Showing posts with label Highlights foundation. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Highlights foundation. Show all posts

Create Your Own Personal Writing Retreat

A quiet cabin hidden in the Poconos
Luscious meals prepared by a five star chef
No cell phones
Great writing coaches
An eclectic group of talented and generous writers

These are the ingredients I remember from Room to Create, a writers retreat in 2011 put on by the Highlights Foundation.  This fall a reunion retreat was planned for this group.  Sandy Asher and Linda Oatman High were once again the facilitators.  Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this year. 
Disappointed that I couldn't attend and realizing that my writing life needed a jump-start, I decided I would give myself a personal retreat.  I took a day off work, and committed it to writing.  I did not leave the house or clean the house. My house definitely needed cleaning and there were tons of errands I needed to run, but I was giving myself the gift of a writing day. 

After breakfast, I sipped my coffee and sat down in front of my computer.  What should I work on?  I opened one of my picture book manuscripts.  I closed it.  I opened one of my non-fiction projects.  I closed it too.  I decided to spend the day organizing my writing life.  I reviewed each manuscript to determine its status.  Some of my manuscripts are at publishing houses waiting for feedback; some need massive revisions, while others are in their final stages.  Then there are the projects that are little more than research notes and beginning ideas.  

I am someone who always has many writing projects in the hopper.  I know some writers start a writing project, dig in their teeth, and keep at the one project until it’s done.  That’s just not me.  I dig in, chew and gnaw at my manuscript, but then I need to put it down, let it ferment while I work on another project.  In order to keep track of my many projects, I use a mind mapping program called freeplane.  So, on this personal retreat day, after I reviewed each manuscript, I updated it on my mindmap.  Here’s the outline of my map for my children’s writing without the specific projects.

I didn't get a ton of writing done during my personal retreat, but I did reset my focus and determine where to put my writing energy.  Instead of feeling overwhelmed, by what I need to get done, I felt empowered by what I had accomplished.

If you’re feeling like your writing life needs a reboot, consider a personal retreat.

Mary Jo Guglielmo is writer and intuitive life strategist. For more information check out:  

Nouns Need to be Concrete and Appear More than Once


Part two in this series of notes from the Highlights Foundation Workshop, Books that Rise Above, features points made by Patricia Lee Gauch and Linda Sue Park on the use of nouns.

Patricia Lee Gauch: Concrete Nouns

Patti says we want to write in profound simplicity to keep our writing unclogged, such as the opening paragraph in chapter 11 of Linda Sue Park's, A Single Shard:

         The path to the Rock of the Falling Flowers was steep, and Tree-ear leaned forward,
         sometimes on all fours, as he climbed. Just before he reached the top, he stopped by the
         side of the path and took the jiggeh off his back. He drank from the gourd and poured a
         little water on his hands to splash on his sweaty face.
         Thus refreshed, he felt ready to give his full attention to the sight of the rock.

To write with simplicity we must use concrete words; concrete nouns. In Patti's own Easy Reader Tanya series, she showcases lovely French dance terms, such as pas de chat, arabesque, and sur pointes. She points out the embellished concrete nouns and beautiful verbs in Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice: . . . the cat lay still in the dung heap, The merchant's booth . . . filled with other wares for wondering at . . . shiny brass needles, ribbons of red and lavender, copper spoons and brass knives . . ., she insulted and encouraged, pushed and poked, brewed and stewed and remedied.

Linda Sue Park: Nouns Need to Appear More than Once

Linda stresses the importance of analyzing each and every word. Every word has to work hard. Toward this end, she contends that in order to create wholeness of the world you have created, in order to buttress that world, all nouns have to appear more than once. Nouns that appear only once don't serve the story. A noun that appears in the first part of the book is not a force unless it is repeated at the end. Especially look at the nouns in the last chapter. Especially.

Repeated words refer to the subject, the container, in this excerpt from Chapter 1 of Linda's book, A Long Walk to Water, which is based on a true story, on the long, lone trek Nya must make every day in 2008 to a pond in southern Sudan to fetch water:

     Going was easy.
     Going, the big plastic container held only air. Tall for her eleven years, Nya could switch
     the handle from one hand to the other, swing the container by her side, or cradle it in both
     arms. She could even drag it behind her, bumping it against the ground . . .
     There was little weight, going . . .  

Repeated references to Nya's quest for water a year later in 2009 appear in the last chapter:

      Then [Nya's uncle] began moving the mouth of the pump.
      Nya held her bottle underneath the pump mouth. The bottle filled up quickly.
      She stepped aside to the let the next person fill a bottle. Then she drank.
      The water was delicious. It wasn't warm or muddy, like the water from the pond. It was
      cool and clear.
      Nya stopped drinking and held up the bottle . . .
      She drank a few more sips . . .
      Everyone had a bottle or a cup. They were drinking that lovely water . . .

Parting thoughts: Patti: Be specific. Use words wisely. Understand what particular means. Objects have great value, such as a woman wearing the same hat.  Linda: Be intimate. Write for personal therapy. Try writing in first person then switch it. Me: Before this workshop I edited the sentence. Now I edit every word.


Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 40 articles for children and adults, six stories for children, and is in the final editing stages of her first book, a mystery story for 7-10 year olds. Follow Linda on Facebook. 

For past posts in this series, please visit:

Part One: Two Ways to Hook and Keep Your Reader

Next month: Tent Pole Construction

In future posts: Watch for workshop presenters' biosketches. A link to the complete list of "Books that Rise Above" will appear at the end.














Jumping Head First into Publishing

Guest Post by Bonnie  Rokke Tinnes

Several times during my life, especially after I graduated from Bemidji State University in Minnesota as an English and Russian teacher, I wanted to be a writer, but something always got in the way of the time and energy I needed to actually sit down and produce something of worth. I taught school for a while.  Then my husband and I were married and I worked on our farm.  We had children who took a lot of my time.  After my husband became ill, I returned to school, attaining a nursing degree from the University of North Dakota just in time to take over as breadwinner and caregiver.

We were lucky when I was given a job as a registered nurse in a Minnesota state hospital for mentally ill adults in the middle of lake country, which was the one thing that made moving and taking the job inviting.  The demanding job stressed and stretched my nerves and energy to their max so when I was home, I’d sit down at the computer and try to change my thoughts and mood by writing something of worth, something that was beautiful.  Writing had become a survival technique taking me away from the harsh realities of what seemed a cruel and heartless world.

Lucky me, I bought my first computer a couple of years after I moved here in 1995.  After I learned how to use it, I found it the best tool a writer could ever have.  It was easy to write, delete, cut, copy, and paste, quite different from sitting at the typewriter ruining paper with typos and other mistakes.

It was after retirement that I became more serious about writing.  Having a lot of time on my hands, I began organizing all those pages of thoughts I had worked on for years, many about my childhood and growing up in the middle fifties on a farm in northern Minnesota.

Book signing
Franklin Arts Center,
 Brainerd, Minnesota
I hired someone to edit my work and began writing Growing Up Margaret, a story about three sixth grade girls growing up in rural Minnesota in the mid- fifties who become best friends.  Following that, I wrote Margaret Inc, a story about the girls’ seventh grade year, which is my second book in a trilogy I plan about Margaret. These books appeal to anyone from middle school to those who grew up in the mid- fifties because they portray the culture, setting, and time in history realistically.

 During my lifetime, I had also written numerous poems and organized some of my nature poems into a book called Snow Presents and Poems.  I also plan to organize more of my poetry for future publication.

Not getting any younger and having all my poems and stories in my computer or on copy paper, I began to dream of having them published.  I knew that if I didn’t do something, all my work would be in vain if something happened to me, and I wanted to leave these stories to my grandsons.  If I wanted my dream, I needed to jump in myself and try something because I was finding it almost impossible to get my foot in the door of a publisher, and I didn’t have time to waste.

 During July, 2010, I attended a Highlights Foundation writers’ workshop at Chautauqua Institution, Chautauqua, New York. It was an educational and rewarding week, and I learned what I needed to improve my writing for publication. The manuscript I submitted at Chautauqua to my mentor, published children’s author Helen Hemphill from Tennessee, was Margaret Inc.  I was pleased and encouraged when she said that my writing was almost there and would just take some tweaking.  She also said that I had strong characters and plot.  What I needed was to use more dialogue and to show more and tell less what was taking place in the story.  Hemphill’s works include The Adventurous Deeds of Deadwood Jones, Runaround, and Long Gone Daddy

I probably rushed the submission to a publisher when I returned home.  It came back to me with a note that said that my writing was probably too Midwestern to sell nationally.  The editor suggested I publish it locally.

With the help of my editor, I continued to perfect my writing.  Since he was older, I also enlisted a younger reader for a second opinion.  Between the two of them, I was able to tweak and polish my writing, making it acceptable for publishing.

I studied published books and learned how to set up the title page, dedication page, and all the other introductory pages.  I learned how to set up page breaks so a new chapter began at the top of its own page. I even went to the internet for an ISBN number and also uploaded my manuscript to the Copyright Office, paying for the whole thing electronically.   I was learning and doing things I’d never done before and even enjoying it.

When I felt everything was ready, I uploaded my book to for Kindle, and it worked.  Once it was uploaded, I could see how it looked and make adjustments before I saved it for publishing.  It took a few times, but it was finally uploaded as I wanted it.  Next, I uploaded to Barnes and Noble for Nook.  And just like that, I was published.

It didn’t end there.  Some people wanted a hard copy, a book they could hold in their hands.  I am not an illustrator so I found a website,, and there I found photographs that I could pay very little for the right to use on a book cover.  I hunted through them until I found the perfect one for each book.  I searched the internet until I found a reasonably priced, good printer, DiggyPOD, in Michigan who would print as many books as I wanted at a time.

Before I ordered any printed books, I went to Facebook and to my email and asked my friends if they’d buy a book if I printed some.  I received enough monies to pay for the first printing.  They kept their word, and they also loved the books.

Tuesday, September 4, I had my first books signing right here in Brainerd, Minnesota, at the Franklin Arts Center.  It was thrilling to watch as people bought my book.  I also was featured in the Brainerd Dispatch’s magazine, HerVoice, 2012 fall issue

  A good friend once told me, “Everyone wants to be a writer, but no one wants to do the work.”  He should know because he teaches college writing.  I can tell you from experience that those words are true.  None of it was easy, but it was worthwhile.  It took jumping in head first and a lot of guts, but I am happy where I am today as a writer. I just told my husband that I am beginning to feel like an author.  

Please visit my website  There you will learn more about my writing and me and also how to get in touch with me.  I would love that.

--Bonnie Rokke Tinnes

Your Children's Story and the Message

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