I went into this with some trepidation. Heretofore, my only experiences with zoom have been with a critique group and with a social group. The critique group is only four, and the social group, five. How would that work with ten?

This class is called Exploring Fiction, and it’s part of the creative writing program offered at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts studio center. I’ve taken courses through the VMFA before, but this is the first time I’ve tried it online. My classmates all have schedules flexible enough to allow them to join a class in the middle of the day in the middle of the week. Other than that, there’s quite a bit of variety.

  • Some have taken dozens of writing classes for many years; for others, this is the first writing class they’ve taken.
  • Participant ages vary; so far as I can guess, there is a span of thirty or forty years..
  • A few of my classmates have published several works, both books and shorter works. Some in the class have no interest in publishing at all.
  • I recognize several of my fellow writers from previous classes or peer review groups we’ve been in before. Others are new friends for me to meet!

What I liked:

  • Finally getting back with some of my writing friends of old
  • Finding that the teacher is well-organized, and already experienced
  • The “get acquainted” exercise, and learning things I didn’t know about people I already knew
  • The varied aspects of each class, which include assigned readings, prompted writing, and sharing of our own work
  • The teacher’s focus on the positive feedback
  • Being able to sip water or coffee, something I’d never bothered to take to class before
  • Once again hearing the different takes on the same prompt 
  • Hearing someone else’s very vivid writing
  • Discussing a short story from The New Yorker and examining why it works so well

What I didn’t like:

  • I couldn’t see everyone by simply turning my head
  • Everyone seemed more stilted and formal
  • Fewer spontaneous comments among students
  • Difficulty taking notes while using my laptop to run the meeting
  • Seeing the way I look on screen, face all mottled by shadows
  • Feeling self-conscious every time I touched my hair
    • Or scratched my nose
    • Or wrinkled my brow
    • Or moved at all, actually
  • Being hyper-aware of every noise I made, coughing or turning pages or whatever
  • Having to mute myself whenever my husband made noise in the backgroundAnd remembering to unmute after

Bottom line for this writer: not as good as in-person but soooo much better than no class at all!

Missing Nimrod

A year ago, I attended one of my favorite writing retreats: the writers’ weekend at Nimrod Hall. Unfortunately, I was unable to make it this year, and I missed the camaraderie and stimulation I find at Nimrod. I recommend my readers find a good residential writing workshop; in addition to the community of writers you’ll meet, you’ll also receive great feedback on your writing. Below is a blog post from this time last year, telling a little about Nimrod and the programs it offers. I hope you’ll check out the opportunities they have!

For many years I’ve traveled to Nimrod Hall in Millboro, Virginia, for their annual writing retreat. Nimrod has inspired several of my stories and given me hours of valuable writing time.

Nimrod Hall main buildling
Nimrod Hall

Last year I kept a travel log of my two weeks at Nimrod. I shared everything from packing my bags…

Packed for Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop

…to the wild women writers I met there.

women writers at Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program
2015 Week One writers at Nimrod Hall Writers Workshop

Note card showing women standing in a stream. Text reads, "We arrived at Nimrod with no baggage"
Note card by Susannah Raine-Haddad

As I prepare to depart, I look forward to my misty morning walks,

Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop misty lane

and family-style meals with writer friends,

Nimrod Hall Writers' Workshop writers at lunch around table
2015 writers at lunch

Nimrod Hall writers lifting fake wedding cake at breakfast table
Who but Nimrod Writer Women would be passing around a paper mâché wedding cake at breakfast?

and uninterrupted writing time.

"Do not disturb" sign on door knob
No writer is ever disturbed between breakfast and lunch–and seldom otherwise.

This year I will share my travel log on my Facebook page. I hope you’ll join me there.

Happy writing!

view of Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during walk
Cowpasture River near Nimrod Hall during my morning exercise

Nimrod Hall, established in 1783, has been providing summer respite from everyday stress since 1906. It has been operating as an artist and writer colony for over 25 years. The Nimrod Hall Summer Arts Program is a non-competitive, inspirational environment for artists to create without the distractions of everyday life. 

The Value of a Top-Notch Writing Workshop

nimrod writers workshop
Each summer for more than ten years, I’ve attended Nimrod Hall summer writing workshops. Unfortunately, I cannot attend this year. But you could! There are still a few spaces left.


Why am I recommending Nimrod? You could see my blogs from years past. But here is a brief overview.


Excellent writing teachers. I’ve worked with all of the Writers in Residence—Cathy Hankla, Charlotte Morgan, and Sheri Reynolds—and they are all great. Published writers all, they give informed comments in one-on-one conferences and lead productive group critiques. And every one of them goes above and beyond the scheduled hours.


sheri reynolds
Sheri Reynolds [Source: Nimrod Hall]
Valuable writing colleagues. Attendees are a combination of returnees and newbies. Maybe it’s self-selection, or maybe it’s the atmosphere of collegiality, but everyone wants everyone else to succeed—no back-biting, no competition. All accept the responsibility to read and critique the work of others in their group. They are honest, telling what is strong and what needs work, always delivered respectively.


Protected writing time. No meals. No laundry. No childcare. Every morning and as many afternoons as you want can be devoted to your own writing projects.


Leisure options. There are several walking trails, swimming, tubing on the Cowpasture River, just to mention a few. Personally, I love going to the nearby Jefferson Pools, where the women’s (and men’s) baths allow me to relax in the historic waters—bathing-suit optional!


Great food. Prepared fresh, creative and tasty, and vegetarian is always an option. Meals are served family style, and seating is fluid. Over meals, one can get to know people not in one’s own writing group.


Wonderful conversation. Some of this happens over meals, but also at evening readings, while relaxing on porches, etc. I have never met a boring writer!


Lasting friendships. I am in touch with Nimrod colleagues all across the country, especially within Virginia. It’s an enduring network.


A productive week. I’ve polished short works for submission and edited sections of novels while at Nimrod. The energy is contagious.


A bargain price for so many benefits, room and board, for a week. I cannot recommend it too highly!
nimrod writers workshop

The Value of Writing Classes and Workshops

One of the best things you can do for yourself as a writer is to join a writing group or workshop. The people you meet can offer fresh perspectives on your writing and help you evolve in your genre and beyond. Not only is it great to have another set of eyes look over your work, but going to a workshop every week helps you stick to a regular writing schedule. That discipline, coupled with the skills you pick up, are a great way to bring your writing to the next level.


value writing classes workshops
I had no formal writing instruction from high school through retirement, but after I retired I began to take classes at the VMFA Studio School. In addition to all sorts of arts classes– drawing and painting, photography, pottery, printmaking– they offer creative writing courses. Coming up soon are two such courses: one in memoir writing, and another in blog writing.


Besides the classes at the VMFA, I’ve had classes and/or workshops at the University of Richmond and, of course, Nimrod Hall Summer arts programs. Registration for Nimrod is already open for week-long or weekend workshops, if you’re interested.


I’ve also had friends who’ve taken classes at VCU. They are difficult to get into for non-degree students, but it doesn’t hurt to try. While the types of courses vary from semester to semester, here is a list of upcoming courses they will be offering.


value writing classes workshops
A writing friend took a seminar with Agile Writers which she said was excellent. You can take their mini-tutorials online, or become a member for more benefits. Still others have taken classes at the Visual Arts Center. They currently have a couple of open classes: Writing from Your Senses and Writing the Memoir. Sometimes you can find classes or workshops at local libraries. I once taught a 6-week class at the Tuckahoe Branch of Henrico County Library. Such opportunities are catch-as-catch-can, but be aware!


There are also workshops set up for you to make contacts within the writing community and to help you get feedback on your writing. One such event is Writers Wednesdays through the James River Writers, where on the second Wednesday of every month writers in Richmond have a casual meet-and-greet at Ardent Craft Ales. Similarly, Writers Farmhouse invites authors to the Midlothian Urban Farmhouse Market & Cafe to write, read, and motivate.

james river writers annual conference
At the James River Writers Conference in 2012

These are all in the local Richmond area, but opportunities abound. Many schools with MFA programs offer non-degree classes in the summers. For example, I know that Hollins College has an annual offeringPoets & Writers magazine gives a national listing annually as well.


If you start taking writing instruction, you are likely to fall in love with your teacher. By all means, continue to take classes with her/him. But also branch out. I’ve taken classes with Douglas Jones, Susan Hankla, Sherri Reynolds, Cathy Hankla, Charlotte Morgan, and others. Valley Haggard is also a local writer who offers classes. James River Writers has a list of classes, workshops, and writing groups for you to get more info about these opportunities.
value writing classes workshops
Each teacher offers something; they all have their strengths. Some light a creative spark. Some provide structure to get started and/or finish a specific project. Some sharpen specific writing skills. Some offer assignments and deadlines that make you keep BIC (Butt in Chair) and actually put words on paper. All should offer encouragement and support!