quality time with motivated and talented participants seeking an intimate, unhurried climate for learning…in paradise.
Every essay is a journey. If the writer is successful, we readers end up with new understandings, or at least, new questions to ask of the world and our place in it. In this workshop, we will read and discuss essays designed to disrupt our assumptions and challenge us to imagine alternate ways of thinking and being. Writing exercises will enable you to learn how to take the stuff of your own life and transform it into a story that is bigger than its circumstances.
The personal essay is a highly personal form — and sometimes a maligned one. In this course, I hope to help students realize the optimal versions of the stories they want to tell and to stress the values that personal essays share with all nonfiction — clarity, voice, even rigorous reporting at times.
In this workshop, we will read and discuss published essays every day to examine what makes a good piece of memoir writing. We will then critique pages from your own memoirs and essays with an eye toward revision.
If I teach nothing in my writing classes, I teach this: do not outline your novel or novella or short story or essay. Do not think out the plot, the narrative arc, the protagonist’s journey, whatever you want to call it. Instead, try to find the story through an honest excavation of the characters’ total experience of the situation in which they find themselves. Do that, and I promise the story will begin to write itself, with little need for the controlling hand of the godly, intelligent, well-read, and ambitious author. But how, precisely, does one go about this “excavation”? And how, technically speaking, can we ignite a story into “writing itself”? Come to this workshop, and I will seek to demystify those writerly tools and skills that time and time again, if they are sharp enough, and if the writer can summon enough daily faith and nerve, can penetrate the mystery of story itself.
The workshop is open to both fiction and nonfiction writers who are interested in improving their storytelling and broadening their range of techniques. Focus will be on how the handling of core issues such as character, plot, tension, and emotion are imperative regardless of the form, and demonstrating that fiction writers can benefit from seeing how journalistic techniques can add depth and realism to their own work, while nonfiction writers can benefit from learning how to build scenes, create suspense, and use dialogue.
We will cover as many matters of craft and art (character, theme, point-of-view, language, structure, and setting) as we can fit into the time allotted with special attention to problems and possibilities that arise from our reading of the students’ manuscripts. Using the manuscripts as prompts, I will suspend discussion occasionally for mini-lectures and demonstrations of key ideas. This class will help participants fashion a better synopsis and sample chapter to send out to agents.
Writing Backwards: Starting at the Ending. Writing seems like one of the most linear of art forms. It certainly feels that way for most readers, who begin with the first word and proceed, in orderly fashion, to the last. But for the writer, a short story may first take shape with an idea of an ending: an image, a sound, a moment towards which the narrative will eventually drive (even if, as E.L. Doctorow famously suggested, for most of that journey the writer will only see as far as the headlights.) In addition to manuscript critique, we’ll take a light historical trip of our own through various fad-endings, including epiphanies, twists and resolutions. And we’ll study some of the most compelling examples of the form before diving into a short-story workshop that will concentrate on what reporters call “the kicker”: writing an ending that will resonate long after the story’s close.
In addition to manuscript discussion and critique, in this generative workshop, composed of in-class writing exercises and close readings of poems that model risk-taking, we will write exploratory drafts that push us towards next-level thinking and emotional breakthroughs. Students will enter a community of writers whose collective aim is to forward our growth as writers by crafting both our feelings and our language.
This workshop will focus on the overall conception and structure of book-length projects–novel, memoir, or general interest non-fiction, either completed or in progress. Discussion will center on the clarity and substance of the project and the efficacy of the opening 25 pp, given the stated intention.
Full manuscript guidelines for submissions will be available on our applications page via Submittable starting August 1.
New for 2021
- Writers in Paradise welcomes Emily Bernard to its faculty! The Julian Lindsay Green and Gold Professor of English at the University of Vermont will lead the Nonfiction Workshop. For more info or to apply, click on Application.
- For the first time at our conference and after the success of her recently published collection of essays, My Life as a Villainess, Laura Lippman will lead a workshop in Personal Essay.
- Writers in Paradise partners with the Residence Inn for participant lodging. For more information about room rate and amenities, click on lodging.
Co-founded by Dennis Lehane and Sterling Watson, and co-directed by Les Standiford, Writers in Paradise offers an intensive eight-day experience of workshop classes, roundtables, panel discussions, Q&As, readings, book signings, and receptions with our award winning-faculty and guest speakers.
The tranquil seaside landscape sets the tone for this informal gathering of writers, teachers, editors, and literary agents. The size and secluded location of the Eckerd College Writers’ Conference allows you the time and opportunity to share your manuscripts, critique one another’s work, and discuss the craft of writing with experts and peers who can help guide you to the next level.
Why You Should Attend
After eight days of workshopping and engagement with peers and professionals in your field, you will leave with a refreshed understanding of your craft and solid ideas about how to find an agent and get published. At the heart of the conference are six days of workshops led by master faculty in various genres where techniques are discussed and participant manuscripts are closely examined.
Writers in Paradise offers a wide array of Fellowships and Scholarships.
The 17th edition of Writers in Paradise will take place from January 16 through January 23, 2021.* Esteemed faculty and selected participants workshop for three hours in the morning, attend panels and craft talks in the afternoon, and attend evening readings and events (workshop participant capacities will be announced). Participants are actively engaged with our faculty and guests from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m.
* The conference will adhere to the latest health advice, college guidelines and CDC policies. Final decisions on whether to hold our event in person in St. Petersburg will be made mid-November.
“When I attended Writers in Paradise seven years ago, I was ready to give up on publishing my novel. I’d already published quite a few nonfiction books, but my heart belonged to fiction. Laura Lippman told me not to give up, and why. Her support lifted my spirits, enabling me to continue to work on my novel. Eventually it found a home with a literary press in the UK. In the WIP workshops, I learned what I was doing wrong. This helped me with subsequent novellas and novels, many of which were published by small presses. Writers in Paradise is a great investment in your future as a writer.”Virginia Aronson, aka Mickey J. CorriganAuthor of Project XX (SaltPublishing, 2017)
“Writers in Paradise helped me find my footing and develop a successful plan for revising my memoir. Conversations with faculty and fellow workshop participants refueled me, helped me untangle some of the issues I was working through in my manuscript, and fostered a sense of community.”Angela La Voie2019 Conference Participant
“Writer’s in Paradise is well organized and enormously supportive of everyone. Where else can you find a group of this caliber willing to focus on your work with such intensity and good intent? Truly a gift.”Wikki Krawczyk2019 Conference Participant
“Writers in Paradise is an extremely well put together week of inspiring readings, critique, people, and ideas. There is kindness and support amidst the hard work and a nice sense of camaraderie. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on craft. Worth the effort to clear a week for!”Hana Maris2019 Conference Participant
“At Writers in Paradise, passionate instructors help you succeed at an event organized to provide you with a seamless experience. I've made lasting friendships with other writers while honing my craft. If you want constructive honesty, check your ego at the door and listen.”Jenn MondelloConference Participant 2018 & 2019
“Shortly after returning from WIP 2019, I received not one, but two offers of publication for my short-story collection, The Lightness of Water and Other Stories. The first story in this collection 'Bondservant,' which is also the first chapter in my novel-in-progress, was workshopped with Les Standiford at WIP 2016. Following that conference, I applied everything I learned from the amazing speakers and mentors--as well as my co-horts--to my short-story collection. The wisdom shared with me helped land a story publication in Qu Literary Magazine, as well receive the 2019 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction, which includes publication of my collection. ”Rhonda White2016 & 2019 Conference Participant
“I found WIP to be life-changing. In a week, my drive to write went from 'moderate' to 'fever pitch'. Andre [Dubus III] the 3rd is as gifted an orator as he is a writer, very helpful. ”Jim Mentink2019 Conference Participant
“It’s hard to imagine any writer who wouldn’t come away from WIP without a bag full of skills, ideas and renewed energy... and stuff to read for months afterward. As if that isn’t enough, we come away engaged more deeply in the community of those who share love of craft and respect for those who practice it.”Mary Fox2019 Conference Participant
“Since the conference, two of my novels written under a pen name- a YA and a Thriller - are under contract for publication in 2020. And last week I received a request from a lit agent for the full manuscript of the novel I workshopped. Obviously, I learned a lot.”Tim Vargo2019 Conference Participant
“If it was only inspiration from the drop-dead talented readers and workshop leaders, Eckerd Writer’s Conference wouldn’t be as useful. Daily, we retrain our focus on what it means to be a writer, explicating the craft and its toolbox. WIP is that balance of soaring spirits and nuts n’ bolts.”Diane Dewey2019 Conference Participant
“In Debra Dean's historical fiction class, I was blessed to witness her devotion to the art of writing, to learn from her practical experience as a writer in the publishing world, and to be encouraged by a wealth of information and good sense that she packed into a relatively short time period!”Mary Shaffer2019 Conference Participant
“I've tried many different ways to write about this conference and my experience working with eleven other poets, Major Jackson charting our journey from strangers into a community of poets who learned the ways of eachother's rhythms. Extraordinary experience is not an overstatement. Writers In Paradise is a perfect writing environment with an engaged faculty and it is one of the most well-run conferences because its staff clearly wants to deliver the best experience for every participant.”Sara Schlossman2019 Conference Participant
“I’ve been to two consecutive Writers in Paradise and plan to return for a third next year! I’ve studied with Denise Duhamel and Major Jackson, who are both phenomenal teachers and lead interactive, quick-paced workshops. I learned more than I expected both times and made friends I’m in touch with often. I’m a much better poet for having attended these.”David ColodneyAlum 2016 & 2017
“WiP was transformative! The generous feedback from the brilliant Andre Dubus III and my workshop colleagues helped put the final brushstrokes on my story, now submitted for publication. I'm using the techniques taught in the cross-genre craft classes to experiment with prose poem forms, imagery prompts, and rythm in my prose. ”Albert LeftwichShort Story Workshop Participant 2020
“The conference offered a great roster of authors, events, and panels–from the daily short story workshop with Andre Dubus III, to the nightly craft talks with Ana Menendez, Major Jackson, Les Standiford, and Russell Banks. The approach to the work was rigorous, and the tenor was friendly and fun. I left feeling reinspired about fiction, and eager to get back to writing. PS: I was torn between“but the tenor” and“and the tenor”–I’m still torn ? AND I SAY THIS because I’ve been to other writing workshops where the approach was rigorous, BUT the tenor was neither friendly nor fun, and this is a big reason I liked WIP so much…that combination of rigor and fun…”Leah GriesmannCarlson Fellow 2017
“I’m a retired attorney and an Eckerd College graduate. Fifty years ago I learned English literature from an extraordinary faculty that included luminaries like Robert Detweiler, Peter Meinke, and Jim Carlson. Recently, when I started writing fiction, I returned to Eckerd for the 2017 and 2018 conferences. I was challenged an equally extraordinary faculty that included Laura Lippman, Les Standiford and Andre Dubus. But I also got the chance to wear my collection of Hawaiian shirts. So, as the former Governor of California once said,“I’ll be back.””John Francis CallahanBig Sur Nation, alum 2016 & 2017
“Attending Writer’s in Paradise has been an essential ingredient to my development as a writer. I’ve attended several years and have always come away with new tools and skills. The readings, faculty, panels, lectures and fellow students make it a great week and a conference not to be missed.”Gale MasseyAlum 2016 & 2017- GaleMasseyBooks.com The Girl From Blind River – July 10,2018
“Les Standiford fosters a friendly and respectful environment and is especially masterful in teaching the art of creating story blueprints. I left the conference with a filled notebook, several new friends and ideas on how to structure my next project. No doubt I hope to return.”Sara GoudarziStandiford Fellow 2017
“My experience at the 2020 Writers in Paradise conference exceeded my expectations- and as a second-timer, my expectations were high!Barbara Riddle-DvorakShort Fiction Workshop 2020
This time I attended John Dufresne's short fiction workshop, and was incredibly impressed by the quality of feedback from the group, and the level of respect every member gave to our fellow participants-quite an elcetic group- and their work. John was an excellent "herder of cats" and we all left brimming with energy and ideas. ”
“Attending WIP has been one a pivotal points in my writing journey. Every aspect, from my memoir workshop with Ann Hood, to the craft talks and nightly readings, went beyond expectation. I came home with a notebook full of inspiration and much work to do. Thank you!”Diane FormanMemoir Workshop 2020
“Writers In Paradise is no hyperbole. The experience I had in the poetry workshop was truly life-altering. With the brilliant poet Gregory Pardlo our chiron, we dozen fine poets dug way past structure and line edits to get to the point: Why this? Why now? Why Me? We came to realize that going to our strengths can be a signal we are stopping short, that we must move past a false bottom to where we really must go. WIP? Sign me up!”Philip ColemanPoetry Workshop 2020
“Ever come to know a dozen people as intimately as you know anyone? My wife died on day two. I will remember and cherish my writer comrades for the rest of my life: Andre, Marina, Al, Angela, Angie, Emma, Katheryn, Lois, Sharon, Susan, and Wikki.”Gerry ColemanShort Story Workshop 2020
“I was intimidated by the manuscripts of the other participants in Ann Hood's memoir workshop. How I dreaded having my work critiqued by these more accomplished writers. We came together as strangers and left entrusted with intimate details of each others lives. Our workshop revealed flaws, plot holes, confusing prose, and inconsistencies. My manuscript is now so much better for the gentle, thoughtful, consideration of the group. Thank you!”Eileen Vorbach CollinsMemoir Workshop 2020
“For decades, even while working as a journalist, I had an outsized faith in talent and effort. I didn’t even know about the myriad techniques to improve a piece of work I learned here. This conference hit me at exactly the right time.”Andrew MeachamCreative Nonfiction Workshop 2020
“Besides the tremendously useful and interesting craft talks, I appreciated how seriously the instructors took feedback. This is the only conference I know of that gives specific instructions to participants about how much and what kind of feedback to give. I also loved the diversity of genres and instructors.”Lita KurthStructure Workshop 2020
“Studying with Laura Lippman catalyzed a new way for me to approach manuscript revision, and the additional instructional lectures throughout the week were brilliant. The Writers in Paradise deep dive into narrative structure and craft has improved my work-in-progress and will inform all of my work going forward.”Dev RogersCrime & Suspense Workshop 2020
“A writer friend said WIP was an outstanding conference. She was right! Novel Writing with Stewart O'Nan was beyond the pale. My fellow writers were professional and concise in their feedback. The lectures were inspiring. Readings and parties. Beautifully orchestrated and organized with 24/7 help available. What's not to love?”Pamela CederquistNovel Workshop 2020
Our mission at Writers in Paradise is to provide talented and hardworking writers of all levels and genres the opportunity to learn from and work with other writers under the guidance of masterful and successful authors. For an entire week, we strive to provide an open, inclusive, and nurturing environment where creativity, critical awareness and writing techniques can be exercised, fostered and encouraged. Every year we try to grow our conference to include new voices and ways of looking at writing and what it means to write in today’s market while maintaining a core faculty of proven authors who are both successful in their genres as well as gifted in the classroom. Our central premise has always been to help talented writers reach their intended audiences. We understand the complexities of putting together effective stories, and this understanding and sensitivity makes our workshops popular and coveted. One of our goals is to create community among our participants which is why our workshops are closed to all but those participants who submit manuscripts and are accepted into workshop—one long time faculty member calls it “having skin in the game.”
We believe that keeping workshops small allows for focus, productive criticism and honesty.
Our commitment to providing a week filled with writing education and sanctuary includes poetry. Nearly every year we rotate a nationally-acclaimed, award-winning poet who teaches as part of our core faculty. In addition to the poetry workshop and craft talk(s), we are honored to have as part of our lineup the poet laureates of St. Petersburg and of Florida, Helen Pruitt Wallace and Peter Meinke.
With the help of our St. Petersburg community and Eckerd alumni, we work with an endowment that affords us the opportunity to help many participants financially. We never want money to be the reason that you can’t come be with us for a week. If you’ve got a story that’s burning to be told, we want to help you add to your set of craft-box tools, so you can effectively tell it. While we are competitive and accept writers based on the strength and potential of their writing, we abide by the notion that good writing is good writing and we all stand to learn from one another no matter where we come from, how old we are, or what we may or may not have studied formally. After a week at WIP, we hope you leave with a new and inspired sense of direction, some good friends who you can share writing with throughout the year, and with confidence you can navigate new writing challenges on your own.
Les Standiford, Conference Director
Marina Pruna, Conference Coordinator