Getting Your Story Unstuck: A Weekend Intensive for Writers of Chapter Books, MG, and YA Novels

May 15 - 16, 2021


Online (Facilitated)

COVID Reschedule/Refund Policy
What’s the difference between Highlights Foundation workshop types?


May 15 & 16, 2021 (2 hours + 5 hours)




Join us for a productive weekend, packed with first page reviews, revisions, writing exercises, Q&A with an editor, and interactive lectures–all designed to help you go deeper into your work in progress and approach it with fresh ideas.

Quite often, issues with a story in progress can be traced back to its beginning. For this weekend intensive, Erin Dionne and Chris Tebbetts will help you look at how your first pages and early choices can help you navigate the rest of the writing process. What promise are you making to the reader on page one? How can you best deliver on that promise as you work to create a taut middle and satisfying ending? While our focus will be on beginnings, the session will also offer discussion, tools, and tips to help writers get unstuck at any phase of the process.

Participants will be asked to submit page one from a work in progress (up to 250 words) one week prior to the workshop.

This weekend course can be taken as a standalone workshop or as an introduction to our self-paced Getting Your MG or YA Novel Unstuck course. You’ll get to know our caring facilitators, Chris Tebbetts and Erin Dionne and their generous teaching methods for helping chapter book, middle grade, and YA novel creators get “unstuck.” For more information about the self-paced, six-month course, please click here.


Your book can be a meaningful experience for the children and young adults who read it. This course helps you identify the promises you are making to your readers on page one and offers ways of making sure you deliver on those promises, all the way to the end of the story.

Why do we mention this? Learn about the Highlights Foundation mission.


  • You’re a new middle grade or YA novelist or chapter book writer, eager to figure out your story and make meaningful progress on your draft.
  • You’re a more experienced novelist working on a new story, and you want to do so with support, community, and accountability.
  • You are taking or have taken one of our “Unstuck” workshops (either the facilitated in-person, online, or self-paced version), with help from Chris, Erin, and our community.
  • You’re considering doing the self-paced version of “Getting Your Story Unstuck” this year and want to get a preview of Chris and Erin’s teaching styles.
  • You want to see how unlocking the opening of your manuscript can affect the structure and trajectory of the rest of the story.


This weekend intensive is best if you attend and engage in all the sessions live. If you need a self-paced option that doesn’t require attendance at a specific time, try Getting Your MG or YA Novel Unstuck?. (Note: If your schedule does not allow you to attend the live sessions and you would still like to register, that’s OK! You’ll have access to the recordings. They’re usually posted the day after the session, and they’ll be available through June 15, 2021.)

Trying to figure out how this course fits into your schedule? Read some ideas about planning for the right level of commitment.


Saturday, May 15, 7-9pm Eastern
Part 1: The Promise of a Good Beginning

  • Welcome with introductions including one line from your WIP
  • Opening writing exercise
  • Mini-lesson: Deep Point of View
  • Revise: Workshop your submitted page in real time with breakout rooms

Sunday, May 16, 12-5pm Eastern
Reconvene to share discoveries from yesterday
Part 2: Voice (How does word choice, tone, and personality on the page add to the reading experience?)

Part 3: Pacing (How can you ground your reader in the world with your beginning?)

  • Revise: Workshop your story’s beginning with breakout rooms
  • Reconvene to share and discuss changes made and talk about other considerations (e.g., when and if to outline, sustaining tension, seeding your ending from the start, plot vs. theme.)

Part Four: Guest Editor Q&A

  • Small-Group Office Hours and Community Discussion: Where are you stuck, and why are you here?
  • Reconvene for overview of other “Unstuck” offerings and parting thoughts

Throughout the Workshop

  • Informal feedback on all writing exercises.
  • Practical approaches to assessing elements from the beginning of your manuscript and reincorporating them throughout the story.
  • Open discussion about the many ways in which we get unstuck, with a focus on practical solutions.

A note about workshop agendas and how they may change and evolve.


Blog Post on Visual Outlining with Chris Tebbetts
Chris Tebbetts: As Simple as Possible: Three Ways To Tighten Your Prose
5 Ways to Reclaim Your Creative Joy
Step Away from Your Manuscript & Shake Things Up With writers’ Bingo
Breaking Through Those Creative Blocks
Chris Tebbetts: Mining Our Personal Fascinations for Story Material


“Erin and Chris were extraordinary–not only thoughtful, insightful, and fun but also unbelievably generous with their time. The resources they provided are helpful and varied.”

“All the faculty were knowledgeable, kind, generous, and thoughtful. And caring. I appreciated Erin’s skill at building a safe space to share. The material from all faculty was well prepared and rich!”

“I found both Erin and Chris intuitive, personable, genuine, accomplished and willing to go the extra mile to help. They work well as partners to lead and I liked that each had a different way of approaching things.”

“Chris Tebbetts is an extraordinary teacher—his direct critique went straight to the heart of my novel and the techniques he provided, through the live and recorded sessions gave me revision tools which are relevant to my manuscript and to my overall writing goals. Erin Dionne’s lectures illuminated many paths for everyday writing practices. Her teaching provided many, many strategies for strengthening my manuscript.”


Chris Tebbetts

Chris Tebbetts is the author and co-author of many books for young readers. Titles include the #1 New York Times…
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Erin Dionne

Erin Dionne’s latest book for tweens is Secrets of a Fangirl (2019). She’s the author of 6 other books for…
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Trisha de Guzman

Special Guest Trisha de Guzman is an Editor at Farrar, Straus, Giroux Books for Young Readers, an imprint of Macmillan.…
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