Recently, we held our annual Writers Studio for the first time in a virtual format. The Studio is a long-running event, meeting at the crossroads of intensive, intimate class offerings and a writers’ conference. Typically held in February, it was our final event in 2020 before the pandemic. The Studio is a huge undertaking for staff and our partners and usually we start planning the next one as soon as one finishes. However, 2020 taught us all the need for pivoting on a faster-than-usual time table, and Studio was no exception. When it became clear that a four-day, in-person event was unlikely to be feasible for February of 2021, we decided to offer this exclusive experience online, to a broader audience.
While we weren’t able to meet everyone “face to face,” we crafted a virtual space that was bigger and more involved than any of the virtual events we’ve held to date. Throughout the weekend, Writers’ Program staff dropped into classes to check in on instructors’ teaching styles, see guest speakers, and get a sense of how this virtual experience was working for all. Additionally, we had a virtual office available for students to visit just as we would have in person (sadly, minus the snacks). Saturday afternoon we did something we’ve been wanting to do for the Studio for several years, that actually works better in the virtual space. We held a plenary session for all Studio attendees, which was a conversation between Jade Chang and Francesca Lia Block.
In place of our usual Sunday evening gathering at the end of all classes, we hosted a Saturday night social where students could interact with each other, instructors, guest speakers, and staff in a casual environment, complete with virtual dance party. We also announced the winners of our now-traditional Studio giveaway run on our Instagram and Twitter.
Though the experience was a very different one than any previous Studio, we found some things really suited the online environment.
Jeff: Being that I vividly still remember many Writers Studios of the past (including 2020’s being one of the last in person events that we hosted) I felt this year’s “At Home” edition still retained that same Studio feeling. Meaning, at its core, it’s still about a group of adamant writers coming together for four intensive days to further their education and aspirations. Which, all things considered, was pretty remarkable. I tell students often: luckily for our workshops, transitioning from classrooms the Remote Instruction (Zoom) formats have not suffered a loss of quality or productivity, albeit the occasional Zoom hiccups we’ve all faced in the past year. The incorporation of the virtual meeting platform “Gather” was also a fun and interactive addition for student socializing outside of the (remote) classroom space.
Charles: I hope the students’ “commute” to class was helpful this year—usually the Studio can require lots of travel, driving, parking, hotel, and so on, so even though being at home may have had its own considerations, taking travel stress out may have helped.
Jennie: In this virtual format, I really loved seeing students come together from across the US, Canada, and even over the Atlantic! The fact that our guest speakers were from all over, too, was neat – the Studio this year incorporated industry professionals with a really wide range of experience and perspectives in writing and publishing. Plus, to be honest, in these isolating times, it was just lovely to be in a virtual room of eager, excited writers!
Ashley: It was amazing to see students from all over the world have the opportunity to take a Studio course together and make connections that may not have been possible without the virtual format.
Chae: The variety kept things engaging and exciting. We had so many unique courses, instructors, activities, guest speakers, plenary speakers, social events, etc., that made us forget Zoom fatigue is a thing.
Bree: One of our major concerns was transitioning the classroom environment to a virtual experience. Even in person we have students amazed at the intensity of work by the end of day two. During class observations on Sunday, it was thrilling to see students and instructors still engaged and passionate through their screens. A huge testament to the months of work behind the scenes to develop ways of avoiding burnout during the event.
Nutschell: Due to venue limitations, we haven’t had an opportunity to bring all our in person Writers Studio classes together for a plenary session. This year, due to the virtual format, students from all classes got to hear speakers Jade Chang and Francesca Lia Block in conversation about writing.
We’re giving ourselves a couple weeks to wrap up and wind down from this event, but we know 2022 will see the return of the Writers Studio. As for the format… you’ll have to stay tuned!