Wednesday, June 10, 2015

In Which I Am Reminded That It's About The Work: My Week at The Writing Barn

Anne Bustard, Nicole Griffin, Bethany Hegedus, Tim Wynne-Jones, me
Just back from a week (an entire week!) teaching and learning and writing at The Writing Barn, a truly magical place for writers, founded and created by Austin author Bethany Hegedus and her husband Vivek. Workshops and retreat spaces and lecture series and guest authors from all over--all talking writing and learning writing and digging in to their craft. I'd been there a few times--both as a co-guest author recently with Nikki Loftin for the Words and Wine event, and as a participant in long weekend workshop taught by the amazingly brilliant Sara Zarr. (this was in fact where FINDING PARIS was workshopped and received those last tweaks that pushed it from almost acquired to acquired and on the road to publication, culminating this past April when it released from Balzer and Bray/Harper Collins.) So I was beyond honored, and not a little nervous, when Bethany asked if I would help teach a week long Whole Novel Revision workshop with Tim Wynne-Jones and Nicole Griffin.

It is a lovely thing to have the luxury of an entire week devoted only to the work. Okay, fun and food and a bunch of laughter slip in there, too, but even they are in the context of writing and revision and writing and revision and discussion of the same. Like a mini version of the residency session in an MFA program, but perhaps a bit less intense because there are no degrees involved! We learned from Tim's talk on dialogue and Nicole's on building novels by identifying the characters' emotions and even my own on crafting settings that matter, plus guest talks from Nikki Loftin and Anne Bustard (our TA for the week) and Brian Yansky. We ate our way through Austin at dinner. And we worked with our mentees, the hard, painful work that comes with talking about where a story has gone off track and how to make it stronger and better, how to make your vision work on paper. I was honored to do that, too, moved to tears many times by everyone's willingness to break through that fear and get it right.

 THIS is what writing is all about. It is about telling stories and digging for authenticity and peeling back the false stuff to get to the truth. It is about learning craft and building layers and finding the way to step back and let our characters soar. It is about knowing HOW to do all those things and making each book a better book than the one that came before it. It is about reading and learning and talking about those things.

It was good to be reminded. Sometimes I forget because there are the other pieces of this job-- the days when I feel lost in this endless loop of all the things beyond the book: How is it selling? Why did they say no to paying my mileage for that event? Did they say no to everyone? Will they buy another book? Will they promote it? Will it be enough? Am I enough? And on like that. Then I'll click to one of my list servs hoping for commiseration and someone will have typed a sentence like "Well, if they don't give you car service or send you to ABA then they're just not that into you." Or "Unless you get at least 4 starred reviews you can forget about another book." And on like that, filling my head with chatter about how I need to be on a Buzz Feed list. Now. Or someone else posts about how she wrote four books in 8 months and oh my god, maybe she could have done more if only she hadn't slept that one night.

The truth is that we can't ignore all that. It's a business after all. It's not just craft. But sometimes, it has to be about the work. Because without the work, the other stuff doesn't matter.

Last week at The Writing Barn, we talked about the work. We did the work. We lived and breathed art. It was GLORIOUS!!

Occasionally we had a few interactions with wildlife because out in this piece of South Austin there are deer and foxes and spiders and snakes and ants and bugs of all sorts. Nicole and I believe there was a bobcat trying to get into our cabin one night. Bethany believes we were hallucinating. To which I reply, it might have been a cougar.

Want to find out more about The Writing Barn? (So many great authors coming to teach, including Nova Ren Suma and Margo Rabb and Matt de la Pena!!) Here's the link:

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