The Milford Writer’s Workshop or more properly Milford Writers’ Conference is an influential science fiction writer’s event founded by Damon Knight among others in the mid-1950s in Milford, Pennsylvania. It moved to the UK in 1972 and has run successfully ever since on an annual basis.
It is both a residential workshop and a writers’ conference in which published SF writers get together over the course of a week to intensively critique stories and samples from novels (usually works in progress) and to workshop ideas on all aspects of SF writing. It is a peer-to-peer conference with no teachers or students.
There is an honorary committee, elected annually at the AGM held during the Milford week. The 2010-2011 committee consists of: Sue Thomason (Chair), Liz Williams (Secretary), Steve Kilbane (Treasurer), Jacey Bedford (Website and Mailing Lists), Kari Sperring and Karen Williams.
Participants must have sold at least one SF story to qualify for attendance, and newcomers to publication are welcomed, but participants often have multiple novel and short story sales to their credit.
Milford participants in the USA (pre-1972) include James Blish, AJ Budrys, Jack Dann, Lester DelRey, Tom Disch, Gardner Dozois, George Alec Effinger, Carol and Ed Emshwiller, Harlan Ellison, Katherine MacLean, Anne McCaffrey, Judith Merril, Frederik Pohl, Gene Wolfe and many others. Milford was the model for other peer-to-peer SF writer workshops, including the Turkey City Writer’s Workshop. It was so named because Merril, Knight, and Blish lived in Milford, Pennsylvania when it was founded.
In 1972 James Blish set up the United Kingdom Milford SF Writers’ Conference, initially meeting in Milford on Sea, Hampshire. Since then it has been held in various locations, latterly Devon until 2001, York in 2002 and 2003, and (since 2004) at Trigonos Conference Centre in North Wales, usually in late September. Participants in the UK have included Tom Arden, John Brunner (novelist), John Clute, Jaine Fenn, Neil Gaiman, Mary Gentle, Ben Jeapes, Diana Wynne Jones, Gwyneth Jones, David Langford, Anne McCaffrey, George R. R. Martin, Alastair Reynolds, Charles Stross, Karen Traviss, Kari Sperring, Bruce Sterling, Liz Williams and Patricia Wrede amongst many others.
Manuscripts are distributed beforehand. Everyone reads, critiques and prepares before the formal workshop begins. It is etiquette not to discuss the manuscripts beforehand either with the author or other members of the critique group. The participants sit round in a circle. The author whose work is being critiqued has to sit in silence through the first part in which each participant in turn is allowed an uninterrupted four minutes (timed) to deliver their critique. Then the author gets uninterrupted right of reply. Following that a general discussion ensues. Constructive criticism is strongly encouraged. In the last few years it has become accepted for the critiqued manuscripts to be given back to the author complete with notes.
The so-called “Milford method” is presently used by several writers’ groups, including the Glasgow Science Fiction Writers Circle.