I recently got back from my first Highlights Foundation workshop.

Highlights Foundation is located on a family homestead in eastern Pennsylvania, a small town called Honesdale.

For years they’ve been running writing workshops, retreats, that are lauded as some of the best writing intensives around.

They’re affiliated with Boyds Mills Press, a publisher that has been around for many many years and they produce the Highlights magazine!

You’ve probably seen it!

I remember rushing to it in the library especially for the Hidden Pictures puzzle. It was always in demand!

For years I’ve been on their emailing list, drooling over the workshops they offered, wishing I could go.

For the past seven years I’ve been working really hard but with little to show for it. I’ve written the equivalent of about five full length novels only to rack up rejections!

And I can’t even count the picture book manuscripts I’ve written.

It was an article I read on the Highlights email, some advice one of their faculty gave about not just writing for yourself that really clicked for me.

You see the problem is, I had changed! In the process of acquiring knowledge, researching everything from psychology to terrorism, I had expanded my mind and begun to see things in a different light and that reflected in my writing. I can see past the behavior of some pretty unlikeable characters and I find them a bit more fascinating in some ways.

But…most readers would not.

Well the article I read was written by Deborah Heiligman and called Writing for Yourself AND the Reader.

I highly recommend it!

Well with all the frustrated failures I’ve been experiencing I was looking at their workshops, somehow I was drawn particularly to the graphic novel workshop! I knew nothing about graphic novels and yet a friend had suggested we collaborate on one.

But the workshop was beyond my means. $1199 USD.

And then saw a message saying that they had scholarships available.

I have taken a scholarship to a writing retreat before. It was to Kindling Words, another fantastic writing workshop I highly recommend!

But the problem with scholarships like this is they make me feel so obliged! I feel so indebted, and I hate feeling indebted! That I usually find a way to donate back the funds I received so someone else can benefit.

Well, I applied for a scholarship! And I got one for $900! I only had to pay $300, and voila I was able to go.

Sometimes you need to invest in yourself!

If you’re spinning your wheels, working hard but not getting any traction, you need to do something to jump start the process. That’s what this workshop turned out to be.

It was a toss up between the graphic novel workshop and verse novel workshop. I knew less about graphic novels so I chose that, and when I got there, for the four days, it was SO intensive, so exciting, I was learning SO much I could barely sleep!

I don’t know when I’ve felt this revved up!

I took one of the projects that had received more than twenty-two rejections, and am currently reworking it as a graphic novel. The process has been fascinating!

Thinking visually has made me drastically overhaul it!

It’s been very eye-opening!

I highly highly recommend any author or illustrator attend one of the Highlights Foundation workshops!

Oh…and the food was amazing!

And as a Muslim the staff did SO much to accommodate my needs! It was so moving!

(I just noticed how many of my sentences end in exclamation marks! Normally I would go back and edit, but what the heck! They are definitely called for so I’ll leave them. ;o))

On another note, I was recently visiting a relative and we were talking about career advancement or something and this elder relative kept saying, “It’s who you know… It’s who you know…”

Like me she’s an immigrant. And I found it surprising.

And it got me thinking.

I grew up at a time when society was more upwardly mobile. We had hope. I worked hard, I learned harder, I never gave up and I got a lot of my dreams to come true, alhamdu lillah, and yet, I didn’t know anyone in this business.

I’ve come to know people, but when I was starting up, nope. I knew no one!

I don’t believe it’s always ‘who you know’.

You can rise above the slush pile.

I did.

And yet, in the process I’m happy to say I have helped others.

I’m so proud that one of my dear friends’ S. K. Ali’s debut novel has just been released. It’s called Saints and Misfits and I just finished reading it, and loved it!

It’s quite different from what I first read from her. And it deserves all the starred reviews it’s earned so far!!! (3 Yay!)

You go girl!