New Directions Weekend Conferences: A Glimpse at a New Directions Weekend

discussion.JPGThe new year of New Directions weekend conferences is rapidly approaching.  This year’s line-up gives us a lot to look forward to both as writers and as people interested in clinical issues. Upcoming weekends include:

  • Surface to Depth (Nov 8 – 10) – an exploration of searching within ourselves to connect more deeply to others
  • Writing the Difficult Character (Feb 7 – 9) – drawing on both the analyst’s and the writer’s craft to consider how to keep the reader engaged with emotionally difficult characters
  • Love and Hate in the Kitchen (Apr 4 – 6)- joining with cooking writers and foodies to consider how we think and write about cooking

For those who are joining New Directions for the first time this fall or who are considering the program, I thought it would make sense to provide an overview of an average New Directions weekend. I have an ulterior motive in doing this; I had planned to write this blog entry about the current New Directions Alumni Group. However, as I worked on that entry, it became obvious that the uniqueness of that group only makes sense when described against the background of the normal weekend. Look for the Alumni blog in the coming month.

IMG_2277New Directions weekends are organized around themes proposed to the program Co-chairs, typically by people with a history as faculty, co-chairs or New Directions participants.  The organizers – those who have successfully proposed a theme – then invite guest faculty, invite writers and analysts or therapists to serve as writing instructors, organize the weekend schedule, gather readings and create an overview and writing prompts for participants.

Faye Moskowitz2.jpg

(Click image to view video0

(Click image to view video0

During a New Directions weekend, an average conference day involves listening to two or three talks by the guest faculty.  The talks are kept deliberately short – about thirty minutes – in order to provide 40 minutes of audience discussion time. As this video of Faye Moskowitz interacting with the audience shows, these exchanges may involve questions of writing, clinical or personal insights, and are often quite lively.

Another key feature of a New Directions weekend is the small writing groups, which take on three different forms.  Prior to the weekend, participants have written a piece that is no more than 750 words – called two-pagers – although they are not necessarily two pages. These can be responses to the weekend prompts or anything else the participant decides to write. The two-pager writing groups meet three times during the weekend.  Members and leaders of these groups are the same across a given weekend, but change from weekend to weekend, giving participants the opportunity to work with many different people across the three years of the program. Leaders for these groups are usually a professional writer and an analyst or therapist. The two-pager groups workshop the pieces, providing support and feedback and sharing writing tips.


The second form of writing group occurs on Saturday mornings, when participants work with a leader in a focused workshop.  With titles such as “Form, Craft, and the Personal Essay”, “Book Writers’ Workshop”, “Creative Process,” and “Free Write: Discovering What We Know”, these are groups that participants select each fall and stay with for the duration of the year in order to concentrate on particular aspects of their writing that are important to their own work.

IMG_2257Additionally, participants all work in Sunday morning groups. These are groups that do not change across the three years of the participant’s program.  In these groups, participants can work on longer-term projects with peers who come to know their work well. Often, strong bonds of friendship and collegiality form in these groups. Across my three years at New Directions, my Sunday group was the most important audience for my writing. I could give them lengthier pieces of writing and because they understood my project, they could provide knowledgable, pointed and in-depth response.  I published more professional articles during my three years in New Directions than in any other period of my career; I believe it was in part because I always wanted to bring to my Sunday group work that was worth their time.

(Click image to view video)

(Click image to view video)

The final thing that is worth describing about a New Directions weekend is the way it functions as a social and emotional home for many participants.  In presenting one’s writing to others, we make ourselves vulnerable. It is often the case at New Directions that the writing presented by participants is highly personal, which adds another layer of exposure. But even when that isn’t the case, even with writing that is not obviously about the writer, writing is nevertheless ultimately about connection.  The question of how our writing will be received is whether we will feel recognized, understood and supported or will feel the shame and anger of rejection or misrecognition. Assuming that even the most distanced or scientific writing expresses something a writer cares about, we always run the risk that there may not be an audience to receive what we present. New Directions offers an audience for our writing and for the vulnerable person behind the writing.  This comes out not only in the small groups but also in all the in-between times of the weekend when we can, if we elect, gather to eat and drink, talk, commiserate and laugh.Hall talk.JPGIMG_2273

Hall talk.JPG



    Cheryl, I’m looking forward to meeting you!

  2. I am in the new class starting in November. Thanks so much for this. I feel I have a much clearer picture of the shape of the weekend and even more to look forward to!

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