The Journey: My Workshop Experience at the Highlights Foundation

Aug 22, 2017 | The Highlights Foundation Experience

We’d like to thank Jean Richardson for this blog post about her workshop experience!>p>

Shortly after arriving at the Honesdale, PA offices of the Highlights Foundation, I took an optional tour of Highlights magazine and its book publishing division. I couldn’t help but feel exhilarated while touring the site where the Highlights publication I grew up reading is put together, and is now also where a manuscript of mine could one day be published!

Back at the ranch a quaint sanctuary–duly designated by a white placard with my name in bold black letters, complete with porch and rocker–awaited my presence. This cozy, fully equipped wooden cabin would house me for the next four days as I journeyed my way through this workshop: The Journey: Your Path to Publication.

But as an industry newbie, for me, the journey portion of the writer’s life had already begun. All that was left was navigating the path

Be Prepared to Un-learn
Fact: You may not know what you think you know.

Really. I can safely say that, like a lot of aspiring or budding children’s writers, I too initially thought to myself, it’s easy enough. How hard can writing for kids be? The word count’s pretty low…cute stories aren’t hard to imagine, right? That mindset was debilitating and the reason I wasn’t progressing with my project.

Don TateThe moment when Don Tate–an award-winning author/illustrator–showed me how wrong I was, was a revelation I welcomed. Unfortunately, the fallacy of the un-challenging aspects of kidlit is an enduring myth, which prevents some peers from attaining their publishing goals. “When you know better, you do better” goes the old adage. I came knowing it was a creative process, and came away realizing there’s a methodology to doing it correctly, thanks to co-workshop facilitator, Carmen Oliver.

That’s why The Journey workshop proved to be the perfect choice. I had to learn to un-learn these and other unqualified assumptions I’d knowingly internalized. They were barriers, roadblocks I needed to remove to clear my pathway.

<strong”>Be Open
Regardless of the advice I’d been given or had read, I was open to learning. I know that should go without saying. Nevertheless, sometimes the simplest things bear repeating, whether in the form of a gentle nudge or a subtle reminder not to miss the forest for the trees. Still, I wouldn’t tell anyone to forget what he or she knows. However, if you want to learn about what it takes to be an author, I staunchly advocate listening to published, prolific authors like Don Tate who are actively working in the trenches.</strong”>

I had several specific concerns with a troubling work-in-progress (I had let it dawdle for a few years) that I wanted addressed in order to finally figure out the way to polish it. I’m happy to add, I got to ask my questions during the one-on-one critiques included in the workshop and given in the loft atop the huge multi-purpose structure known as the Barn. And yes, I was open to the constructive criticism as well.

The view from the loft!

The view from the loft!

<strong”>Get Organized and Get Working
With my copy of the full itinerary of every day’s scheduled activities, I was ready to get organized and get working! On the second day, having settled in and met my fellow students as well as Don and Carmen, we started off with a hearty breakfast and then dived right into our curriculum.</strong”>

As a bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, first-time Highlights Foundation attendee armed with a non-fiction picture book manuscript I had been struggling with for some time, and a host of ideas, I had stars in my eyes. Don’s slide presentation was a highlight of the workshop, in conjunction with instruction from Carmen and guest presenter Floyd Cooper.

I found the workshop to be an experience unto itself. More to the point, the part workshop/part retreat–the combination of all my experiences–were what made the takeaway even more gratifying. I hope anyone seriously interested in a career in children’s lit can attend, as I did. Scholarships are available.

<strong”>What to Expect
You needn’t worry about anything for the duration of your stay, other than fine-tuning your craft. </strong”>

Every creature comfort is supplied as if by magic. The angelic Alison Green-Myers will see to that. After inquiring as to the availability of an iron, I found it sitting outside my cabin. The best description of the all-inclusive Highlights workshops is basically a slice of heaven on earth for writing mortals. In addition to being picked up and delivered door-to-door, I was warmly greeted. (Jo Lloyd, who ferried me to the actual location after I took the bus in from New York, was my initial contact.)

The peaceful respite guarantees precious uninterrupted time to write and revise. A majority of your time will be devoted to the workshops held in the Barn, where our creative minds and bodies are generously fed. Scrumptious meals are prepared in its kitchen by friendly staff and provided three times daily along with limitless snacks available day and night.

Our Mission in Action

Share Your Story, Inspire a Child
Equity & Inclusion in Kidlit
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The Highlights Foundation positively impacts children by amplifying the voices of storytellers who inform, educate, and inspire children to become their best selves.  Learn more about our impact.