The Write Stuff

Editor, Porter Sargent Handbooks

Sep   2011



"A screaming comes across the sky."

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

"Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way."

"Call me Ishmael."

These are some of literature’s most famous first lines, but it’s not like Pynchon, Dickens, Tolstoy, and Melville just sat down with a blank page and started spitting hot fire. Even gifted writers need years of practice to develop their own style and voice—a college professor once told me that all writers need to get 10,000 words of terrible prose out of their systems before they write anything worth reading.

So if you’re thinking of studying creative writing in college, get a head start by attending a summer writing program. We’ve highlighted just a handful of the nearly 300 programs featuring creative writing instruction listed on Summer Program Search.

Alumni of the University of Iowa’s graduate creative writing program have won 17 Pulitzer prizes and several National Book Awards. Visiting faculty have included Philip Roth, John Irving, and Kurt Vonnegut. High school students attending Iowa’s summer Young Writers’ Studio pursue a single course of study (poetry, fiction, or a multidisciplinary creative writing course) through two weeks of intensive literature seminars and writing workshops.

Held on the campus of a leading liberal arts college and sponsored by one of the country’s preeminent literary magazines, the Kenyon Review Young Writers Workshop organizes group workshops that meet for five hours every day. In addition to free-writing exercises and responses to prompts, students compose stories, poetry, personal narratives, dialogues, reflective passages, and experimental pieces.

For aspiring science fiction fantasy writers who want to be the next J.R.R. Tolkien or George R.R. Martin, a good first step is probably changing one or more of your middle initials to the letter “R”. Then learn from professional authors in the genre at the Alpha Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Workshop for Young Writers. Topics covered in lectures and writing studios include character creation, plot, conflict and tension, dialogue, pace, and structure.

The University of Massachusetts-Amherst Juniper Institute for Young Writers offers intensive workshops, craft sessions, and studio courses designed especially for young writers and unparalleled exposure to published authors through readings and Q&A sessions.

Disgraced “memoirist” James Frey attended Denison University, but don’t hold that against the school’s Jonathan R. Reynolds Young Writers Workshop. Beginning poets and writers develop their talents and refine their skills in small workshops in poetry, fiction, nonfiction, and daily cross-writing classes provide exposure to various genres.

Lots of other colleges and universities offer writing courses among their summer offerings for high school students, but it’s not necessary to attend a formal program to work on your writing. Challenge yourself to write a few short stories and share them with friends or teachers, or just take the summer to tackle that novel you never had time for during the school year, like David Foster Wallace’s brilliant 1,079-page, 388-footnote Infinite Jest. It took me six weeks to finish, so you might even have a couple weeks of summer left for a fun beach read.

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About Jim Martinho

Jim Martinho

Jim worked as an Editor at Porter Sargent Handbooks from 2005 until 2012, following his graduation from Northwestern University with a degree in journalism. Jim’s first task at Porter Sargent was to research summer programs for the Guide to Summer Camps and Summer Schools, published since 1924 to describe recreational and educational summer opportunities for kids and teens. Jim helped to make the Guide’s 1600+ program listings fully searchable online at In his free time Jim enjoys reading, playing guitar, and seeing live music. He spent his own high school summers in suburban Boston working at a supermarket and freelancing for local newspapers.

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