Could you describe the courses?
There is no universal format for each course other than that each is conducted as a workshop. Editors determine the format that they believe is most effective and beneficial to the students and that reflects their own editorial style. Some editors like to adopt a “micro,” line-editing style, while others prefer a more “macro” perspective. In either case, classes are intensive, and it is expected that each student will submit anywhere from three to four pieces of writing for each workshop.
When are workshops held?
For students in the fiction program, two workshops are offered each semester, totaling four workshops per academic year. For those in the nonfiction program, two workshops are offered each semester, totaling four workshops per academic year. Each workshop meets for two hours a week and is held at a time that is least likely to interfere with the schedules of the editors and of the students holding full-time jobs. Courses are usually held on weekdays starting usually around 6:00 PM and ending at 8:00 PM. Workshops are sometimes held in the editors’ conference room—an added benefit of being in New York.
Does the Institute require me to do anything other than write for the duration of the nine-month workshop?
No. Most people have very busy lives, and it is not our intention to disrupt or undermine peoples’ professional responsibilities. This is why we try to schedule workshops at a time when they are least likely to conflict with normal work hours. Most people hold either full-time or part-time jobs while attending the Institute. The Institute is a demanding commitment and assumes that, for the duration of nine months, writing will occupy a significant portion of a student’s time and energy.
What will each editor teach?
It is expected that an editor from a particular publication will want to teach how to write in the genre favored by that publication. Thus, an editor from The New York Times Book Review will in all likelihood teach primarily book reviewing, but may want to expand and teach cultural reviewing and cultural coverage as well. An editor from The New Yorker may want to teach about a host of different genres that appear in that magazine.
I am interested in writing a memoir. Will the Institute help me?
Yes. The personal essay, the personal narrative, and the memoir are genres that most fiction and nonfiction editors are very familiar with. The program, however, wishes to broaden a student’s horizon to encompass a variety of genres beyond the memoir. Students are encouraged to look at the whole spectrum of genres and not at a restricted area.
I am interested in X, but not in Y. Which course should I take?
Regardless of your area of interest, the Institute is strongly committed to bring to you as many genres and venues as possible. Your expertise may be in politics or in fashion or in engineering and you may not be interested in, say, book reviewing. But book reviewing is a staple in nonfiction publishing and frequently the easiest way for a writer to break into print. Similarly, travel writing may be the furthest thing from your mind if you are interested in legal matters. But as a student in the nonfiction program you are training to be a well-rounded essayist and creative nonfiction writer. Our mission is to introduce you to as many genres as we can.
I have written a book. How do I workshop my book?
Since it is impossible to workshop an entire book, the best solution is to workshop short story- and essay-size segments of that book. If properly segmented, a manuscript may be workshopped on anywhere from eight to twelve different occasions during the whole academic year. This is, moreover, a useful exercise, since most publications favor the shorter genre. Thus, if you have written a novel, it may be advisable that you workshop short stories drawn from that book (with he relevant prefatory material to help orient the reader). The same holds true for a work of nonfiction: it should be broken down into separate essays (again, with the appropriate prefatory material for the reader).
Can a student register in both the fiction and nonfiction programs?
Students in the fiction program are not encouraged to take workshops in the nonfiction program. In exceptional cases, and only by the end of the summer when class rosters have been fully determined, one or two students may be allowed to register in a workshop in the other program.
What if I need additional feedback on my writing?
Sometimes, before submitting a piece, you may need to ask someone to look over your material. Or you may want to have a second opinion after a piece has already been workshopped. For this, students have found Cynthia Zarin particularly helpful. Cynthia is a mentor at the Writers’ Institute and has been a longtime contributor to The New Yorker as well as a writer for a wide range of publications in a variety of genres.
Most programs have writers on their staff. Why do you have editors only?
Editors read prose pieces all day long. They spot talent and they recognize excellence. They are the people who evaluate manuscripts, who accept them or reject them. This is a magnificent opportunity to learn from them and to understand what they are looking for.