Write Like a Pro
Best-sellers, mysteries, memoirs, and more may only be a class or workshop away.
David Roderick is the cofounder of Left Margin LIT in Berkeley and can help your prose sing.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
Writing is no longer such a lonely business, especially in the Bay Area.
While the struggle for inspiration and proficiency is primarily a solitary internal battle, numerous opportunities for support and intimate connections with other writers are available. There are superior local workshops, classes, and resources in Berkeley, Oakland, and across the Bay Area for anyone who wants to hone their composition skills, finish writing that mystery novel, or develop a revealing and moving memoir.
When I moved to Berkeley three decades ago, I signed up for a UC Berkeley Extension course on writing science fiction, taught by novelist Marta Randall. Lessons learned there led directly to professional writing gigs, including continuing work as a reviewer of science fiction and fantasy. Some students became friends and continued to critique each other’s fiction in a private workshop that has included a MacArthur award winner and a Man-Booker finalist.
Now is a good time to see what a creative writing class might do for you.
Whether one commits to an eight-class Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program in Writing or chooses a single pass/fail elective, UC Extension provides a wide slate of options, covering both the nuts and bolts of prose and the more nuanced aspects of the endeavor. It also offers college credit, but the classes are priced accordingly.
Extension Honored Instructor Laurie Ann Doyle said, “It’s very valuable as a writer to have a variety of perspectives looking at your work. It’s great to meet with a few partners, but if you can get more than a couple of people, you get a more rounded response.”
For a looser structure at less expense, students might choose among the programs provided by The Writing Salon. Founded in 1999 in San Francisco, the Salon is one of the Bay Area’s oldest writing organizations. It offers well over 100 classes per year, with multiple offerings in screenwriting, fiction, and memoir.
The classes offered by Left Margin LIT in Berkeley have a more boutique feel. Cofounders David Roderick and Rachel Richardson have gathered a distinguished group of teachers to lead eight-, 10- or 12-week classes, as well as one- or two-day programs.
“Writing is tough, because it’s so solitary,” Roderick said. “Most of our people come through our door looking for rigor, guidance, and community.”
Some students benefit from one-on-one or small-group instruction, perhaps like that offered by Teresa Burns Gunther and her Lakeshore Writers. Gunther’s workshops provide writers a chance to work in-depth on manuscripts in progress — fiction and memoir, novel, and story — within a small group of fellow writers.
Writers interested in the dramatic arts can check out Stagebridge, based in Oakland. The nation’s oldest and most renowned theatre company of older adults, it offers instruction in storytelling and playwriting.
Of course, students willing to travel a bit will find numerous options in San Francisco. One workshop series of particular note is offered by the venerable literary journal ZYZZYVA. Recent instructors have included short-story author Anthony Marra, poet Dean Rader, and creative nonfiction writer Caille Millner.
Aware that there are people under-served by the literary establishment, WRITE NOW! San Francisco sponsors free monthly writing workshops, intended to engage writers of color, at the San Francisco Public Library. Founder Shizue Seigel said, “In my 20 years of writing, I’ve worked extensively with ‘real people,’ engaging with the world, not people writing in garrets and making up realities based on headlines or other secondary sources.”
For further details about these local writing workshops and classes, use the following contact information.
Writing Classes & Workshops
Lakeshore Writers, Oakland, LakeShoreWriters.net
Left Margin LIT, Berkeley, LeftMarginLit.org
Stagebridge, Oakland, StageBridge.org
UC Extension, Berkeley, Extension.Berkeley.edu
Write Now! San Francisco, WriteNowSF.com
The Writing Salon, Berkeley, WritingSalons.com
ZZYZYVA, San Francisco, ZYZZYVA.org
Editor's note: The above article has been edited to correct an error. The Writing Salon was founded in San Francisco.