Tag Archives: CRAFT

Why you should invest in coaching as a writer or illustrator

Bill Gates said in 2020 — “Everyone needs a coach. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a basketball player, a tennis player, a gymnast, or a bridge player.” But let’s finish that sentence.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re a writer. Or an illustrator. Or both.

Everyone needs a coach.

If you don’t immediately agree with me (or Bill) here are some benefits for you to consider. And if you do already agree with me, and are a member of the RMC-SCBWI, head right on over to read specifically about the Michelle Begley Mentor Program, a six month program that offers great value for investment, which I am thrilled to co-coordinate this year with Laura Perdew. The application is open until November 9, 2021 and this year we are offering a scholarship courtesy of the Writing Roosters and two grants!


Ongoing Critique and Feedback

I am part of two wonderful critique groups that meet regularly, yet working with a mentor is still a unique experience because *your work* and *your craft* are the entire focus of the conversation. Together you discuss your vision and over the course of multiple months, you bring that vision to light.


Improve your current work in progress

First and foremost, your mentor will work with you on a manuscript (or illustration portfolio) that you’ve been working on. As established professionals, they bring their expertise to your work and will help you develop it to be as strong as it can be. In my own mentorship with Anna-Maria Crum as my mentor, she helped me rework my plot and character motivation – my inciting incident was buried way down deep in my manuscript, and this reorganization immediately made my work stronger.


Improve your craft going forward

There will be countless elements of what your mentor points out in your work that you will be able to carry forward for years to come. Two personal examples — I learned about some of the weaknesses in my plot (build stronger motivation for action – no coincidences!) as well as in my dialogue (make sure my characters react to what is said as opposed to making unrealistic leaps in the conversation because the lines sound cool). It opened up my eyes not only to what I could improve in the novel we were discussing, but what I could carry over to every scene I’ve crafted since.


Coaches can help you set realistic goals

Our mentors have been there, done that, but the fact is that every artistic creator is different. A mentor can talk through your process and experience and help you set goals for your work – goals that are within your control and that you will meet during the course of the six months. Which leads us right to…


Having a coach is motivating

Coaches give you deadlines. They are there, waiting and expecting for you to work with them. They are looking forward to seeing your progress. And having that built in accountability can do wonders.



There are many other reasons to have a coach, and many personal experiences about successful mentor/mentee relationships. Read testimonials here about what others have gotten out of the Michelle Begley Mentor program, and share in the comments some of the benefits you have experienced in working with a mentor (or being a mentor!).

And consider securing a mentor of your own through the Michelle Begley Mentor Program. The application is open until November 9, 2021.


**Reading this after 11/9/21? Join us next time – the application period for the Michelle Begley Mentor Program is typically October through November 1.

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Filed under Coral Jenrette, craft advice, critique, Revision process, RMC-SCBWI

Highlights of Highlights!

By Rondi Sokoloff Frieder

I have very strong childhood memories of getting the Highlights for Children magazine in the mail. First of all, it was mail – for me! (And my brothers, but mostly for me.)  I’d spot it on the kitchen counter, whisk it off to my bedroom, and immediately turn to the hidden pictures page. Then I’d search and search until I found every last rake, spoon, ice cream cone, and whatever else was listed at the bottom of the page! Today, Highlights publishes entire workbooks of these puzzles. They even have an app.

The first issue of Highlights magazine came out in 1946 and was published by the Pennsylvanian husband-and-wife team – Garry Cleveland Meyers and Caroline Clark. These days, the company’s corporate headquarters is  based in Columbus, Ohio, and includes Zaner-Bloser, Stenhouse Publishers, and Staff Development for Educators. But there’s another arm of the organization you may not know about – The Highlights Foundation. This is a 501 c-3 non-profit, established in 1984, that offers “workshops, retreats, and other support to writers, illustrators, and all creators of kid-friendly content.” (For a quick history of the company, go to: https://www.highlights.com/about-us/history.) The Foundation was established in 1984  in Chautauqua NY, but is now located in an idyllic rural setting in Honesdale, PA. George Brown, a descendant of Garry and Caroline, is its dynamic Executive Director.

During the pandemic, I took two of the Foundation’s classes online: “Filling the Writer’s Toolbox” with Emma Dryden, and “DIY Revision for your Novel or Non-Fiction” with Susan Campbell Bartoletti. But in August, after being prodded by my writing coach and award-winning author Sarah Aronson, and fellow Story Spinner and RMC-SCBWI Regional Advisor, Susan Wroble, I attended my first in-person event. And even though I am not a fan of mosquitos, ticks, humidity, or frizzy hair, this truly was the “highlight” of my summer.

“The Whole Novel Workshop,” was a six-day intensive for writers of MG and YA fiction. It differed from my other two classes in that it required an application. That meant submitting the first fifteen pages of my MG manuscript, a synopsis, and a cover letter. When my acceptance arrived, I literally whooped and hollered to the dog! Only that’s when the real work began. Not only would I be working on my revision during the workshop, I would also be receiving an in-depth critique of my full manuscript (from the brilliant, hilarious, and award-winning author, Crystal Allen) before I even arrived on campus. There were also three Zoom meetings with our  group (twenty participants and ten faculty), two books to read (one YA novel, one on craft), and partial manuscripts, synopses, and cover letters to read from the members of our assigned “Brain Trust” group (7-8 people). We used the Canvas platform to introduce ourselves (and our pets) and to explore writing prompts, articles, and podcasts. Needless to say, “The Whole Novel Workshop” could have been called “The Whole Summer Workshop!”

Finally, on August 21, the big day arrived. I pulled up to my home for the week, “#16,” the Jane Yolen cabin! (OMG – how did they know???) and basked in the beauty of my surroundings. There was a lovely front porch, with windows overlooking a wooded glen, a bookshelf filled with Jane’s books, posters on the wall, and an owl perched on the rafters. (I love OWL MOON!)


That evening, we all gathered for the start of what can only be described as a week of serious work, tremendous growth, and pure joy. There were craft workshops, thought-provoking morning prompts, critiques, time to write (alone or in community), Brain Trust groups (45-minute discussions about your manuscript led by YOU), one-on-one discussions, interviews with your main character (conducted by the dramatic Crystal!), pristine walks, and time to think about and work through your revision ideas. And the food! Ask anyone who has attended a Highlights workshop and they will definitely talk about the food. The chefs and servers prepare gourmet works of art three times a day, with snacks available twenty-four seven!

I could talk about this magical week for hours. (And believe me, I have.) Instead, here’s a  stream-of-consciousness recap:

Know who your audience is and what your character really wants. (So true, Rob.) Emotion drives action. Look for the fractals. (Jennifer) Journal until you’ve figured things out and do the swirlies. (Sarah) Discuss ideas with fellow novelists. (We love talking about these things, right Nora?!) Go for long walks. (Thanks for being our guide, George.) Play with tense and POV and balance dialogue, narrative, and description by using colored pens. (Nancy) Get rid of unnecessary characters. (Find your orderly, get rid of the priest- Crystal) Try new plotting tools. (Can’t wait to use yours, Erin.) Writing prompts open your mind to new possibilities! (Yes, Melissa!) No writing is wasted time. (More Melissa) Don’t be afraid of marketing. (I will be in touch, Mia.) And other assorted other words of wisdom: Pay attention to your secondary characters. It’s all about voice. Play and think in the rock garden. Be open about making changes. Make writer friends and support their work. (Miss you all!)

And of course… Keep going!

Our incredible faculty rocked it EVERY DAY and worked alongside us. (There was an open mike night on our last evening… WOW!) Endless thanks to: Crystal Allen, Sarah Aronson, Nora Shalaway Carpenter, Rob Costello, Erin Dionne, Mia Garcia, Jennifer Jacobsen, Erin Entrada Kelly, Alex Villasante, Nancy Werlin, Melissa Wyatt . Can you believe this line-up? I am still in awe of each and every one of them.

You must go to Highlights. (Even with the mosquitoes, ticks, and frizzy hair.) Put it on your to-do list. Right now. highlightsfoundation.org/upcoming/workshops.

I can’t wait to go back.





Filed under craft advice, critique, Partners in Literacy, Revision process, Rondi Frieder, Susan Wroble


I write because it’s my





loudest laugh,

amid deep doubt

on mornings when I’m convinced the birds are singing,

“scrap it, stick with vacuuming.”

Second chance,

even when revision and I aren’t getting along.

Need for risks,

such fun to throw terrible twists at my characters.

Addiction to curiousity

and what, where, when, why,

by the way, how the heck did my research lead to the story of the chef who made the world’s largest dumpling,

and then on to 10 synonyms for said

that I’ll delight in using way too many times.


as complex as Colorado weather

and a one word sentence.

Seeing through lotsa lenses,

each a chance to make metaphors,

as like

and like as.

One what if after what if,

navigating the creative mess I’ve made.

Commitment to writing The End.

Reminder to trust

and hope,

oh, please, may my 10 years of revising

90,000 words make some sense!

I admit, it’s often my desperate attempt to whittle, whittle away at a chunk of wood

seeking the perfect knot

that I want to sand, buff, stain,


and often, it’s a return to my rebellious teen,

sneaking up the stairs after curfew

with secrets of my doings deep in my Levi’s pocket;

and often, it’s my science lab,

experimenting with wit,

but, ending up with the same result,

me laughing at my same corny ideas.

Raw truth,

much, much better than any mirror.

Every wee fear,

including those I haven’t met.

Pillow and blanket,

especially when I want to hide from characters that I can’t bear to inform:

“I don’t know if you would laugh or cry over this matter.”

Giddy childhood,

when my four brothers and I wrapped towels around our necks

and raced our bikes two miles to the public pool,

competing all day for the biggest cannon ball splash

and finding enough coins on the concrete to buy Baby Ruth’s and lemon drops.


flying down a mountain on my bicycle at 40 mph,

hearing only air,



honing in on how-to’s,

like my character’s nervous habit,

or, whether she should whine, sigh or snicker.

Adrenaline rush,

when rarely, oh so rarely,

six sentences in a row,



as if my character is in charge.


to the humbling fact,

yes, my characters will lead,

if you would listen,

they’d love to whisper:

“Get your ego out of the way, god damnit!”


making sure I scrub deep, bid farewell to the filth and start all over.


that wakes, sparks and jests me,

like when I hide dark chocolate in the freezer,

yet, keep avoiding, avoiding

till I must have a bite,

and then, you know what happens next,

I eat the whole bar!


reminding me: dig up, dig up, dig up the muck,



because, beneath is the real stuff, THE story,

arriving at an unexpected reality sign:

“welcome to the story you never knew you were telling!”

My rescue crew,

always ready with a






a plethora of ideas,




Fresh baked paper

just out of the oven,

ready for my pen to


let go,


say hello,

how are ya,


to mom, dad, brothers, best buds.


I write,


I always have.

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Filed under Karen McChesney, Main character, Revision process, Uncategorized, WORD NERD