I'm headed off later this afternoon to one of the highlights of my writing year: the Whispering Woods Picture Book Writing Workshop/Retreat. I'm one of the facilitators, along with my author friend Linda Skeers, so obviously I'm biased, but I urge all of you to someday try an away-from-home writing workshop/retreat. It can be nothing short of life changing. Briefly...
1. You get to focus solely on your passion – writing for kids – in a warm, friendly, no-distractions atmosphere.
2. You make new friends (the importance of friendship and support from other writers is crucial, at least for me).
3. Your work is read and compassionately critiqued by people who understand how tough it is to put yourself out there – they're doing it, too.
My first writing retreat was one sponsored by SCBWI-IL. Technically, it wasn't a workshop, but it was the first time I'd spent an entire weekend focused on my writing, so I'm counting it. I met amazing writers at every turn, people with whom I felt an instant rapport (Esther!). I made a connection with a sweetheart of an editor. But the best, most affecting thing about that weekend? I came away feeling like a writer. For the first time. (People who don't write might not get that, but I know most of you will.) It was almost as though I'd finally been given permission to take my writing seriously. I know, I know. Nobody has to GIVE us permission to follow our dreams, but with a busy husband and three active kiddos, it was way too easy to put my "little hobby" on the back burner. The positive feedback I got on my writing made me realize that a career in children's books wasn't a fantasy.
I've heard great things about on-line workshops. And sometimes those are the best option – maybe the only option – for writers who cannot get away. (I wish the internet had been around when I was starting out!)
I've also heard (or read about online, anyway) writing workshop horror stories about nasty critiquers and jealous/pompous/frustrated instructors, but I believe (hope!) those are rare (or nonexistent) at workshops centered on writing for children.
So if you can swing it someday, go for an in-person workshop. Do your homework first, of course. Look for online reviews of whichever one you're considering. Talk to others who have attended, if possible. Then, when you feel ready, take the plunge.
Truthfully, I get as much as I give at Whispering Woods. Talking about writing all weekend, reading dozens of quality picture books, reading and critiquing the work of others....All that concentrated picture book STUDY improves my own writing as much as I hope attendees are improving theirs.
I love it when everybody wins.
(photos were taken by me on the grounds of the retreat facility here in eastern Iowa where Linda and I hold our workshop)