I haven’t been incredibly active on my blog as of late, mostly because I’ve been busy. Busy with mom-ing, acting, and costuming at times. Also, I’ve been diving into my editing business, which, I have to say, I love. I love dissecting query letters and manuscripts and seeing what makes them tick.
But! I knew I had to write at least one blog about my time here at the Highlights Foundation Conference Center for an Unworkshop.
To start at the beginning, in March, some of my writer friends were planning a writing retreat for October. The very idea of a writing retreat- a chance to get away from momhood and housework and costumes and vacuuming- was mouthwatering. The problem was, since Baby #2 is due in October (yay!), I knew there was no way I could go with them.
So I began searching. I knew exactly what I wanted: A post-published writers’ conference or retreat, preferably for kidlit writers, that wasn’t about marketing. I needed time to do a drastic revision on my current novel, meet some friendly writers to talk with/commiserate with, and maybe talk a little craft. The problem was: This conference didn’t exist. This is when I found the Unworkshop at the Highlights Foundation Conference Center in the Pocono mountains.
Fast-forward to my time here: First of all, for a city girl who grew up in a small, rural town, coming here was like coming home.
I arrived on a Friday evening, about an hour after dinner was served and found my cabin- Cabin 11- all ready with my name on the door and my heavy-duty tote bag, containing a name tag, instructions, and meal times, on the cozy twin bed. The room has its own coffee pot, complete with coffee and many types of tea. There’s a mini-fridge already stocked with a few cans of soda, an air conditioning unit in the window, and baseboard heating to keep the place warm and snug. It has its own bathroom, with a full tub and shower, and a bookshelf full of Picture, Middle Grade, and Young Adult books. There are sheets and towels, and the beds were already made up with homemade quilts donated by a Highlights Alumnus. As well as a ceiling fan, screened windows, and an overhead light, there are little lamps by each bed, and one perched over a writing chair. This truly is a family place, designed by writers, specifically to accommodate writers!
Hesitantly, I made my way to “The Barn,” where a large, friendly group of writers- all here for an intensive workshop week with a mentor author/editor- encouraged me to step into the kitchen and ask if there was anything to be heated up. I did. The chef soon brought out a plate just heaping with delicious, farm-to-table, local food. He even brought a bowl of cut strawberries and fruit at the end for dessert.
I settled into my cabin, set up my work station, and watched the sunset before planning out my schedule for the next day, as there was no set schedule for me to follow, except for meal times.
In the morning, I had a bright and early delicious breakfast- pancakes, eggs, sausage, local breads and jellies, and homemade granola were among the offerings. The writing group who was here for an “official” workshop welcomed me with open arms, and the CEO of the Highlights Foundation even joined us for a cup of coffee, telling stories and treating us like family. I then went back to my cozy cabin and proceeded to write. I made a calendar of events for my new book- something I’d never attempted at home- and began the tedious work of inserting a new ending into a solid draft. Lunch was homemade soup and Monte Cristo sandwiches with local bread and salad. I then went for a short walk, down by the creek and around the farmhouse. And then came more editing… and a nap. A much longer nap than anticipated. But with a cute bed like this, how could I resist?
Before dinner was a half hour of h’ourderves, complete with red or white wine, local cheese, homemade spreads, veggies, and crackers. The conferencing group once again welcomed me into their group, as well as the other woman who was here on her own for an Unworkshop. I got just the right amount of writer chit-chat: hearing about their projects, processes, and progress, and telling a little of my own.
The Barn is a lovely space- a huge open area for large meetings or meals, a living room-style sitting room with a coffee table for small groups, a kidlit library/dining room for groups under twelve, and a big loft for morning yoga, as well as any writers who want to write in a more public space, or mid-sized group meetings. There is always a table with coffee and tea, little bagged snacks, and even a freezer with ice cream! The patios outside are meant for congregating, with large, round tables and an outdoor refrigerator with drinks.
That evening, I called my son and husband and attempted to dive back into the manuscript, but realized that it needed just a little bit more plotting to figure out every little kink. I sat on my bed with the lamp on and fixed those last few plot points, after making a huge leap and transferring 10,000 words into the cut file.
In the morning was another lovely breakfast- steel cut oats with assorted fruit toppings, eggs, and bacon- and the writing group’s mentor graciously invited me to stay for their week’s wrap-up. I sat quietly as their mentor dispensed wisdom like it was candy, and the writers recapped what they’d learned from their week of one-on-one meetings with her and each other. It was definitely a blessing of an extra experience that I neither anticipated nor dreamed of.
After that, the majority of the writing group left, while a couple people stayed on to do an Unworkshop of their own. I spent all morning writing about 3,000 words of the new ending, and came to lunch ready to chat. Once again, the CEO of Highlights came for coffee, and this time we visited about Westfield (the small town in SONG OF SUMMER, where he happens to have roots!). Then back to my cabin for a (shorter) nap, and to work through the new climax of the book.
The climax of the book was done just in time for dinner, where I got to eat with two ladies who were also Unworkshopping (one from the day before’s group, and one who had just arrived), as well as meet the new conference group, here to learn about writing Jewish children’s books.
After my last delicious dinner (roasted vegetables, chicken, homemade bread, with local maple walnut ice cream for dessert- for anyone who’s interested), I returned to my cabin and yawned my way until 10 p.m. to finish the brand new ending.
And here I am this morning! Reading about other people’s experience here at the Highlights Foundation Conference Center Unworkshop got me through some really stressful times, so I hope to pass the gift on to others! The staff is accommodating (even taking people to and from the airport), the facilities are gorgeous (many individual cabins as well as an eight-room lodge, complete with a meeting room), the food is truly to die for (obviously- half this blog was about the food!), the location is breath-taking and creativity-inspiring, and I can’t wait to come back! In two years. When the new baby’s old enough to be left. *sigh* Ah well, I’ll be counting the days.