Posted by: Betsy Devany | March 12, 2010

Whispering Pines Is Well Worth The Trip

Five days after leaving Whispering Pines, where I attended a writing retreat, I am still reeling from the high quality of the NE SCBWI event.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt was a stupendous leader. Caring and funny, she kept us to our schedule like the best of ringmasters. She always goes above and beyond what you would expect of an organizer and does it with her unique style!

Lynda, I thank you!

Our mentors also went beyond all expectations, offering the best first-page panel I have ever attended. Their thoughtful comments necessitated endless note-taking on how to craft a first page and beyond. Throughout the two days, we were privy to hear each of the mentors individually. Award-winning author Cynthia Lord, editors Connie Hsu and Alexandra Penfold, agent Rebecca Sherman, and author-illustrator Carlyn Beccia offered advice, shared their tools for crafting, and allowed us glimpses into their worlds. Beyond their presentations, the mentors all gave thorough and thoughtful critiques. I walked away with new tools to use and a way to tackle improving one of my manuscripts. Of course, the advice I received is applicable to all of my writing, which I find thrilling.

To all our mentors, thank you!

The inspiration did not end there. It continued with the attendees. All wonderful and welcoming. The basket raffle, coordinated by Jan Kozlowski, and of course, the food. The endless food. As well as the desserts, which I tried to pass on, but once you’ve seen their desserts, you just let go and dive in. The servers did assure me they contained little or no calories, and I was able to suspend disbelief. Long enough to graciously accept  a serving of dessert. At lunch. At dinner. At . . .

Five days later, I am still left with the images of the grounds at Whispering Pines. The rock in the lake. The bare trees. The empty porch awaiting the presence of writers. Writers thinking. Writers talking. Writers writing. And it seems fitting that a writing retreat be held there. In the dead of winter.

And so, with these images fresh in my mind, I think of the middle grade novel I am revising as a tree. A tree in a forest.  In the dead of winter. This is when you see the tree as it is. Tall and strong. Waiting patiently for spring to arrive. 

As a writer, I must protect my tree. My story. I must allow it room to grow and keep weeds from sneaking up around its base. Slowly strangling the story.

While winter still prevails, I can clearly see the vines, which choke my characters. I sit and visualize the core of my story. Then I chip away at the vines, only to discover how deep their roots go. I will need a shovel to dig deeper. And then I yank as hard as possible, sometimes falling backwards. But I get up. Again and again. And I tackle the vine until every piece has been pulled from the ground and my tree, my story, has room to breathe again. New shoots of clarity appear like green buds on branches.  Leaves bring color and life back to my tree. Flowers spring up. Sun warms the earth. Winter comes to an end.

But still, I must continue to protect and care for my story. Watch for new vine to sneak up through the ground when I am not looking. I trim the dead branches. I give the tree room to expand and reach for the sky, until the time comes for me to let go. The time when my story is fully developed and can stand on its own.

When I know I have done my job as a writer.


  1. This is one of the best accounts of this year’s Whispering Pines — and what beautiful pictures! But I especially appreciated your analogy of the tree and our writing. Thanks for sharing such a moving and inspiring image.

    So good to see you again!

  2. It was great to see you, as well! I’ve been joting down more notes on trees and how I relate them to my writing, which I will share in my next blog.

  3. Whispering Pines sounds wonderful, Betsy! I hope I can go someday.
    Reading your account is very inspirational.

    • Thanks, Faith,
      I look forward to the time when you can join us there!!

  4. Hey, Betsy!

    What a lovely post on Whispering Pines! Thank you for your support! Thanks, also, for coming to WP and helping it to be successful!

    I enjoyed your poetic view of revision! 😉

    Take care,

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