Last year at this time, I was waiting to hear whether I had a scholarship to the Highlights' writing conference at Chautauqua, NY. This is an annual weeklong retreat in July for children's fiction and nonfiction writers, from picture book authors to YA novelists. I was terrified about leaving my kids for a week and wondering if they'd forgive me. Plus I figured, hey, I'm just starting out as a writer and I don't have any credits. What are the chances I'll get a scholarship so I can afford to go?
It was a longshot, but I had to try. When I got the email that I got the scholarship, I was ecstatic. And terrified. It's hard to explain what that week did for my writing. Mostly I learned to try to have faith that I can write something great someday and not just something.
I need a lot of reminders of that, though! Fortunately the wonderful people at the Highlights Foundation sent me a CD brimming with pictures of my July week. I'd like to share a few here so you can decide if this retreat is right for you.
Many of the photos on the CD show the beautiful lake scenery. I'm not sharing any of them because I didn't actually see any beautiful scenery while I was there. Due to the amazing number of classes, lectures, lunch and learns, critiques, and manuscript trades, this is what I saw:
This is editor Patricia Lee Gauch in a Writing for Young Adults class. The schedule was so exciting at first, with lots of classes to choose from and opportunities to learn even during meal breaks. I tried to do everything. By the end of the week, I was drained and brain dead and ready to sleep for days.
In fact, the only scenery I saw was on the many occasions me and my roommate got lost on our way to lectures.
There's a little scenery. I'm all the way to the left in the pink shirt, where Paula and I are probably wandering around, lost in an extended conversation about our favorite novels, half a mile from where we're supposed to be.
It wasn't just scintillating conversation, though. There was also the incredible food. Every meal, I'd sit down thinking, OMG, I can't believe they're serving us this. Here's a picture of us applauding a typical dinner:
Actually, this is us applauding a thought-provoking speech about boys and reading from the phenomenal Bruce Coville ... my Chautauqua mentor!! Yes, I was that fortunate. He was amazing. He taught me a lot about using every object and interaction in my manuscript, which is so crucial to YA and MG writing, and he also upped my self-confidence.
Here's my favorite picture. Notice I'm wearing a sweatshirt in July. You gotta love upstate New York:The writing friends I met in Chautauqua have been remarkably supportive. I keep in touch with them online all the time and their help in my writing journey is definitely the best thing to come out of the conference. I can only hope I've been as helpful to them. Hey, I feel close enough to them to post a picture of them online! But they're wonderful people who can always complain in the comments, right?
In summary, if you're thinking of going to Chautauqua, ask yourself these questions:
1) Are you a writer?
2) Do you like food?
3) Are you willing to consume tremendous amounts of caffeine?
If you answered yes to these questions, I'm gonna urge you to consider the conference. I'll never forget it. http://www.highlightsfoundation.org/pages/current/chautauqua_top.html
-- Kate, Miss Apprentice Writer