4 Questions to Ask Before You Sign Up to Lead a Writing Workshop or Retreat — Áine Greaney

I’m passionate (some would say ‘cranky’) about our right to tell our own story, to document our lived experiences as they have happened to us and have been processed through our individual consciousness.

As a writing workshop facilitator, it’s an honor and privilege to create the space in which new new or seasoned writers can do this.

So when someone calls or emails with a potential writing workshop request, it’s really flattering. And, once that organizational host asks, it’s often tempting to immediately say, “Yes.”

However …

Before signing that writing workshop contract, here are four questions to ask.

Go on, ask it: “What is your allocated budget for this workshop or event?” This up-front question saves potentially wasted conversations and time.

Let me tell you why.

Free classes are under-appreciated. No, they don’t “offer great exposure,” or “look good on your CV or resume.” Instead, no-cost often means no-show or partially engaged learners. Or it’s an invitation to your hosting organization to take you and your expertise less than seriously. So name your fee. Then, document that fee and your invoicing terms and payment due date(s) in your formal contract.

Should you ever offer a pro-bono workshop? Yes. Definitely. Or offer one income-based scholarship for one spot. But except for your own chosen non-profit causes, never agree to teach or facilitate a creative group for free — even if you can financially afford it.

Question 2: Can We Narrow or Focus the Workshop Topic?

Sometimes, a host or events person contacts you with a general idea: “We want to offer a writing class.” or, “We saw your book and would love to do something on writing.”

Nudge them to narrow the focus. A well-defined topic will be much easier for the host organization to market and will make it simpler for potential students to grasp, conceptualize and prepare. So as the potential presenter, ask about the target audience, its demographics, and known or potential needs. Then, armed with this information, begin to frame and name your workshop.

Question 3: About the Writing Workshop Venue and Setup

Here are three been-there scenarios: (1) I once landed in a new city to teach a day-long writing workshop in a building that was (surprise!) under heavy reconstruction. Think hard hats and jack hammers here.

Half-way through the morning, I discovered that (surprise again!) there was no functioning toilet. (2) Years later, for a weekend-long intensive (different organization), our group was assigned a windowless room in a hotel basement. (3) Later still, in New York City, I had a plush hotel room and a mandatory scheduled meeting with the hotel audio visual person to do a test run.

Now (cue the quiz show jingle here), guess which workshop got me five-star instructor ratings? Nope, it wasn’t the noisy, no-toilet building.

Nothing stymies learner engagement more than rooms that are cold, musty, overcrowded or windowless. If possible, ask to visit or video-visit the venue to check it out beforehand. Also, if you’re in a school or library, ask what other programs are being offered simultaneously. Finally, document your specific audio visual needs right in your workshop contract.

Question 4: Who’s Boss Here? Establish Who will Really Lead this Workshop

Once, I got hired to facilitate a three-day summer writing retreat in a gorgeous mountain setting in New England. Fantastic, right?

Um … Many host interruptions and content contradictions later, the students grew confused and distracted. They reminded me of children who wanted to listen to Mum while persistently glancing over their shoulders for Dad’s approval. This did not make for a good writing experience.

Writing workshops are dynamic and participatory, but someone needs to be the designated and consistent leader. Or leaders.

So in that pre-workshop call, ask if your potential host will be there for the entire program. If so, ask what their on-the-ground role will actually be. Once you ask, listen to the answer. Then decide if this opportunity is right for you.

Writing workshops are magical. They’re fun and energizing. But before you agree to lead a workshop, prepare your questions and ask what you need to know before you say, “yes.” On the workshop day, your host organization and your students will thank you for your pre-event care and preparation.

Originally published at http://www.ainegreaney.com.

Irish author, workshop leader in Boston area. Fifth book, “Green and Other Essays” just released. More at www.ainegreaney.com