Unworkshop

I browsed the workshops Highlights Foundation’s website and found several that interested me. Then I saw one called an “Unworkshop: Your Room to Create” and clicked on it. As my eyes scrolled down the page I discovered the Unworkshop was exactly what I needed since it was uninterrupted time to write.  Essentially you go up to the Highlights Foundation, check into your cabin, and write.  Meals are prepared for you and there are unlimited snacks.  How perfect is that?  Within 24 hours, I coordinated childcare and signed up for a four-day Unworkshop in mid-August.

I got antsy as the Unworkshop approached. First, I worried I was going away for too long.  (Up until the Unworkshop, I had never been away from my daughter for more than three nights.)  Second, I worried I wasn’t going to have enough time to accomplish everything I wanted to accomplish.  Third, I worried I was going to forget something I needed. Therefore, I made a checklist of what I wanted to accomplish and the writerly things I needed to bring the day before I left.

Click on the image to enlarge.

Click on the image to enlarge.

The drive up to Highlights took much longer than expected thanks to an excessive amount of traffic. I felt the stress of the drive melt away since this was where I’d be staying:

Cabin #8

Cabin #8

I spent the first night unpacking and reading picture books until almost 11:00 p.m.  I opened the window before bedtime and fell into a deep sleep.

Making a daily plan kept me on-track.

Making a daily plan kept me on-track.

On Sunday morning I awoke with the kind of chill I hadn’t felt since I was a kid at sleepaway camp.  It was that good kind of chill that comes from the feel of cold country air coming in through an open window. It took awhile to pull myself out of bed since I kept closing my eyes pretending I was at camp.  However, my writing was beckoning me to get out of bed so I washed up and walked down to the Barn for breakfast. I ate a delicious meal, talked with some other participants, and had two cups of coffee. Afterwards, I came back to my cabin, made a plan for my day, and began working.

Surprisingly, I got nearly everything completed (except for the plot summary) on Sunday. Granted, I stayed up until 1 a.m. on Monday morning doing it all, but it was tranquil to work that late with nothing but the sounds of crickets in the background.

I watched the sun fall below the treetops on Sunday evening as I did some writing on my iPad using the Hanx Writer app. (It simulates a typewriter, with all of the clackety-clacking and dings!)

I watched the sun fall below the treetops on Sunday evening as I did some writing on my iPad using the Hanx Writer app. (It simulates a typewriter, with all of the clackety-clacking and dings!)

Monday was a tush-in-chair day. When I wasn’t eating the amazing meals Chef Joseph and his team prepared for all of us conferees, I was working on Craft Moves.  I finished the nonfiction craft table I started the previous day, completed a second one, wrote two plot summaries, and drafted a chapter.  I took a short walk after dinner and then went back to work until 10:00 p.m.!

Left: Coral Reefs by Seymour Simon; Right: See What a Seal Can Do by Chris Butterworth and Kate Nelms

Left: Coral Reefs by Seymour Simon; Right: See What a Seal Can Do by Chris Butterworth and Kate Nelms

Clockwise from top: The Barn at the Highlights Foundation, the Boyds Mills Press Office, and a beautiful creek I found on my walk an hour before sunset.

Clockwise from top: The Barn at the Highlights Foundation, the Boyds Mills Press Office, and Calkins Creek

Makeup-less me writing. (What else would I be doing?)

Makeup-less me writing. (What else would I be doing?)

On Tuesday, I rushed out to breakfast — makeup-less — and enjoyed chatting with the other Unworkshoppers and Kent Brown, the executive director of the Highlights Foundation.  Afterwards, my morning was filled with writing. First, I revised the latest picture book manuscript I’m working on and sent it to the members of my writing critique group.  Then, I laid down for 15 minutes and looked at the ceiling in my cabin.  That’s right.  Just laid there and stared up at the ceiling.  I had other items to do on my punch list for the day, but I felt like I needed to think.  And after 15 minutes, an idea came to me.  An idea for a possible picture book.  I grabbed my notebook, a pen, and my cabin key and headed out the door.  I made my way over to the lodge so I could sit on a rocking chair and write in solitude.

I looked out at the field in front of me and wrote and crossed out and wrote and crossed out.  I fiddled with words and tried not to be preachy.  I put it away at lunchtime and took it out again after dinner.  I played around with the notebook entry on my Hanx Writer and came up with this.  I’m unsure of what I’ll do with it next, but at least I got my thoughts down.

 View from the Lodge.

View from the Lodge.

I devoted my afternoon to working on my query letter since I’ve received six rejections, thus far, on my “High Tide” manuscript I began sending out last month.  None of the rejections were personalized, so I knew something could be wrong with my query. Therefore, I spent the afternoon studying about query letters and reading queries that worked.  I revised and sent out a few more queries.  I got a response from one agent asking to see the manuscript (since his agency’s policy was just to see the letter).  For 20 minutes I thought I might gain representation. Unfortunately, he said my manuscript’s topic wasn’t for him and wished me good luck.  (At least the seventh rejection came quickly!)

I another walk right before dinnertime.  As I walked I thought, essentially, all I’ve done for the past 72 hours is eat, sleep, and write. TALK ABOUT BLISS!

There's a rock garden outside of the Barn at the Highlights Foundation. I created a message to myself that reflects the journey I'm on to publish a picture book.

There’s a rock garden outside of the Barn at the Highlights Foundation. I created a message to myself that reflects the journey I’m on to publish a picture book. I plan to return to this image if I get discouraged on this journey.

On Wednesday morning, I drove home with mixed emotions.  I missed my husband and daughter and wanted to see them. But, spending so much time working writing was something I hadn’t done since my daughter was born three and a half years ago. I knew, as I drove towards home, I would need to book another Unworkshop in the next few months.  Having the ability to focus on one’s writing — and nothing else — is a true gift.  It’s a gift I plan on giving myself soon!

And the best news of all: I accomplished virtually everything on my to do list.  (The only thing I didn’t do was reread Wondrous Words… but that’s what this weekend will be for!)

The Highlights Foundation is located near Honesdale, PA.  Click here more information about Unworkshops.