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I spent four days last week in Boyds Mills, Pennsylvania at a terrific workshop for writers of non-fiction. The wonderful people from Highlights Magazine run a series of workshops for children’s writers. I’ve now attended two workshops and a retreat and will be attending another retreat in August. I can’t say enough about how wonderful and energizing these are. These are also the folks who run the famous Chautauqua Writer’s Workshop every summer. I haven’t been to that yet, but I’m hoping for next year.
Let me tell you a little about how these workshops run. First, check out the information on their website: http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/FWsched_preview.html. If you look at the list of workshops, you’ll see there is really something for everyone. Sure, you have to apply and submit writing, but that’s one of the reasons they are so great. You won’t find yourself with a group of people who know nothing about writing or are completely unfocused for the task at hand. The faculty are always people with great expertise in the particular topic of the workshop.
Our workshop was A Concentrated Course in Non-Fiction and was led by Peter Jacobi. Take a look at the course description and read a little about Peter: http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/FWsched_concentratedNonfiction_11.html.
His credentials are impressive, but he is so much more. His energy and enthusiasm are amazing and his knowledge deep. He’s a warm and sharing person and presented great information and examples galore. We all had some one-on-one time with Peter to discuss our individual projects and received excellent advice and guidance (and an autographed copy of his book!). The only thing I would change would be to add a day to the workshop. The pace was breathtaking. Peter had so much information, we couldn’t quite get to everything he had for us. There were only five in our group, so it was quite intimate. Here’s a shout out to Dan, Joette, Caroline, and Dina – a terrific group, both interesting and interested, making for good discussions and lots of inspiration and laughter.
The experience of going to a Founder’s Workshop is so much more than just the “classroom” experience. When you attend, you are treated like visiting royalty. They send a driver to pick you up at the airport. It’s nice if you can get a flight into Scranton-Wilkes Barre, but if you need to fly into New York or Newark or even Philadelphia, they will fetch you there. When I was leaving the workshop, I was headed to Philly for some research. I asked Jo Lloyd, the woman in charge of coordinating all the workshops, if there was a train or bus I could take. She said she would have a driver take me, and that’s what they did. If you are coming from a long distance and need to arrive a day early or stay a day late, no problem and no extra charge. I arrived a day early last year. The staff wasn’t on site to prepare my meals, but they had delicious meals prepared and in the fridge at the farmhouse waiting for me.
The grounds are lovely. The farmhouse overlooks a small river running through farm country in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains. Cabins range across a hilltop above the farmhouse, and every attendee has his or her own cabin – a quiet, private place to get away and get to work while you are feeling especially inspired. They aren’t fancy, but each has a desk, twin beds, full bath, and small refrigerator stocked with sodas. There is WiFi throughout the area, so if you have a computer with you, you are all set. Don’t want to carry a computer along? They have a computer cabin with printer for you to use.
All meals are taken at the beautiful farmhouse that was the home of the founders, although there is a new conference center being built, so there are some nice changes coming. Meals are prepared by amazingly talented people using fresh, local produce, meats, cheeses, etc. Do you have special dietary needs? Just let them know ahead and that will be handled as well. Every afternoon before dinner, we have appetizers and cocktails or wine. We often have visitors at dinner or lunch. I have dined with the head of Boyds Mill Press, the art director of the press, the science editor of Highlights, the non-fiction editors of Highlights, the publisher of High Five magazine, and others. It’s great to be able to ask just what they need or want and to be able to directly submit to them. The workshops usually include a tour of Highlights and a chance to meet other editors. I’ve also had a tour of Boyds Mills Press at one workshop.
If you are a serious writer of all things children, there are some things I think are musts on the list of things to do on your way to fulfilling your destiny, and a Founders Workshop is certainly one of them. Oh, and if the cost is daunting for you, apply for a grant. These are generous people who see their mission as engendering successful children’s writers. Check it out. I can’t say enough good things about the experience.