Monday, June 13, 2016

What Do You Need as a Writer? Three Things Highlights Gave Me by Marcie Flinchum Atkins

In May I attended a Highlights workshop on Novels in Verse with fellow Grogger, Jan Godown Annino. I set my eyes on a Highlights workshop many years ago, and even put it on my vision board so I would keep that goal in the forefront. But it couldn’t just be any workshop. In my mind, it had to be just the right workshop for me. 

I wrote a book in 2010 that needed some work. It was written in prose, but it also had some poetry sprinkled throughout. My critique group, and eventually an interested agent, said they thought it would work as a novel in verse. 

I worked on it several times and after several rejections, I finally put it back in the drawer knowing that I just wasn’t ready to write this book yet. 

But this book wouldn’t leave me alone. It kept begging me to work on it. I worked on other books, but this one was determined not to stay in the drawer. 

When the Highlights Foundation advertised the Novel in Verse workshop led by Kathy Erskine and Alma Fullerton, two writers who have written novels in verse, then I knew, this was the “just right” workshop I’d been looking for. 

Highlights provided 3 things for me:

1) Quiet. 

I work as a librarian in an elementary school with 700+ kids. Then I go home to a 7 and 11 year old. Quiet is something I don’t get much of. It’s part of the reason I get most of my writing done at 5:00am, when no one else is awake. The quiet at Highlights is amazing. There’s no TV, internet in the cabins is slower than usual, and cell phone service is spotty. I’m not complaining about this. I needed to be away from all of that noise anyway. There’s something about a quiet cabin that allows you to focus on the writing at hand. In fact, I’m craving that quiet so badly that I hope to go to an unworkshop very, very soon. 

2) Camaraderie. 

While I loved the quiet time and space to write, I also loved my time with other writers. Our group really connected. The writers attending this conference were passionate about their writing and serious about craft. I learned so much from being with them. I get energy from being around other creative people who are also diligently working to create their best stories. The encouragement from Kathy and Alma and others really helped buoy me through revisions. 

3) Craft. 

While I love going to bigger conferences, I have found that I’ve grown the most as a writer when I attend smaller, craft-focused writing events. I’ve made it a priority to attend more craft-focused events, instead of just publishing related events. Keeping up with publishing is essential, but in order to get my writing ready for that world, I know I need to push myself to get better and better at the craft. Each day we focused on a different aspect of writing the novel in verse. Then I had opportunity to go back to my cabin and apply what I learned. This was HUGE. So many workshops I’ve been to  provide a lot of information in a short amount of time, then I have to sift through the information after returning home. Having the time to sift and sort while still there was just what I needed. 

What About You?

What is that one thing you’ve been wanting to do for awhile? An area of writing you want to pursue, a workshop you want to attend, or a gift you want to give to yourself? 

Write it down, and hang it up. 

It took me several years to make this workshop happen, but because I had my radar out for such a workshop, and I had a specific manuscript that needed extra work, I knew that this opportunity was THE ONE I wanted to pursue when it came across my email. 

Make today the day you acknowledge that goal. If you want to make that goal public, leave a comment and share it with your fellow writers. 


  1. Awesome, Marcie, that you could attend this. I hope an agent is interested in your novel soon!

  2. Love your words, Marcie! So glad to know you. I learn from you every time we meet.

  3. Highlights is truly magical. I felt that way about the Nonfiction Workshop several years ago. My soul and spirit said "This one's for you." I met Kristen Fulton there and the rest is history. I believe you are on your way to publication. Glad to have "known you when."

  4. Marcie, I am so glad you got what your writing soul needed. My goal is to attend smaller workshops, too. I'd like Whispering Woods w/ Linda Skeers and Jill Eshbaum & Highlights Science NF w/ Miranda & Jen Swanson. One of those 2 for next year.

    1. Kathy, I've been to Whispering Woods and highly recommend it!

  5. Appreciations for this gre8t memory of our creative & hard-working group, Marcie.
    Rooting for your novel-in-verse!

  6. Highlights is a wonderful place to meet people fellow writers (where I met Kristen Fulton and Sherri Rivers) and engage in serious craft discussions.

  7. Fantastic post, Marcie! I'm so glad you found such a great conference exactly when you needed it. I can't wait to see your work in print someday! And yes, Highlights is on my bucket list, too. Seems like the perfect place for a writer. :-)

  8. Great post, Marcie. I have attended those huge conferences and definitely benefit more from a smaller event. I'm thankful for all the offerings given by the writing community.

  9. Marcie, I'm so glad you got to go to Highlights and that it was good for you. Good luck with your novel in verse!

  10. What a terrific opportunity for you to advance your craft (as well as regain some sanity after a school year with 700+ kids!). I admire how purposeful you are with your goals - I think this is something for me to strive for.