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Ahead of Bay Area Book Festival, resources for aspiring writers

The Bay Area Book Festival, which is back in Berkeley April 28-29, has a wealth of advice on how to get your book writing mojo on. Photo: Courtesy BABF

This story is brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival.

Aspiring writers aiming to join the ranks of Bay Area literary legends Joan Didion, Michael Chabon, Philip K. Dick, and Beverly Cleary have come to the right place. The Bay Area Book Festival has compiled a round-up of local groups, classes, resources and inspirations to help you move on to the next chapter of your writing career.

There is no prescribed path to becoming a writer, but classes and formal instruction can inspire, educate and provide writers with a much-needed jumping-off point.

The Writing Salon, with locations in Berkeley and San Francisco, offers short and long-term classes on nearly every conceivable topic, including introductory fiction, memoir, crime writing and poetry, as well as one-on-one editing, mentoring services and an event series. Running for nearly 20 years, the Salon keeps its class sizes intimate and helps writers pursue their own self-directed goals.

“We want a place where beginners are motivated to jump in and where experienced writers can come for support in continuing their projects,” said Salon Director Ben Jackson. “We inspire, but we also want to be there to support writers for the long haul.”


Similarly, Berkeley-based Left Margin Lit takes up the charge of providing classes for writers who don’t have the time or money to spend on an M.F.A. program. They offer multi-week workshops in fiction, poetry, and nonfiction, focused one-day classes, and a successful writers’ boot camp.

“My partner Rachel and I are parents, so we get how difficult it is to balance work, parenting, and writing,” said David Roderick, co-founder of Left Margin Lit. “I’d say about half of the people we draw to Left Margin are parents trying to juggle all of these responsibilities. There’s also a strength-in-numbers aspect to this dimension of our program. It’s helpful and sometimes inspiring to spend time with other people struggling to strike the right balance between writing and life, the imagination and reality.”

The longest-running writing workshop in the Bay, the San Francisco-based Writers’ Grotto has a podcast for those who don’t thrive in class settings or can’t make the trek across the bridge. It offers an eclectic selection of in-depth talks with writers of all stripes.

For writers who are coming into their craft as they are coming of age, organizations such as 826 Valencia and Writopia Lab funnel resources into young writers who need support in finding their voices and honing their skills. In the East Bay, Writopia’s trimester-long writing courses include one-on-one lab time for specialized instruction. A convenient option for San Francisco-based families, “826,” as it’s fondly known, offers after-school tutoring for individual students, free nighttime and weekend workshops, and as well as longer term summer programming.

Some writers seek peer review over instruction. Formal organizations include the non-profit California Writers Club, which has more than 1,700 members statewide and puts on conferences, workshops, critique groups, and open mic events, as well as produces anthologies for its members.

“Writing is a lonely, often solo endeavor,” said Deborah Bernal, Tri-Valley Writers Nor Cal representative of California Writers Club. “Belonging to a writing community gets the writer back into the real world… Information is out there, but a network of colleagues in the writing community can help a writer decipher what’s useful from the trash.”

Here seen at its booth at a past Bay Area Book Festival, 826 Valencia funnels resources into young writers who need support in finding their voices and honing their skills. Photo: Courtesy BABF

The Northern California chapter of Mystery Writers of America, another group of supportive writers, has instructional podcasts, videos, and an event series for any genre writers who want to learn how to construct the perfect crime scene.


Nationally, beloved nonprofit and writer support system National Novel Writing Month began as a small collection of writers who gathered in San Francisco to motivate one another—and it now boasts approximately 400,000 participants who pledge to write a full novel in a month. The Berkeley nonprofit provides inspiration, progress tracking, and a community of writers all pursuing the same goal.

While the officially dedicated month is November, writers can get an early dose of enthusiasm at the Bay Area Book Festival in Berkeley on April 28-29. There, NaNoWriMo executive director Grant Faulkner will give a stirring “Pep Talk for Writers” with co-presenter and She Writes Press Founder Brooke Warner.

For more inspiration (and potential pitching targets), writers can look to acclaimed Bay Area journals like ZYZZYVA and McSweeney’s, as well as publishers like Heyday and Blue Light Press, which have a history of publishing previously unheard voices and prioritizing those from California.

While waiting for a novel to come to you, combating writer’s block and cabin fever is critical. Luckily, there is a trove of Bay Area literary events, including Oakland’s late-summer venue-hopping Beast Crawl, San Francisco’s popular Litquake (which has been running for nearly two decades), the headliner literary series City Arts and Lectures, a great arts and culture series at the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco, and the monthly boozy showcase series Writers With Drinks.

At the Bay Area Book Festival, which will take place in downtown Berkeley on the weekend of April 28-29, writers and readers come together for one of the Bay’s largest and most exuberant celebrations of literature. In addition to the “Pep Talk for Writers” session mentioned above, some conversations specifically for aspiring and practicing writers include:

    • Writing and Risk: Renowned writers from the University of San Francisco’s Creative Writing Program discuss the importance of taking writing risks.
    • The Modern Writer’s Practice: From the California College of the Arts, a panel of experts with diverse practices across travel, memoir, fiction and poetry will interrogate the role of creative practice in the 21st century.
    • Comics, Live!: Illustrators, graphic novelists and cartoonists come together to celebrate the literary importance of visual art.
    • Women Plot the Crime: International mystery mavens Sara Blaedel, Anne Holt, and Yrsa Sigurdardóttir discuss how they concoct the perfect mystery plot.
    • Jabberwalking with Juan Felipe Herrera: Former U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera inspires young poets to become artists on the move.
    • How Stories Make the World: Joyce Carol Oates, Scott Saul, Ismail Muhammad, Joe Di Prisco from the Simpson Family Literary Project come together to break down the craft of storytelling and unlock the story inside each audience member.
    • Dude! Making a Book Together: Award-winning author Aaron Reynolds and Caldecott Medal winner Dan Santat discuss how to collaborate with a co-writer as they celebrate their new children’s book, “Dude!”
    • The Future of Publishing: Seasoned publishers engage in an informed, freewheeling discussion for aspiring and published authors, as well as anyone curious about the state of book publishing in 2018.
    • Book Reviewing: And, for when you reach publication: a panel of esteemed reviewers takes us inside the delicate art of how books are reviewed.

Detailed schedule and tickets for Bay Area Book Festival events go online on March 15; sign up for the festival’s newsletter to be alerted.


Regardless of where you get your inspiration, one piece of advice is consistent: keep going.

“I always tell students that getting 2,000 words on the page is more important than sending to The New Yorker tomorrow — focus on the things that keep you going as a writer,” the Writing Salon’s Jackson said. 

This story is brought to you by the Bay Area Book Festival which takes place on April 28-29 in Berkeley. Visit the BABF website for full details.