Creating Brilliant Places to Write: The Writing Barn

The Writing Barn

The Writing Barn

There are many wonderful things about being a writer in the Austin, Texas, community, and one of the best is The Writing Barn. I admit I’m biased. The Barn was created by my brilliant friend and author Bethany Hegedus (Between Us Baxters). But no one can leave The Writing Barn without being just a little thrilled to know that a place like this exists and feeling that desire to want to come back.

Developing a great space to write and create is a skill, and I wanted to talk to Bethany about this dream space and what she’s doing to help writers everywhere.

Okay, Bethany, you know how much I love what you’ve done with this place. And to think that it’s a former horse stable! But it’s much more than a pretty space. What was your mission when you created The Writing Barn?

Our mission at The Writing Barn is summed up in our tag line: Retreat. Create. Celebrate. We offer writers, and others, a place to get away, clear their heads, read, write, and relax with private or group retreats. We offer classes and workshops to aid writers in the process and creation of their projects. And, we celebrate the journey along the way with visiting authors and illustrators autographing the “party porch.”  We also are available for book launch parties, book-themed baby showers, and even small weddings.

You have a lot of wonderful events there, including one I attended with your wonderful agent Alexandra Penfold. Tell us what you’ve got in the pipeline.

Author Lisa McMann signs the party porch at The Writing Barn

Author Lisa McMann signs the party porch at The Writing Barn

Oh, there is a ton going on at The Writing Barn this fall. Award-winning Latino author Francisco X. Stork (Marcelo and the Real World) is leading our last Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop for the 2013 season. The Advanced Writer Weekend events are a combination of lecture and workshop and the weekend is kicked off with a Cocktails & Conversation get together on the porch. Stork will be lecturing on “Thoughts, Gestures, and Dialogue” and we will discuss how to use reflection, imagination, and authorial technique to create and deepen our character’s complexities. The application deadline for the Nov. 8-10 workshop is Sept. 12. It’s a real treat to have Stork teach with us and I can’t wait to get many ah-ha moments for my own writing. You can apply here.

On Sept. 14, we have Triple Threat: Voice & Character with three amazing S&S authors: Newbery Honor author Kathi Appelt, Susan Fletcher, and Uma Krishnaswami. Our triple threat team will be co-presenting and writing exercises will be sprinkled throughout the workshop. Plus, included with the registration fee, each attendee will receive a hardcover copy of each author’s latest book: True Blue Scouts of Sugar Man Swamp by Appelt, Falcon Glass by Fletcher, and The Problem With Being Slightly Heroic by Krishnaswami. For more information see here and to register, email info@thewritingbarn.com.

Author Maggie Stiefvater at The Writing Barn

Author Maggie Stiefvater at The Writing Barn

The weekend of Sept. 21 and 22 is going to be a busy one. On Sept. 21, Michael B. Druxman, a veteran Hollywood screenwriter, will be teaching The Art of Storytelling, which will focus on screenwriting but has techniques for all writers to apply to their work. Then, in the afternoon, Michael Noll will present his Read to Write Workshop, where attendees examine scenes from novels and short stories and apply author techniques to their own works-in-progress. On Sept. 22, Dean Lofton, offers her popular Write Your Life as a Woman class. Attendees unplug, write by hand, and enter an inspirational and no-judgment zone.

For teens, in October, Yale grad and young-adult author Sara Kocek (Promise Me Something) leads College Essay Bootcamp, and I will be teaching Perfecting the Picture Book, one of our weekly class offerings, and agent Alexandra Penfold with Upstart Crow will be our agent guest, via Skype.

Told you it’s going to be a busy fall! But there is something for everyone. Writers in Texas, writers traveling to Texas. Austin is known as the Paris of Y,A and we’re thrilled to offer a diversity of programming. We hope to see many of your blog readers join us for these fantastic events.

How do you choose the people you bring to The Writing Barn to do workshops?

Sara Zarr fields questions at The Writing Barn

Sara Zarr fields questions at The Writing Barn

As a writer myself, I start with thinking about who I’d love to learn craft from. Then I approach The Writing Barn Brain Trust—writing friends from all over the country, mentors of mine, including Cynthia Leitich Smith and Kathi Appelt, and others—and generate a list of superb authors who not only write well but are tremendous teachers. Then I send out the invites. I was thrilled this launch season when Sara Zarr answered with a big ole’ YES before she even finished reading the invite email. She’d heard of The Writing Barn, had seen pictures of us online and was dying to come. Her sold-out event this April really took the work we do to a whole new level.

Locally, we have been and will be available for writers and others to rent and host their own classes and workshops.  NLP Austin is hosting a weekend workshop in late September and we’ve had interest from The Daring Way, facilitators who’ve trained with Dr. Brené Brown, author of the best-selling Daring Greatly and new O magazine contributor. It’s exciting to get inquiries and see what groups and types of events are interested in our space.

What do you hope people will take away from their time at The Writing Barn?

The Texas Book Festival party at The Writng Barn

The Texas Book Festival party at The Writng Barn

When writers come for retreat, I hope they leave feeling they spent their time well at the page, and they were able to do so without the distractions of daily life. I hope they leave renewed and fall in love again with the work.

With our classes and workshops, I hope writers leave armed with new tools for their toolboxes and plenty of ah-ha moments that they would not have had if they didn’t place themselves in a creative and safe learning environment.

And, with our parties, boy—I hope they’ve had a grand ole’ time, chatting under the trees, meeting new people, and if it’s a book launch, with a brand new autographed copy of someone’s dream tucked in their arms.

What are your future plans for The Writing Barn?

Lots! An expanded Advanced Writer Weekend Workshop series, some whole-novel retreats, perhaps some offerings for illustrators and in 2014, we will host a launch event for my new picture book, Grandfather Gandhi, co-written with Arun Gandhi and illustrated by Evan Turk. 2014 is going to be hopping!

Thanks, Bethany! Looks like I’m going to be spending a lot of time at The Writing Barn next year.

Check out Bethany talking about the Barn in this interview:

Character and new agent Alexandra Penfold

Alexandra Penfold

Agent Alexandra Penfold talks character.

In her first event as an agent, former Simon & Schuster editor Alexandra Penfold spent a weekend teaching writers about character, and I was thrilled to be among them.

After an impressive career in book publishing, Alexandra moved to the other side of the desk this year, accepting an agenting position at Upstart Crow Literary. And after spending the weekend listening to her lectures and workshops at The Writing Barn, I know she’ll be a brilliant agent. She’s smart, passionate, insightful and a lot of fun.

At The Writing Barn, the first of the venue’s Advanced Writing Workshops, Alexandra gave two lectures on characters. “Characters are the heart and soul of any story,” she said, adding that the story should flow naturally from character.

Readers know when plot is being forced and characters are doing things they wouldn’t normally do just to advance the plot.

So what is plot? It should come from what the character needs or wants and what’s standing in his or her way.

Samantha Clark and Varsha Bajaj

Me (l.) chatting with author Varsha Bajaj at the cocktail party that kicked off the weekend.

Readers also like to figure things out for themselves, Alexandra pointed out, and that’s why showing character, instead of telling, is so important. Character can be shown through their decisions and actions, but their emotion also can be revealed through things like how they walk and sit. Do they walk tall or hunch over, for example.

Alexandra gave us a worksheet of questions that we can ask our characters. I’ve seen a lot of character interviews online with questions like what our characters’ favorite food is, favorite color, what their bedroom looks like. That’s all fine, but I like Alexandra’s better because it offers questions that are linked to the emotions of our characters, such as, what’s the last thing our character thinks about at night and the first thing in the morning? How do our characters think of themselves? How does that compare to how others see them? And more…

Bethany Hegedus and Alexandra Penfold

Author and The Writing Barn owner Bethany Hegedus (c.) introduced Alexandra (far r.) to an eager crowd.

Characters can also be shown in word choice. And Alexandra read to us some wonderful examples of this, including the opening chapters of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Anne of Green Gables and From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler. All brilliant.

Alexandra certainly knows a lot about character, and passed it on in a fun and informative manor. If you’re writing YA, middle-grade or quirky picture books, I definitely recommend you query her.

Next up in The Writing Barn’s 2013 Advanced Writing Workshop is National Book Award novelist Sara Zarr in April and award-winning author Francisco X. Stork in November. I can’t wait.