Networking: A Writer's Greatest Gift

The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
                                                              Robert Frost, "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening"
Imagine settling into a cozy cabin, sparkling clean with bed made and fridge stocked; prepared
expressly for you so that you may be free of distractions and focus solely on your writing.There is a schedule to keep. Of workshops and informal discussions presented by some of the dearest, most talented and successful children's writers of our time. Delicious meals to enjoy, lovingly prepared by a most welcoming and friendly staff. It's not a dream. It's a Highlights Foundation workshop.
The Gift that Keeps on Giving
So much is reaped from this experience it cannot be fully described in one sitting (See the links to my posts below). Your presence at a Highlights Foundation workshop is a gift to give yourself at any stage of your writing journey, from beginning to publication. To this day I continue to benefit from the "Books that Rise Above" workshop I attended in October 2012. Priceless is the information gathered and wisdom shared. But, it is the people I met who have made all the difference.

The very first participant I met was Rob Sanders,, a creative writing teacher for K-fifth grade whose first picture book, Cowboy Christmas, had just been released by Golden Books-Random House. Two of his latest picture books, Outer Space Bedtime Race and
Ruby Rose on Her Toes, will be released in 2015 and 2016. Rob asked me if I had ever heard of Joyce Sweeney. Joyce is an award-winning author of fourteen novels for young adults and one chapbook of poetry. She has had numerous poems, short stories, articles and interviews published, and is involved with live theater productions as well. Rob said that Joyce has a unique approach to writing for children that she explores and shares in several online courses. He suggested I get in touch with her and see what she has to offer. I've been working with Joyce ever since and have had the pleasure of attending one of her workshops and having lunch with her on a recent trip to Florida where she lives.

Come get your Confidence here!
I have taken two of Joyce's online courses, Fiction Writing Essentials and Picture Book Essentials. To give you an idea of what can be learned from Joyce's courses, she has agreed to allow me to share one part of her philosophy, a most important part, that offers a writer a way to rise above the details and see the big picture of his or her work. It is a way to recognize a writer's strengths and weaknesses. Once identified and understood, a writer can build on the strengths and study the weaknesses in order to make them stronger. The four parts of concentration are Concept, Voice, Plot and Structure.
  • Concept: The idea of your book. You should be able to articulate the concept of your book. If you're slow, face it, you have a concept problem.
  • Voice: All aspects of the way you use language. You can dazzle your readers if your voice is good. If you think everyone else sounds better than you, then your voice needs work. Work at it, refine it, don't give up too soon.
  • Plot: A series of (mostly external) events that happen to the mc. Most writers are bad at plot. Things need to happen to your mc, things that test him or her. Plot is what stories are all about. Your mc needs to go through something that is valuable and important. Read The Heroe's Journey, described on this website:'s_journey.htm. Watch movies and take notes.
  • Structure: Delivery system. Structure is the vehicle that carries the reader through the story. Examples of structure: Point of view, Time sequence, Length of chapters. To be good at structure you need to know how to show.
Put your Stories to the Test
Joyce says that every writer needs to ask the question: What am I good at? What needs work? Her weakness was once Plot. When she realized that she took the time to study plot and she improved. Here's an idea: Take a good, honest look at your rejections. Decide what is missing, what is weak. Then work to improve it.

Bottom line: There is always something to work on, always something to improve.

To Market, to Market?
Marketing could be a problem, too. If rejections mount up, it's likely that you've gone to market too soon. You need to work on your craft more.
Do this:
  • Work harder
  • Revise more
  • Study more
  • Make draft upon draft until you come up with something that's DAZZLING--a work no one can resist
  • Remember: It takes years for the best of writers to get published. There is always work to be done.
Personal note: Joyce's courses offer a wealth of knowledge. Take the knowledge she so graciously and enthusiastically shares and run with it. But the most valuable thing I learned from Joyce is to respect myself as a writer, to take pleasure in my humble attempts, to view my mistakes as stepping stones toward my goal and to revel in them for my mistakes are my teachers. I had heard this before but what Joyce gave me that no one else could is reassurance, reassurance that my efforts aren't in vain and that if I stick with it and don't give up I will succeed.

Give yourself a gift this holiday season and check out Joyce's plot webinar that can be purchased and downloaded, the next round of Fiction Writing Essentials that starts in February, and much more by visiting her website:

Part One: Two Ways to Hook and Keep Your Reader
Part Two: Nouns Need to be Concrete and Appear More than Once
Part Three: Tent Pole Structure
Part Four: Leonard Marcus: Maurice Sendak, Storyteller and Artist
Part Five: Leonard Marcus: Let the Wild Rumpus Start
Part Six: Behind the Scenes with Deborah Heiligman
Part Seven: Deborah Heiligman's Casual Scream
Part Eight: On the Same Page with Betsy Bird
Part Nine: Patti Lee Gauche's Concluding Thoughts: Have your Own Standard of Excellence

Photo courtesy of:

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, recently completed Joyce Sweeney's online fiction and picture book courses. She has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six short stories for children, and is currently developing several works for children. Follow Linda on Facebook.


Karen Cioffi said...

Linda, great information and links! I'm a firm believer in the fact that there is always something new to learn and work to be done to continue honing your craft. Joyce's courses sound amazing. Thanks for sharing.

Linda Wilson said...

Thanks Karen, yes there's always something and aren't we fortunate that we enjoy learning it so much!

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