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What Are the Great Children’s Literature Writing Retreats?

This one’s for the writers, but could be of just as much use to those folks who want to be published authors and just haven’t gotten there yet.  In my time as a roving children’s librarian I’ve spoken at two different but enchanting writing retreats.  I should probably define my terms, though, so when I say “writing retreats” I mean places where authors, incipient and otherwise, pay a fixed amount to be inspired, edited, or taught by a knowledgeable staff.  Bonus points if there’s pretty scenery. Extra added bonus points if you get good food.

Recently I was speaking at one such retreat (to be named below) and it got me to thinking.  If you wanted to make a compiled list of all the children’s literary retreats in the States, where would you go?  Well, you’d go here, to Vonna Carter’s website, where she keeps the most up-to-date list I’ve seen on all upcoming retreats.  For my part, I’ll compile my own right now with some additional information and explanations.

If you can think of any that should be added (and specifically target writing for kids and/or teens) mention them in the comments and I’ll include them.

Literary Retreats for Folks Who Write for Kids and Teens

Better Books Marin

Name: Better Books Marin
Location: Marin County, California? The website is a bit spotty on that point.
Who’s It For? The motto is, “A Craft-Based Workshop for Middle-Grade & YA Writers”.
Number of Attendees: 25
What’s it like? This is a retreat for folks who want a good hands on learning and critique experience.  As you can see from this schedule, the days are rigorously planned out.  This is the kind of retreat where you get bang for the proverbial buck.

Big Sur Writing Workshop

Name: Big Sur Writing Workshop
Location: Big Sur, California
Who’s It For? As their website says, the workshops are, “for picture books, early reader, middle grade & YA fiction”
Number of Attendees: From what I could tell, the maximum number is 100.
What’s It Like? It’s definitely focused on getting you published. Like the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat it has a continually updated list of “Big Sur alumni” who’ve gotten publishing deals.

SCBWI Falling Leaves / Spring Leaves

Name: SCBWI Falling Leaves / Spring Leaves Retreat
Location: Silver Bay, NY
Who’s It For? The two retreats (Spring Leaves for the spring and Falling Leaves for . . . well, you get it) rotate genres.  So there’s a little something for everyone.
Number of Attendees: 35
What’s It Like? Both SCBWI members and non-members are able to apply for this retreat.  Compared to some other retreats this is an affordable option.  Registration does not appear to be currently open for the next fall conference, but one suspects it’s just a matter of time before it opens up.

The Highlights Foundation

Name: The Highlights Foundation
Location: Honesdale, PA
Who’s It For? Boy howdy, you name it! Of all the workshops listed here, the Highlights Foundation’s is the one with the most workshops per year.  Everything from science writing and nonfiction picture books to early readers and first chapter books are covered.
What’s It Like? I’ve spoken twice at Highlights with a third engagement is coming up in two months. Basically it’s just lovely. Adorable tiny cabins. Amazing food. Great speakers. It feels more low-key than some of the other retreats, but honestly you can find the workshop that fits your style.

Kindling Words

Name: Kindling Words
Location: KY East is located in Burlington, VT. KY West is Marble Falls, TX.
Who’s It For? According to the site, “Published authors and illustrators and editors.” It is one of the very few retreats to give editors their own place to meet.
Number of Attendees: 75
What’s It Like? Well, it depends on what you want. Kindling Words is actually in three locations at the moment. You have KY East, KY West, and KY UK. Since this blog post is primarily interested in American sites, you’ll want to read up on the KY website about what each location provides.  It’s one of the most popular retreats out there, with a lottery in place to handle the sheer hoards of folks attempting to attend. As Stacy Whitman put it, “It’s only for previously published writers and illustrators, which means it’s wonderful for mid-career mentoring, which is sometimes hard to find.”

Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)

Name: Oregon Coast Children’s Book Writers Workshop (OCCBWW)
Location: Oceanside, Oregon
Who’s It For? Everyone, insofar as I can tell. Anyone writing children’s books, anyway.
What’s It Like? This is the rare retreat where you can get actual graduate level course credits for taking the workshops and intensives on offer. Unlike other retreats this one makes no bones about what they hope to accomplish: “Getting attendees published is the end goal.” They do a lot of one-on-one coaching as well.

Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat

Name: Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Who’s It For? Authors of children’s novels primarily, but there is an additional teen component where teenagers themselves can attend. Or, put more clearly by Founding Director Nancy Sondel, “The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop (for adults submitting partial or full novel manuscripts for editor and/or agent critiques) dovetails with TeenSpeak Novel Workshop (a program for teen and sometimes tween writers with their own instructors; these writers also give articulate target-reader feedback to adults).”
Number of Attendees: 16
What’s It Like? You can’t write the word “intensive” without “intense”.  Meticulously planned out, you can either engage in a personal retreat or something a little more scheduled and interactive.  And it’s definitely the only retreat I’ve encountered that engages with teen writers to this extent.

Picture Book Boot Camp

Name: Picture Book Boot Camp
Location: Phoenix Farm, Western Massachusetts (in the Northampton area, I believe)
Who’s It For? It’s described as a Master Class for working picture book authors.
What’s It Like? Well, this one’s much smaller and more personal than a lot of the other retreats mentioned here.  Authors Jane Yolen and Heidi Stemple started a boot camp at Jane’s 1896 Victorian farmhouse home in Massachusetts.  There appears to be a lot of close attention paid to the attendees (which cap off at 12).

The Speakeasy Literary Retreat

Name: The Speakeasy Literary Retreat
Location: Various. It moves around. Past retreats have been in San Francisco (2012), Fallen Leaf Lake (2013), and Portland (2014). The next one is slated for the Rivendell Writer’s Colony in Sewanee, TN
Who’s It For? That’s a bit unclear. To be a member of the Speakeasy Literary Society you must submit your application and be accepted. One assumes that folks who attend the retreats are also members.
What’s It Like? Informal and without an official schedule. As they (the Speakeasy Literary Society) say, “We have one mission: to encourage children’s publishing professionals to relax and commune in a variety of inspirational settings. Preferably with drinks.” Of the retreats listed in this post, this one’s probably the most laid back.

Whispering Pines

Name: Whispering Pines Writer’s Retreat
Location: West Greenwich, RI
Who’s It For? Hard to say. This is the rare retreat without a website. At the same time, with its connection to NESCBWI, it’s one of the most successful.
What’s It Like? Now in its 20th year, co-directors Lynda Mullaly Hunt and Mary Pierce are stepping down this year and will be replaced with Julie Kingsley and Cameron Kelly Rosenblum. Described as the kind of place where you “design your own retreat” but with plenty of speakers, games, and fun.  Liz Goulet Dubois has recapped several years’ worth of retreats, so you should be able to glean how they go.

Name: The Writing Barn
Location: Austin, TX
Who’s It For? Everyone. Juv and YA alike.  Picture books, novels, chapter books, you name it.
What’s It Like?  The brainchild of author Bethany Hegedus, it’s just the loveliest space.  Wild deer and foxes frolic about the cactus plants while inside the barn you’ve amazing and brainy folks talking about books left and right.  I’ve only spoken there once, but it was just the nicest time.  Busy?  Heck, yeah!  And fun.

I’ve heard a rumor that the Spruceton Inn, a bed and bar in the Catskills (run by Jon Scieszka’s daughter, the writer Casey Scieszka, and her author/illustrator husband Steven Weinberg) has the occasional writing and/or illustration retreat.  So far there’s nothing to confirm this online, but I know they’re game so if you writerly types want to do an official retreat, think about contacting them.

Sidenote: Laurel Snyder mentioned that, “The Hambidge Center for Creative Arts & Sciences isn’t just for kidlit enthusiasts but they WILL fund YA and kidlit projects, which not everyone does.”

Actually, author Laurel Snyder also pointed out to me that most retreats are of an unofficial nature.  As she put it, “I’m doing my third retreat this year, and all three have been DIY– a group of writers getting together in a house in the woods, just because they can!”  So in lieu of going to any of these magnificent places, consider renting a cottage for a week and inviting some pals!

 

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About Elizabeth Bird

Elizabeth Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.

Comments

  1. Christopher Swiedler says:

    The Big Sur Writing Workshop is a good one. https://bigsurwriting.wordpress.com/

  2. I keep a large, current list like this on my website, under the tab Workshops/Retreats. One workshop you haven’t mentioned that seems to fit your description is the Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Novel Workshop and Retreat, which offers writers a chance to have their full novel critiqued by an editor or agent, in a beautiful setting.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Oh, my stars and garters, your site is so complete! Look at all those up-to-date links! I’m floored. Thanks for the tip about the Pacific Coast retreat, but I’m going to rewrite this puppy to mention your site right off the bat. Wowzah!

      • Thank you so much for mentioning my site! I hope my list helps writers find the retreat they need.

      • Vonna’s website is indeed awesome. I’m sure many of us are grateful for all the time and care that Vonna has put into building this comprehensive resource for children’s book writers! And Elizabeth’s annotated list of events complements it nicely. Thanks and hats off to you both. :)

    • Elizabeth and Vonna: Thanks for providing such excellent, extensive resources for children’s book writers! (Also to my workshop author-alum Bobbie Pyron for mentioning our event on this linked page in Facebook.)

      A note to clarify: The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop (for adults submitting partial or full novel manuscripts for editor and/or agent critiques) dovetails with TeenSpeak Novel Workshop (a program for teen and sometimes tween writers with their own instructors; these writers also give articulate target-reader feedback to adults).

      Besides the distinctive intergenerational aspect, our open clinic “master classes” allow all enrollees to read peer manuscripts in advance, then listen to the pros critique them. Thus, this collegial format offers extensive self-editing guidance. Our seminar has been accredited by the University of California, and academic credit conferred in several graduate and undergraduate colleges across the country (including Hollins MFA program).

      We limit enrollment to 16 adults and 8-9 teens at a serene beachfront retreat, so everyone gets lots of contact with faculty — and we believe, goes home a little happier and wiser. :) Again, gratitude to Elizabeth and Vonna for helping to match writers with the retreat/event that they desire!

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        Thanks for the clarification! I’ll try to update the post accordingly.

      • Carol Foote says:

        The Pacific Coast Children’s Writers Workshop is fabulous! This October will be my seventh year in a row, and I always come away having learned a ton. The faculty is consistently top notch, and there is pretty much always someone there who ends up doing a deal with the agent or editor. It’s great being able to observe the critiques — a wonderful way to learn. The small size keeps it intimate and the beach location is fantastic.

      • Thanks so much, Elizabeth! It’s gratifying to see how you care about details and serving writers.

        May I fine-tune a bit more? We do have an unusual, if not unique, teen component (also adding tweens for their feedback for adult middle-grade writers). The younger set have a lot of their own activities, in separate quarters. However, the *cornerstone* of our adults’ seminar is the critiques on partial and (selected) whole novels by top editors and/or agents… along with the collegial format which allows enrollees to hear and discuss a whole smorgasbord of in-depth faculty critiques.

        We have a web page listing years of our enrollees’ publishing successes as a direct or closely-related result of attending our workshop. I mention this (and the potential college credit) because our seminar goes way beyond being an inspirational venue and refreshing vacation. But it is that, too — which can’t hurt! :-)

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        I shall amend!

  3. You have to hunt a little for the Whispering Pines website, but here’s this year’s version: http://www.lyndamullalyhunt.com/wp_info.php If you can’t find it again next year, just write to SCBWI’s New England chapter (http://newengland.scbwi.org/) and they’ll be able to help you.

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Thanks, Tracy! That’s the site I linked to in my piece, but since it’s through Ms. Hunt’s website, and since she’s stepping down as a co-chair, I didn’t think it was a permanent website link. It would be cool if it had its own site that didn’t change from year to year, but whatchagonnado? If you hear about any site that says when the next meet-up is, please let me know and I’ll include the info here.

      • Hi Betsy,
        Thank you so much for including Whispering Pines on your list. It definitely deserves to be there says the woman who will attempt to fill Lynda Mullaly Hunt’s gargantuan shoes)! Julie Kingsley and I are building the new website as I write. I’ll tweet the link when we are done. Until then,
        Cameron Kelly Rosenblum

  4. Oops! I didn’t even check your link. Sorry. They’re contemplating setting up a web site but usually SCBWI regional events go through the regional web site and there will be a link at SCBWI New England the next time Whispering Pines rolls around.

  5. Meredith Davis says:

    Thanks for this list, so helpful! I’d love to second the Writing Barn’s loveliness, it is a great balance of getting feedback on your work and being fed through lectures and just time spent with whoever happens to be featured at any particular workshop. I’d keep your eye on their website as the are constantly adding new and amazing opportunities.

  6. Great post, Betsy!!! Over the years, I’ve assisted as a TA and taken many workshops at the Writing Barn and every experience leaves me recharged and inspired. I hope others find this magical space from your post. Attendees arrive as strangers but leave as family thanks to owners Bethany Hegedus and Vivek Bakshi.

  7. I attended a picture book workshop at The Writing Barn this past fall. It was wonderful. Bethany was such a great host. I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

  8. Thanks for the mention! Our next Picture Book Boot Camp is September 10-13, 2015. And, you are right–lots of attention paid to our attendees. We also provide 2 manuscript critiques, a back stage tour at the Carle Museum, and all home cooked meals. Right after we host this PBBC, I’m heading to Highlights UnRetreat to write with a great group of friends.

  9. Mercer Black says:

    I spent a week at the Writing Barn last summer and it rides high on my list of re-dos. No week in my life has been better spent honing my craft and the take-aways, including the networking sort, have been invaluable. It’s just a magic place. Highly recommended.

  10. I just finished my first writing retreat ever at The Writing Barn. It was incredible. Great faculty (including, aherm, Ms. Bird), wondrous setting, lots of fun time sprinkled in with the serious stuff, and then Kathi Appelt unexpectedly popped in for a guest lecture. I think I may be addicted to writing retreats now. This is a great list!

  11. I co-host the Writing Yoga Retreat each summer, and although it’s not exclusively for kidlit writers there is an opportunity for each writer to focus on whichever age group and genre that they want. We have a great dinner with editors, with 2 children’s literature editors and 2 adult literature editors. Since it’s a small group (only 10-15 participants) the dinner is a particularly friendly and casual way to hang out and talk to some of the top editors working in publishing today. This year Justin Chanda (Simin & Schuster)!and Jill Davis (HarperCollins) are joining us. We have individualized workshops and one-on-ones, plus yoga. There are still spaces open.

    • Linda Epstein says:

      I do know how to spell Simon and Schuster, but apparently I can’t SEE well enough when typing on my phone to catch my typos!

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      Include a link to your website and I’ll put you on this list, Linda.

  12. The Writing Barn is fabulous! Bethany Hegedus brings THE BEST writers, agents, editors, and teachers, The Picture Book intensive I attended has already resulted in people getting agents, and it gave me lots of inspiring and useful advice. Since I live in Austin, I can’t speak for the cabins but they’re adorable, and everyone who has stayed in them says they’re comfy and cozy.

  13. The Writing Barn in South Texas is a wonderful addition to the writing workshop/retreat landscape. Ample area to walk, breathe, and soak in the artistic vibe – I’ve always enjoyed my time there. Bethany holds many workshops and attracts quite a distinguished group of writer’s and teachers.

  14. Dear Betsy,
    Thanks so much for featuring SCBWI Eastern NY’s Falling Leaves and Green Leaves retreats! They are some of the best opportunities for learning and networking that SCBWI offers. We are in the process of building a dedicated website for them, so your readers can look for that in the coming weeks. Also, we want to spread the word that next April’s Green Leaves will be just for Illustrators. We will be inviting three Art Directors and two agents. Woohoo!

    • Also, I want to mention that Falling Leaves rotates genres each year between children’s novels, picture books and sometimes non fiction. Next November it will be children’s novels. Thanks!

    • Can’t wait for the next Falling Leaves/Green Leaves. So excited for the illustrator focus next spring. Thank you Kyra and Nancy. Proud to be a Falling Leaves success story!

  15. i attended Jane Yolen’s Picture Book Boot Camp this past March. Definitely lots of close attention. Lots of learning. Lots of eating. (Heidi Stemple is a dynamite cook!) Lots of writerly camaraderie. It was an amazing, enlightening few days, full of “aha” moments–just what I needed, when I needed it.

  16. Thanks for the great list, and the link to Vonda’s also– I wasn’t aware of it! I also highly recommend the Kindling Words retreats, both east and west (www.kindlingwords.org)

    • Elizabeth Bird says:

      THAT’S IT! I knew that there was a very popular one that I was missing but I couldn’t conjure up the name. Kindling Words! Thank you!

  17. If you haven’t heard of Kindling Words, it’s a wonderful retreat in two locations: Vermont in late January or early February (Kindling Words East), and New Mexico and now Texas in the spring (Kindling Words West). It’s only for previously published writers and illustrators, which means it’s wonderful for mid-career mentoring, which is sometimes hard to find.

    The biggest thing for me about Kindling Words, though, is that they have an editorial track–the only children’s editors retreat that I know of. It’s a great opportunity for editors to talk to other editors about how they handle certain situations, etc.–inter-house mentoring. It’s wonderful.

  18. Janet Costa Bates says:

    Whispering Pines is magical and inspiring. But don’t tell anyone. It fills up quickly and I don’t want to get closed out. :)

  19. Actually Falling Leaves has editors at their retreat too – and they do wonderful presentations that really inspired us as writers. The venue is right on a lake. Everyone is prepared and willing to help and support each other in their writing journey (there are no cliques here like I’ve found at other writing retreats) It’s affordable and the food is good. Having been on a few, I’d highly recommend this retreat.

  20. I’ve been to a few workshops and conferences, but the SCBWI Eastern NY’s Falling Leaves retreat that’s featured here is definitely the one I ALWAYS recommend to others. Great hosting and awesome programs, wonderful guests who are all very prominent in the field, very supportive family-like small group of peers – beautiful environment is an icing on the cake! The best part was that I met my first editor there!

  21. Thanks for the inclusion of The Writing Barn, Betsy. We’re only 3 years old but growing, growing, growing. We offer ADVANCED WRITER WEEKEND WORKSHOPS (application only for agent, published, or those consistently getting personal passes) which focus on lecture and group workshop, as well as more inclusive programming for a range of writers, including our FULL NOVEL: YA, MG, AND MORE and our COMPLETE PB WORKSHOP where attendees work one-on-one with a faculty mentor. This year we’ve added a WEEK IN RESIDENCY WITH…and our faculty this year is Nova Ren Suma. Next year we are adding a CREATE YOUR SCHOOL VISIT/REVAMP YOUR SCHOOL VISIT weekend intensive where attendees will shape their school visits with faculty, present them to the group for feedback, and then test them out on kids in select Austin schools! In addition to this craft based and professional programming, we have writing groups from around the country rent any of the buildings: Cabin, The Writing Barn, or the Book House for individual and group retreats. These can be “Do-It-Yourself-Retreats” or we can arrange Austin literati to drop by for casual chats or more formal lectures, instruction. The plus with The Writing Barn is attendees also get to experience a bit of Austin with dining out at night, for longer events shopping trips on South Congress, a visit to big indie Book People, seeing the bats take flight, and more. As an author, I love creating the programming and bringing in people who don’t teach very often, like Francisco Stork. I’ve also TAed at Highlights and love what they do and all that they offer! And I’ve always wanted to go to Whispering Pines and Kindling Words. What a great list!

  22. Falling Leaves well deserves its spot on this list. I’ve attended twice and gotten book contracts out of the conference both times. But the real power of the conference is its laser-like focus on craft. The classes are excellent and have changed the way I approach researching, structuring, and revising my writing. And nothing beats half an hour with an accomplished editor dissecting your manuscript!

  23. Dear Betsy, Thank you so much for all this great info. I attended the SCBWI “Falling Leaves” last November which was a great opportunity to meet editors and fellow writers in a relaxed and somewhat remote setting. The fires (in the fireplace) for the evening meetings were wonderful.

  24. Besty, I’m so glad that you included The Writing Barn in Austin. This space hums with creative intent. And kindness. And pretty darn good food. In her special humble way, Bethany Hegedus has created a place where all the needs of we (very needy) writers come together. I attended a Whole Novel retreat last summer. There are not many places that offer this level of craft-support (faculty such as Kathi Appelt & Rita Williams-Garcia) along with the daily nurturing of writerly kinship. I highly recommend this retreat and hope to visit again soon.

    • (And I will go on record as saying that calling you “Besty” was no type-o, but rather a purposeful declaration) :)

      • Elizabeth Bird says:

        I accidentally type my name as “Besty” on half my emails, so your purposeful declaration works for me!

  25. Cheers on a great listing, Betsy! If you want to know of another one, here’s a link to an intensive week-long craft workshop:

    The Art & Craft of Children’s Book Writing July 5-11 2015, Martha’s Vineyard:
    http://noepecenter.org/emma-d-dryden-the-art-and-craft-of-childrens-book-writing-july-5-11-2015/

  26. Bonnie Berry LaMon says:

    I’ve been to the Writing Barn three times — (i) a personal writing retreat, (ii) full novel revision week-long workshop, and (iii) writing retreat with my critique group. Each time I’ve been amazed and inspired by the physical beauty of the place and the warmth and commitment of Bethany Hegedus. The full novel revision workshop was an incredible experience with fabulous teachers, great food, time to visit Austin if you want or not — the choice is yours. The programming is phenomenal. Each month I see online an event that I wish I could attend but alas I live in Los Angeles, so it’s not always possible. Still, the Writing Barn is the best, and I’m sure I’ll return again and again.

  27. High praise for the Seaside Writing Retreat. This week-long September retreat is run by award-winning children’s author Kathy Stinson and Peter Carver, the children’s editor at Red Deer Press. Peter and Kathy host the retreat at a lovely seaside farmhouse in Nova Scotia, Canada.

    It includes a full manuscript critique with Peter or Kathy, and workshops customized to the writing needs of the lucky six participants. Mornings are set aside for writing, with plenty of inspiring places to write.

    Award-winning words have been written here. Perfect for serious students of the craft and published authors. Not aimed at beginners.

    Unfortunately, Peter and Kathy aren’t offering it in September 2015, but check again next year. http://kathystinson.com/2013/02/06/our-7th-seaside-workshopretreat/

  28. Meghan Daniels says:

    I am so lucky to have The Writing Barn right down the street. I went to a Highlights Workshop last summer and it was amazing but it involved planes, trains, and automobiles to get there. A few months later I attended the first picture book intensive at The Writing Barn (WB) and it was amazing too. I was back for the second one a few weeks ago. Both Highlights and WB were well worth the time, money, and effort put into getting there.

  29. Thanks for this panoply of kidlit retreats, Betsy! Of course, you know I have a soft spot for the Writing Barn–I met the nicest, smartest people there :)
    I would retreat again in a heartbeat.
    -ERS

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  1. […] I came across Elizabeth Bird’s blog post on retreats for writers, specifically for middle grade and young adult authors. Reading about all […]

  2. […] I ran across this article today, and I thought that I would pass it along.  School Library Journal has a list of Writing Retreats geared toward writers of picture books, children’s literature, and YA… here.   […]

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