Saturday, September 07, 2013

Guest Post: Bethany Hegedus on Barn Raising: Creating a Center to Study & Celebrate the Craft of Writing

By Bethany Hegedus
for Cynthia Leitich Smith's Cynsations

Writing was my dream.


For 10+ years, I studied, took classes, attended SCBWI meetings, skimped and saved and sat behind reception desks in skyscraper Manhattan buildings.

When I wasn’t writing at the “day job,” I was squirreled away in various small Brooklyn hovels where I wrote and revised and revised and revised.

Once I got my masters from Vermont College of Fine Arts (VCFA), I hoped to teach fiction but I needed to publish first. Eventually, miraculously, just when I thought my work would never reach anyone outside my writing group, I did publish.

In 2009, my first novel, Between Us Baxters (WestSide Books, 2009) came out, and when it did, my second novel, Truth with a Capital T (Delacorte/Random House, 2010) was already under contract.

I had a decision to make. Continue to eek out a living writing on the side or make a big move and try to make a-go of it as an almost-full-time writer.

I searched my soul, and came back with a big, bold answer. I loved my friends, but the NYC pace was getting to me. I was tired, I was lonely and I wanted more psychic space for both me and for my work.

Poof! Three weeks later I was living in Austin, Texas, and had the good luck to land a job at The Writers’ League of Texas. It was the perfect training ground for what I do now as the owner and creative director of The Writing Barn. At the WLT, I interacted with fellow professionals, who gave back to the thriving literary community. And as office manager, I listened to the needs of the writers who joined the organization.

March 2014
Two years into working at the WLT, I sold my third book—this one a picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, illustrated by Evan Turk (Atheneum, 2014)—which I’d been slaving over since hearing Arun Gandhi speak in the days after 9/11.

What I didn’t know after signing the contract, was that another big poof! was right around the corner—marriage and marriage to a man who had business in his blood.

As we courted, I discovered I had a bit of business in my blood too, and the empty horse barn at the back of our 7.5 acres, went from being planned as my designated office space to what is now The Writing Barn, a retreat, event, and workshop space in South Austin.

Best-selling author Sara Zarr, who taught with us in April, said, “A writer I like, Frederick Buechner, says that a personal calling is ‘where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.’ Most writers I know deeply hunger for a beautiful space and the quiet where they can connect with themselves, others, and their work. And I think Bethany must find her deep gladness in providing such a space.”

Sara Zarr signs The Writing Barn
Sara Zarr is not a sentimental writer, but what she wrote about the work we do at The Writing Barn, continues to get me all chocked up. The Writing Barn is my personal calling. (How Zarr knew that before I did, I’ll never know.)

It’s taken the sum total of those starving artist years and my WLT time supporting writers, my love for community, for books, and celebration and given it a home—a permanent place outside myself for it to live.

Seeing writers depart after classes and events, is a reminder to me to let our lives take us to places we never thought we’d go but maybe deep down hoped we could. Sara Zarr went on to add, “The Barn and surrounding property are aesthetically beautiful, but it’s Bethany’s heart and skill and the wonderful Austin writing community that bring it all together.”

That’s another plus. People are looking for a reason to come to Austin, to visit BookPeople, attend the Texas Book Festival and the Austin Teen Book Festival and the many other literary events in town. The Barn wouldn’t be the Barn without this eclectic and artistic “keeping-it-weird” community.

The Cabin
This coming January, will be the second anniversary of us flinging open our Barn doors.

As wonderful as the first two years have been, 2014 is going to be incredible.

We are expanding our on-site lodging for personal and group retreats, and we’re increasing our Advanced Writer Workshop programming and hope to even host five-to-seven-day intensives.

Currently, The Writing Barn and Cabin on the same property are listed as vacation destinations with and we welcome those traveling to Austin for festivals and music events.

But as much as we love hosting visitors to Austin, The Writing Barn is devoted first and foremost to honoring the craft and careers of those who build books. And build them bravely.

Houston area author, Varsha Bajaj, jokingly calls us “the watering hole for Texas authors” and in the drought stricken Texas that is a compliment, indeed.

Upcoming Events at The Writing Barn

See full events schedule.


Paige said...

What a wonderful place! I want to spend time there with my work.

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

You definitely should, Paige! It's fun, inspiring and, at times, serene in a misty magical sort of way.

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