Focus: A Daylong Writing Retreat (with Susan Ito)

Susan Ito




SATURDAY, AUGUST 24 | If you’ve longed to attend a writing residency, where quiet, food and uninterrupted time are provided, you can experience a taste of indulgent focus at the Grotto’s first weekend writing retreat. Bring that unfinished story, that new chapter, those poems to our writing nooks and crannies, and enjoy the time and space to write in community with others. You’ll be well fed, supported and inspired to make solid headway with whatever writing project you’re working on.

You’ll get tips from a seasoned writer and writing retreat facilitator on how to make the most of our time together. This full day will include writing time, brief periods of walking (to get those brain cells stimulated), both indoors and outdoors, as well as some sharing and brainstorming. When you’re feeling stuck, an on-call writing coach will be available to help with writing prompts or a pep talk. Nourishing snacks will appear throughout the day, and you’ll be treated to a delicious catered lunch. You’re guaranteed to leave the retreat with fresh pages and the momentum to continue on your own.


Susan Ito is the author of The Mouse Room. She co-edited the literary anthology A Ghost At Heart’s Edge: Stories & Poems of Adoption. Her work has appeared in Growing Up Asian American, Choice, Hip Mama, Hyphen, Catapult, The Bellevue Literary Review, and elsewhere. She is on the faculty at Mills College and Bay Path University. She has been leading writing and creativity retreats for over ten years.


Number of sessions: 1

Time: 10:00 am – 3:30 pm

Dates: Saturday, August 24

Course fee: $110

One Month to a Kick-Ass Literary LinkedIn Profile (with Lyzette Wanzer)

Lyzette Wanzer




WEDNESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 11-25 —OCTOBER 2  | Are you a writer who suffers from one of these misconceptions?

“LinkedIn is just about finding a job.”

“It’s for executives, lawyers, and doctors, not creative writers!”

“It doesn’t offer anything useful for writers.”

“I’m already on Facebook, so I don’t need it.”

LinkedIn is a social media marketing tool that writers often overlook. It’s a very powerful networking tool that offers a lot for us, and in the Bay Area, is one way to accelerate your success. Learn how to maximize LinkedIn to increase your audience, reinforce your funding applications, meet the Bay Area’s literary movers and shakers, and open opportunities for reading, conference invitations, and publishing. In this workshop, learn how to:

  • Prepare a profile that marks you as a professional, rather than a hobbyist
  • Promote yourself and your work by harnessing LinkedIn’s full features
  • Network with author organizations that help to spread news of your work to wider audiences
  • Use your profile to enhance your grant, residency, and writing conference applications
  • Learn the power of LinkedIn’s Groups

A laptop, notebook computer, or iPad is required for this workshop.

Lyzette Wanzer is a San Francisco writer, editor, and creative writing workshop instructor. She received her M.F.A. in Fiction from Mills College. A flash fiction connoisseur and essay aficionado, her work has appeared in Callaloo, Tampa Review, The MacGuffin, Ampersand Review, Journal of Advanced Development, Journal of Experimental Fiction, Pleiades, Flashquake, Glossalia Flash Fiction, Potomac Review, International Journal on Literature and Theory, Fringe Magazine, The Naked Truth, and many others. She is the recipient of an Investing in Artists grant from the Center for Cultural Innovation, three Individual Artist Commission grants from San Francisco Arts Commission, and three Professional Development Grants from the Creative Capacity Fund.


Number of sessions: 4

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30pm

Dates: Wednesdays, September 11, 18, 25; October 2

Course fee: $275

Revise and Submit Your Story for Publication (with Laurie Ann Doyle)



SUNDAYS, SEPTEMBER 15 & 22  | Whether you have a short story fresh out of the printer, or a memoir piece tucked away in the drawer, this highly interactive, two-session workshop gives you concrete tools to strengthen your work and publish it. Students in this class have gone on to publish in online and print journals, as well as place in national writing contests. In the workshop, we’ll about revision as a process of “re-envisioning” your work, and you’ll learn how to accomplish this in do-able steps. You’ll have the chance to step back and look at your story, assess where it would benefit from more work, and select among different in-class revision exercises to get the process going. At the second session, we discuss strategies to successfully publish your work, detailing effective approaches used by the instructor and other widely-published writers. You’ll come away with a collection of time-tested resources, including recommended websites, sample cover letters, and submission tracking tools. There will also be plenty of time to address your specific questions and concerns, as well as get feedback on your revisions. This workshop is designed for both fiction and memoir writers.

Laurie Ann Doyle is the author of World Gone Missing, which won the Nautilus Book Award in fiction and was praised by New York Times bestselling author Edan Lepucki for delivering “astute portrayals of people desiring connection, hope, and renewal.” She has successfully published over twenty-five stories and essays in journals and anthologies such as The Los Angeles ReviewDogwood Journal, The Rumpus, 100 Word Story, Speak and Speak Again, and Under the Sun. Laurie teaches at The Writers Grotto and U.C. Berkeley Extension, where she is an honored instructor.


Number of sessions: 2

Time: 2:00 pm – 5:00pm

Dates: Sundays, September 15 & 22

Course fee: $150

Flash Fiction: Little Stories with a Big Kick (with Jenny Bitner)

Jenny Bitner



TUESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 17 & 24 —OCTOBER 1-22  | Do you want to write the Great American Novel but find it hard to finish a short story? Maybe you need to ease into writing with something you can write a first draft of in a few hours. I believe that before we can tackle a longer piece of writing, it’s important to learn the elements of what make good writing, and the perfect practice ground for this is short fiction.

This class will focus on learning these elements by writing flash fiction (stories under 1500 words). We will discuss different aspects of craft and read some of the best examples of flash. I will give you daily writing prompts, and each week the class will give you feedback on a new story. At the end of the class I will encourage you to send your finished work out into the world.

Jenny Bitner’s short stories and flash fiction have been published in Best American Nonrequired Reading, PANK, The Sun, Mississippi Review and Fence magazine. She has an M.F.A. in creative writing from the University of Virginia.


Number of sessions: 6

Dates: Tuesdays, September 17 & 24; October 1, 8, 15, 22

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $395

Reading and Writing the Personal Essay (with Mark Wallace)

Mark Wallace



WEDNESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 18-25 —OCTOBER 2-30  | Close reading of great work is one of the best ways to improve your own writing. In this class, you’ll learn how to unlock the secrets of great personal essays and apply them to your work.

The class combines focused, constructive workshopping of student work with an examination of outstanding published essays past and present. We’ll split our time each week between providing feedback on students’ essays and performing a close read of one or more published essays. We’ll talk about some techniques that can be used to “get inside” a piece, and students will put those techniques to work not just in understanding their own work but in learning to provide useful feedback for their fellow writers as well.

Essayists we’ll read in the class include Alexander Chee, Joan Didion, Melissa Febos, Mary Ruefle, and more. Along the way, we’ll get at the heart of what makes a great personal essay tick. Workshopping will focus on what each writer wants to accomplish, with constructive feedback provided to help move them closer to their goals. By the end of seven weeks, you’ll have gained deeper insights into how great writers approach the personal essay, and will understand how to bring many of these tools to bear in your own work. You may also arrange for feedback from Mark on a revision of your essay for an additional $100.

A freelance writer based in San Francisco, Mark Wallace has published essays in the Los Angeles Review of Books, The New York Times, The Philadelphia Independent, The Sigh Press Literary Journal, and elsewhere, and his feature journalism has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, The New Yorker, Salon, Wired, and many others.


Number of sessions: 7

Time: 5:45 pm – 7:45 pm

Dates: Wednesdays, September 18, 25; October 2, 9, 16, 23, 30

Course fee: $395

So You Want to Write–and Publish–a Book (with Laura Fraser)

Laura Fraser



THURSDAYS, SEPTEMBER 19-26 —OCTOBER 3  | Whatever kind of book you want to write – fiction, memoir, business, how-to, children’s– this class will help you take an idea you’re passionate about and show you how to develop it, and get it edited, published, and into the hands of readers. We will demystify how to pitch your book, write a proposal, land an agent, and find the right publisher. We’ll discuss ghostwriting, freelance editors, how to handle revisions, cover designs, excerpts, book publicists, and self-publishing vs. legacy publishers. We will also walk you through what you need on your author website, and how to attract readers via social media and other avenues.

This class is for anyone who wants to write a book, at whatever stage of the process. Note that this is not a class for workshopping your book, but for getting it into print. You’ll leave with an elevator pitch, a longer pitch, and a roadmap for turning your book idea into a reality.

Laura Fraser is the author of four non-fiction books, including the New York Times bestseller, An Italian Affair. As the co-founder and editorial director of Shebooks, she published 75 ebooks. She has also ghost-written a couple of books, and coached authors through several others. She’s familiar with the publishing process from agents and auctions to the font type of the pages. She has taught at numerous venues, including, recently, a class on book editing at the Aspen Institute. She brings snacks and a sense of humor to class.

Number of sessions
: 3


Dates: Thursdays, September 19 & 26; October 3

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Course fee: $225

Jump Start Your Writing with Lit Starts (with Constance Hale)

Lit Starts: Writing Character

Constance Hale







MONDAYS, SEPTEMBER 23-30 —OCTOBER 7-21  | The Writers Grotto is launching a fun, light-hearted, smart series on the writing craft, called LitStarts. The first four books in the series—Writing Action, Writing Character, Writing Dialogue, and Writing Humor– will be released on September 10. This class will use the series as the basis of five weekly workshops. Constance Hale, who wrote the essay that kicks off Writing Character, will be joined each week by other contributors from the Writers Grotto. Four heads are better than one! The sessions will be lively, helpful, and provocative, and will include in-class writing, using prompts from the book. Longer assignments, which Connie will give feedback on, will use the prompts to generate works of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or a hybrid. A copy of one of the books is included in the price of the class. Come and become an early adapter!

Constance Hale is a San Francisco–based journalist and the author of four cheeky writing manuals, a book for adults on hula, and a picture book for children set in Hawai‘i. Her articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and many national magazines, and she specializes in profiles and personality sketches. In 2019, her essay on writing profiles kicks off Writing Character, a book chockful of thoughts, tips, and prompts that is part of the Lit Starts series. She can be found at


Number of sessions: 5

Time: 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm

Dates: Mondays, September 23, 30; October 7, 14, 21

Course fee: $280

Perfect Pitch Letter Workshop (with Mark Wallace)

Mark Wallace



TUESDAYS, SEPTEMBER 24 —OCTOBER 1-8  | For a freelance journalist, essayist, nonfiction writer, or marketing professional, pitch letters not only generate work but also can help open doors, build new relationships, or kickstart a career. A great pitch has power, but crafting one, targeting it to the right publication, and getting it in front of the right person isn’t simple. By the end of this workshop, you’ll have a well-honed pitch letter ready to go.

In this class, you’ll gain new insights into what editors are looking for and learn new ways to make your pitch letters as compelling as possible. Each class will include tips on sharpening your story ideas and presenting them to editors, plus focused and constructive workshopping of student pitches. We’ll also talk about generating ideas, how to find the right editor at the right title, and the kind of perseverance it takes to prevail in an extremely competitive environment. Even if you’ve never published before, you can still pitch and sell pieces—especially armed with the skills you’ll learn in this class.

With two decades of freelance experience, Mark Wallace‘s pitch letters have landed his byline in publications from the New York Times Magazine to The New Yorker, Wired, Salon, Fast Company and many others. He has reported from five continents, on everything from technology to politics, finance, culture, and the arts.

Number of sessions
: 3


Dates: Tuesdays, September 24; October 1-8

Time: 5:45 pm – 8:15 pm

Course fee: $225

A Freelancer’s Guide to Working with Editors (with Sarah Pollock)

Sarah Pollock



SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 28 | One of the toughest parts of being a freelancer can be figuring out what your editor wants from you and when they will want it. If you’ve never worked the other side of the desk, editors can seem capricious, demanding, and uncommunicative. Understanding the editorial process will minimize your frustration and can help you build solid relationships that lead to more work.

By the end of this three-hour, interactive workshop you will better understand the jobs of different levels of editors at various publications. You’ll have a good sense of how stories are developed, approved, and edited. And you’ll walk away with tips about how to smooth the process, and how to deal with revision requests, photo memos, and fact checking. We’ll talk about when and how to stick to your guns – and when to compromise.

Come with stories from the trenches! This is a facilitated conversation, not a top-down training. We’ll discuss your best- and worst-case experiences and brainstorm solutions and strategies. By the end, you should leave with some templates for difficult emails you’ll need to write as well as a class-list of peer freelancers who can become part of your trusted network for facing the challenges of freelancing.

Sarah Pollock has decades of experience as a writer and editor. She has managed magazines and been a senior editor at Mother Jones, developing stories for a national audience.  At the moment, she’s working the freelance writing side again – even though she’s appalled at what’s happened to pay rates. She’s also a veteran teacher and facilitator, having spent a couple of decades running the journalism program at Mills College.

Number of sessions
: 1


Dates: Saturday, September 28

Time: 10 am – 1:00 pm

Course fee: $100

Funny about That: Integrating Humor in Writing (with Allison Landa)

Allison Landa



SUNDAYS, OCTOBER 6-27; NOVEMBER. 3 | You don’t need a jester’s cap or a red clown nose to make people laugh. It takes a pinch of craft and a judicious seasoning of self-awareness as a writer. Working together through class discussions as well as in-class reading and writing exercises, we’ll explore just how humor can make your writing sing–or caterwaul, depending on your particular voice. Fiction, non-fiction, journalism–this class is appropriate for any genre where you want to add a dash of humor.  Join us!

Allison Landa is a Berkeley-based writer of memoir and fiction whose work has been featured in The Guardian US, The Washington Post, and The Huffington Post, among other venues. A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California’s M.F.A. program in creative writing, Allison runs the On the Cusp reading series in San Francisco. You won’t, however, find her running marathons.

Number of sessions
: 5


Time: 4:00 pm – 6:30 pm

Dates: Sundays, October 6, 13, 20, 27; November 3

Course fee: $300