The Value of Courses, Challenges, and Community for Writers

Most of us cannot get where we want to be on our own. We need to learn from others, to be challenged by others, and to be supported and encouraged by others. The same is true for writing.

At first, I was too nervous to share my writing (except my hymn texts) with anyone but close friends and family. Finally, I realized that I needed more. I needed to reach out to others who were more experienced writers, to learn from them, to challenge myself to grow as a writer and as a person.

I began by signing up for Emma Walton Hamilton’s Just Write for Kids, an online picture book writing course intended to be worked through over the period of eight weeks, but still self-paced (if you need more time on any section, that’s fine.) I found Emma to be not only knowledgeable and a good teacher, but also supportive and encouraging. I have since taken her Just Write for Middle Grade, which has become available in the years since I took Just Write for Kids.

Not long after I took JWFK, Emma launched a community for children’s writers called the Children’s Book Hub, which lives on in the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group. Through the Hub, I met other writers all over the world, heard interviews with experts in many areas of children’s writing and publishing, and learned an incredible amount about the kidlit world.

At Emma’s urging, I became a member of SCBWI – the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators – an international organization that promotes education, connection, and community. I was able to attend the SCBWI Summer Conference in Los Angeles in 2011, and some day will be able to be there again.

As I became connected with more and more writers online, I learned of Tara Lazar’s Picture Book Idea Month, PiBoIdMo, which at that time was held in November each year. By participating in that month-long event, not only did I generate more than 30 ideas for possible writing projects, I became even more connected with the writing community. PiBoIdMo has morphed into StoryStorm, is now held in January each year, and now has a broader focus than just picture book idea generation. All writers are welcome.

When, after that challenge, Julie Hedlund decided to start a year-long picture book writing challenge which she would call 12×12 in 2012 (with the aim of writing 12 picture book drafts in 12 months) I decided to join. Being a part of 12×12 for three years brought me much more knowledge, deepened my writing, and deepened my connection to wonderful people – writers and illustrators – all over the globe. I’m now focused more on Middle Grade writing and adult fiction, so I’m no longer a member, but I still recommend this challenge/community/experience wholeheartedly.

With Facebook becoming more and more the place where writers and illustrators gathered, I became involved in first the 12×12 Facebook Group, the PiBoIdMo Facebook Group, and then the Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group, which Emma Walton Hamilton and I administer together.

I’ve also had the pleasure of attending the Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Conference, which is held in Southampton, NY on Long Island every July. Twelve writers in each of Picture Books, Middle Grade Novels, and Young Adult Novels, are taught by stellar authors in five intense days which include morning workshops in the intensive, plus “cross pollinating” with optional afternoon and evening workshops with attendees from the larger Southampton Writers’ Summer. It is an amazing time of learning. Southampton Children’s Literature also has an MFA program, and a year-long mentorship program called the Children’s Lit Fellows.

Since those initial experiences, I have participated in and learned from several other groups, courses, webinars, and I highly recommend that if you are serious about growing as a writer, you do the same, to the extent that your budget will allow.

Emma Walton Hamilton’s courses and other learning opportunities are available year-round, and can be completed on your schedule. You can find them all – Just Write for Kids, Just Write for Middle Grade, Just Write for Young Adults, Editor-in-a-Box, School Visit Wizard, and others – at her website. (Note that The Complete Picture Book Submission System is only offered a couple of times a year – watch for the next time it’s open to registration.) There is a cost involved, but it is well worth it.

If you’re a writer or illustrator of kids’ books, whether you’re just starting out or you have books published, you will be welcomed in our Children’s Book Hub Facebook Group.There is no charge. As stated in the publicly-viewable information, This private group is for established and aspiring children’s book authors, illustrators and editors. It is intended to facilitate news and discussion about all things pertaining to writing and publishing books for children and young adults.” Just go to this link, and request to become a member. You’ll be prompted to answer a few simple questions to indicate your involvement in the children’s book world. Once you’ve answered those, I will be able to approve your request and welcome you to the group.

Tara Lazar will, I am sure, soon be gearing up for StoryStorm 2019, which will take place in January. The purpose of StoryStorm as stated on her website is “to create 30 story ideas in 30 days. You don’t have to write a manuscript (but you can if the mood strikes). You don’t need potential best-seller ideas. You might think of a clever title. Or a name for a character. Or just a silly thing like “purple polka-dot pony.” The object is to heighten your idea-generating senses.”

There is no charge to participate. It’s all on the honor system. You don’t post, share or divulge your ideas at all. Registration will begin in late December and continue through the beginning of January. If you are registered, and create 30 ideas over the course of the month, you will not only have a great sense of satisfaction, and a plethora of ideas to work from in the coming year, but you’ll be eligible for the draws for awesome prizes. Check it out at the link here, and sign up to follow Tara’s blog for further word about it (and for other beneficial posts throughout the year.)

Julie Hedlund will soon be opening the floodgates for registration for her wonderful 12×12 challenge. Registration only happens in January and February of each year. There is a cost involved, but it is worth every penny (and more). There are monthly webinars with experts in the kidlit world, an amazing community of writers and illustrators who will surround you with support and encouragement, a forum where there are further learning opportunities as well as critique opportunities, a Facebook Group only for 12×12 members, and for Gold members, there is the opportunity to submit to one agent per month and bypass the slush pile. You can learn more and sign up to show your interest in 12×12 at this link, and you’ll be notified when registration opens.

As I said earlier, there are many, many other wonderful opportunities to learn and to experience community as a writer or illustrator of children’s books. A few I recommend from personal experience follow.

KidLit411 is a compendium of information for the writer or illustrator of children’s books.  Although they don’t offer courses or webinars themselves, they offer heaps of information and links to more information at their website; a great community in their Facebook Group where you can ask anything that’s perplexing you about kidlit, and people will help you with their answers; and opportunities for critique in their Manuscript Swap Critique Group and their Portfolio Swap Critique Group.

Susanna Leonard Hill, author and encourager extraordinaire, teaches an online course called Making Picture Book Magic. Although I haven’t taken it myself (see previous mention of focus on Middle Grade) I have heard nothing but glowing reports of the course’s worth – and of Susanna’s teaching ability.  She also offers amazing opportunities for writers on her blog. Be sure to check it out, too.

Renee LaTulippe, who is a poet as well as a writer of kids’ books, teaches an online course which is much in demand, called The Lyrical Language Lab. As she says on her website, Using poetic techniques in your prose will help you create read-aloud language that will transport children (and their parents) into a world of imagination — in as few words as possible.”

The Children’s Book Insider/Clubhouse, with Laura Backes Bard and Jon Bard. They offer a subscription-based “Clubhouse” jam-packed with opportunities to learn, to connect, to participate in webinars, as well as a monthly publication that comes as a PDF to members. You can find them at this link. I am a member, and I heartily recommend them. They also have an offshoot called Writing Blueprints, which draws from many other children’s writing experts to offer webinars and courses that will give you a firm grounding in whatever aspect of the kidlit world you wish to learn about. Although I haven’t taken any of their courses (yet), I have participated in several webinars and they have been excellent.

I recommend that ALL children’s writers and illustrators join SCBWI. There is so much available in that organization. The Blue Board forum on the website will likely be able to answer any question you have about creating books for kids; there are regional groups all around the world that offer conferences, workshops, meet-ups, and webinars; there are international conferences twice a year (Los Angeles in summer, New York City in winter); and so much more. There is a cost involved for membership, but it’s worth it. Check it out here.

SCBWI Nevada keeps an up-to-date listing of webinars from all regions of SCBWI. Some are free, some have a nominal charge, all are worthwhile. You can find their listing at this link.

Mary Kole, former agent and freelance editor, has just started offering webinars. I have participated in two of them, and from that experience (as well as my familiarity with her expertise from her book WRITING IRRESISTIBLE KIDLIT and her blog) I highly recommend them. You can find information here.

I could go on and on, but this post has already run too long!

Are there any you would recommend? Please let me know in the comments.

13 thoughts on “The Value of Courses, Challenges, and Community for Writers”

  1. What an excellent resource this post is Beth. I’ve participated in practically all of the kidlit events you mentioned. The breakdown of what each of these amazing courses, events, and challenges is just wonderful. Thank you for taking the time to show what’s available. Each and everyone offers their special gift in uplifting and showing us how to hone our writing skills. Great post Beth.

    1. Thank you SO much, Pamela! <3 As you know, there are tons more that I could have listed. It's so helpful for us all as we work to hone our craft.

  2. Beth, this is such a comprehensive list and will help many new writers find their community, I’d also recommend ReFoReMo.

  3. Thanks for mentioning Lyrical Language Lab, Beth! And I’d like to vouch for Susanna’s Making Picture Book Magic — I took it a few years ago and I think it’s indispensable for aspiring PB writers, not just for the lessons, but for Susanna’s amazing feedback! 🙂

    1. Yes, I have, Lynette. Thanks for adding it to the list! Not only is it a great opportunity for learning, it’s so wonderful that the proceeds go to such good causes. Thanks again!

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