Last October I attended my first Highlights Foundation Writing Workshop. I say ‘my first’ because it was such a wonderful experience that, one day, I plan to make it back there again.
Many of you know Highlights Magazine from reading it yourself as kids or sharing it with your own children now as parents. This workshop took place at a rustic retreat center in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, just outside of the little town where the Highlights office is located. In fact, the retreat property is the former home of the founders of the magazine. Each year the Highlights Foundation holds workshops on a range of topics for children’s literature writers, illustrators and other professionals.
As you may know, I LOVE picture books – especially biographies. One of the manuscripts I’m working on is a biography so one day last year in early fall when I saw an email come about Telling it True: The Art of Storytelling in Picture Book Biography and Narrative Nonfiction, it felt like the universe might be trying to tell me something. Could I make it work? Would it be possible to attend? Everything fell into place and, soon, I was registered and super excited to attend.
The retreat center was about a 6.5 hour drive for me coming from Pittsburgh. What can I say? Pennsylvania is a big state. But I like a good road trip and it was a beautiful day to travel. I knew I was getting close when my views became farmhouses, rolling hills, horses and cows. The location is rural and I loved it immediately.
I checked in at the Barn, which is the center of activity when you attend a workshop – it’s where the three homecooked meals are served for you each day as well as where most workshop sessions take place. There’s also a quiet loft area for reading and writing.
After settling into my room at the Lodge, I walked over to the Barn for a happy hour before dinner. At this point, I saw a sea of new faces. I admit, I was both nervous and excited but so was everyone else, I’m sure. And by the end of the weekend, all those new faces had become good writing friends.
Over the course of the weekend, we attended lectures from in person faculty members, including authors Leda Schubert, Tod Olson and Carole Boston Weatherford. We learned about the publishing industry from Lee and Low Books editor, Kandace Coston. Via Skype lecture, we got to hear about the research and writing processes of authors, Steve Sheinkin and M.T. Anderson. The workshop also included critique roundtables where we got feedback on our own nonfiction manuscript. This was very helpful – and, after I got feedback on my manuscript, I spent that night revising and reworking my beginning. It’s so much better now. As attendees, we were able to talk one on one with faculty members and get answers to all of our questions. I definitely left wiser and more confident as a writer.
When we weren’t learning about all things children’s literature, we had time for ourselves to write and explore the trails around the retreat center. These times, along with group meals, were some of my favorite times because I got to talk with my fellow attendees.
On Sunday afternoon after lunch, it was time to get in the car and drive back across the state. I couldn’t wait to see my husband and my kids but the time spent working on my writing was worthwhile. I felt good knowing that this Highlights Workshop experience and the friends I made along the way would stay with me always.