Updated: Dec 11, 2019
I am writing this at my desk in cabin #20 at the Highlights Foundation’s retreat center. As I look out my window past the screened-in porch, I see a gentle rain pattering on the brilliant patchwork of fall leaves in the woods beyond. All around me are other small cabins with lights burning in the windows, and other writers bent over their laptops writing young adult novels, picture books, poetry, or—in the case of the two friends I came with—spiritual memoirs.
This is my fifth trip to Highlights, which lies in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in northeastern Pennsylvania. On the first two trips I reserved the 8-bedroom lodge and brought a retreat group with me. I called the retreat “Stirring the Creative Cauldron” (since it was in October), and the women who came loved it here. But Highlights is a 5-hour drive from the DC area, and it was hard to make the case for continuing when I could find other retreat centers closer to home. So I decided instead that I would make an annual pilgrimage to foster my own writing life, and these two writer friends have accompanied me ever since.
What’s so special about Highlights? First of all, it’s a retreat center specifically designed for writers. Beyond that, they truly honor and cherish writers. You can feel it. One night before dinner, for example, the chef came out to the dining room to tell us what the evening’s meal would be: schnitzel (she’s German), green salad, pasta, roasted Brussels sprouts and carrots, acorn squash, homemade bread, and cheesecake [a different and equally delicious meal of butternut squash lasagna is pictured below]. The food is always excellent here, fresh and lovingly prepared. But here’s what else struck me: She cared about the work we were doing. She said, “When we prepare the food, we are thinking about what you need. In the kitchen we are doing the same thing you are, focusing on our craft, inspiration, and creativity.” She went on to describe how they don’t play music in the kitchen, but focus completely on their work, which they love. And that their practice of their craft supports our practice of ours. She also advised us not to eat too much: “There is plenty of food here, but try not to overeat or you will get tired and won’t be able to think. You can always come back for seconds if you’re still hungry.” You don’t get that at most retreat centers!
Before dinner each night there is a happy hour with wine (boxed but decent), cheese, crackers, and crudités, and the opportunity to mix with other writers. This time there are two retreats going on here, one called “The Secret Garden” (love the name!) and the other a group of writers from around the country who met online through Pitch Wars and are now meeting in person. Then there is a small group of “unworkshop” people like us, who are here just to work on their own writing. It’s fun to meet other writers, find out what they’re working on, and share resources and ideas.
There are 21 cabins here, plus the lodge, farmhouse, and the main barn, which serves as the dining hall. Each cabin, as well as each room in the lodge, is furnished with twin or queen beds and a private bath, as well as a writing desk and a good desk chair and lamp. There are bookcases filled with children’s and young adult books (Highlights is the publisher of the children’s magazine by that name) for fun bedtime reading. Every cabin also has a porch. Plus there are flashlights and bug spray, since the campus is surrounded by woods. You will see plenty of deer and other critters here, too.
A Place of Refuge
Why am I telling you about Highlights? Because every writer needs a place of refuge where s/he can escape the pressures of everyday life and get some concentrated writing time. Yes, we do need to learn how to create no matter what’s going on (more on this in a future post), but we also need places like these. My friend Rebecca has her book almost finished, but needs a few days to complete the work without interruption. I am working on some personal essays. My friend Janice is working on some new posts for her blog. Another writer here has the first draft of her middle grade novel done, but needs some time to read it through and figure out next steps. And on it goes.
So I offer you Highlights as one option for your writing getaway. It costs $149 a night, and you get all of the aforementioned benefits, which makes it a bargain. And I forgot to tell you about the 24/7 snacks and the hiking trails! If you’re interested in some “unworkshop” time for yourself, click here to learn more. And if you’re interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, Highlights brings in great instructors for these workshops. To learn more, click here. One workshop in progress during our visit last year was “Books That Bite,” which was for writers of young adult horror. How cool is that?
If Highlights is too far for you to travel, it’s worth exploring some other places closer to DC. There is the Porches Writing Retreat in Norwood, VA, for example, which I have not yet had the pleasure of visiting. Or you can click here for a listing of Midatlantic retreat centers that offer personal retreats. There is also the Bon Secours Retreat & Conference Center in Marriottsville, MD, where I have led several retreats over the years. Or just go to a B&B or hotel, although you’ll have to figure out your own meals other than breakfast. For a more budget-friendly option, consider going to a writer friend’s house and having a work session/sleepover! When my friend Maggie comes to town from Maine every year, that’s exactly what we do (at least part of the time).
Here’s the bottom line: You’re worth it. Your writing is worth it. Take the time and space you need to manifest your creative dreams. Your soul will thank you for it.
Do you have a favorite place to go for a writing getaway? Please share!