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By Joanne Fedler

Joanne Fedler

When you look back on your life, what will be the measure that it mattered? I used to think the answer had something to do with small people. For as long as I can remember, I wanted to be a mother. It felt like my life’s purpose and I was impatient to get to it. But I also wanted to write.

I celebrated my 29th birthday at Hedgebrook with a garland of flowers picked from the gardens and a chocolate cake baked specially for the occasion by one of the gorgeous chefs. In the toilet room of Cedar cottage, days into my residency, I broke down in sobs. An empty bladder and two pink lines explained the nausea I’d had since my arrival. I was abuzz with mitosis.

Six weeks later I returned home with a draft of my first novel and three months pregnant.

That was decades ago – my 50th birthday jingles at the far edge of August. Little people are no longer little. In fact, they’ve all but left me. So what have 21 years since Hedgebrook taught me about what matters?

In those quiet days, in which lunch was delivered to my door, and dinner awaited me in the farmhouse, I learned an allegiance to my own creativity I’ve never lost (my tenth book Your Story: how to write it so others will want to read it is about to be released by Hay House). But I also recall the bookshelf in the loungeroom, packed with books written at least in part, at Hedgebrook. I thought then, ‘No-one can ever call you an oxygen-thief, Nancy.’

Though motherhood intervened for a while, I dedicated myself to my writing for thirteen years.

But in 2012, my 8th book, commissioned by one of the Big 5 publishers, tanked. Two years of writing and therapy which chewed up the humble advance (I figured a book on intimacy required deeper self-knowledge), and I found myself at an expensive lunch with my publisher (a deadly omen) where she broke the news that the book had ‘unfortunately slipped through the cracks.’

She paid for the lunch and never responded to another email I ever sent. And that is the story of how one skewed book derailed a career.

I felt broken and betrayed. I began to wonder if writing was a form of self-abuse. In this noxious state, I trashed the whole damn endeavour – writing wasn’t all joyous. It also made me lonely, anxious and jealous, never mind broke. I was through. It wasn’t worth it.

So in 2014, I invested all my life savings into a business course. I wanted to understand whether money and writing could coexist. I learned words like ‘funnel,’ ‘leverage,’ and ‘platform.’ It shocked me to realise how flawed the traditional publishing model is – not only for authors, but publishers too. I understood how essential marketing is to the success of any venture. I was ashamed to admit that I’d always expected publishers to ‘save me’ – to swoop in and create the success of my book. Uggh, it was just another iteration of entitlement, a victimized ‘poor me, I’m special,’ attitude.

I studied artists who challenge conventions like Seth Godin and Amanda Palmer. I investigated crowdfunding. I invested in courses on how to run a campaign.

I’d always facilitated workshops and writing retreats to supplement my income, but I realised that these were my income. My books were not, and maybe never would be. My allegiance shifted from my own writing to supporting others to write. This felt meaningful and purposeful.

My focus now is almost exclusively on helping aspiring authors find their voices, write their stories and get published.

I recently ran a free 7 day writing challenge. It attracted over 2000 people from all over the world. My new online writing course The Author Awakening Adventure just kicked off with 130 aspiring authors. I am currently mentoring 18 women writers towards publication. My next big step is to become a publisher to ensure these books make it into the world.

I want my own shelf stacked with books by the writers I’ve nurtured. All that’s left is for me to buy some land, with a couple of gypsy caravans and invite writers to take up residence.

I teach my writers to take control of their destinies. In the process I’ve stopped looking ‘out there’ and am becoming the answer to all my own problems. And I have never been happier.

 

 

JOANNE FEDLER
www.joannefedlerwritingretreats.com

www.joannefedleryourstory.com

www.authorawakening.com

By Guest Author Administrator

Tribute to Ursula LeGuin by Karen Joy Fowler

To keep women’s words, women’s works, alive and powerful – that’s what I see as our job as writers and readers for the next fifteen years, and the next fifty.  –  Ursula K Le Guin (1986)

With the death of Ursula Le Guin, we lost, among many other things, a great champion for women’s voices.

She was sometimes a bit apologetic about her own early work.  (I love that work, so for me, no apology necessary.)  But she used to say that she came to feminism slowly, and wrote first as a man, that being the model she had.  She once acquiesced to a request made by Playboy to publish one of her stories using only her initials in the byline so no one would know that a woman (eeek!!) had written it.  Science fiction at that time had a tradition of hidden women so the request may not have seemed as outrageous initially as it came to seem later.

She told me that it was the writer Vonda McIntyre who taught her that writing as a woman was not only possible, but necessary. I often recommend her essay entitled “The Carrier Bag Theory of Fiction” (available online) as an inspiring way to start thinking harder about writing as a woman.

In the 1970’s, her growing career dovetailed with that of other powerful women writers.  Through their work and their letters, you can see them all discovering each other.  You can feel the joy they felt in that discovery, none more joyful than Ursula.  She was a great, great writer, but she was a great, great reader, too.

As she moved from beginning writer to established writer to towering colossus, her generosity towards new writers never failed. She taught, she spoke, she inspired, she supported.  She was always looking for what to read next, who might be trying something interesting, who had a different story to tell.  Her glad cries on finding an exciting new voice could be heard around the world.

She looked backwards as well as forwards; she worried about the way women’s voices seemed to disappear. Because of feminist scholarship, she wrote in 1986, “we will – for the first time ever – have kept the perceptions, ideas, and judgments of women alive … as an active creative force for more than one generation.”

She didn’t love every woman who wrote (who does?) but she loved the conversation.

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In many ways, to me at least, she was the spirit of Hedgebrook made flesh.  Le Guin was all about work, community, and a complicated but sustaining sense of place.

Her idea of work was that it was crucial.  Her community was never exclusionary, but always expansive and expanding. Her places were often imaginary, but when she stayed here on earth, she was deeply embedded in the natural world in a way that I worry we, with our indoor lives, are losing our hold on.  She wrote in one of her many defenses of the fantastical, that realism centered the human.  Fantasy gave equal importance to the nonhuman.

So I love to think of her at Hedgebrook with the trees and the lizards, the goats and the women.  I love to think of her – slightly shy and somewhat resistant to the place and the plan – walking the paths and finding the pond, succumbing to rabbits, and writing a story she wouldn’t have written anywhere else.  I love to think of her stepping stone, still there, and her spirit, still there, telling us to get to work.

Our work being:

  • To notice, to listen, to think, to talk, to write.
  • To reach forwards and backwards and sideways to all the women we find by doing so.

And, out of those connections, to weave together the webs that will become the bags in which our lives and our stories can be carried.

By Guest Author

A Safe Space in Tuscany By Katrina Woznicki

It’s not easy to sell off the last of your stock holdings, the very last thing you bought in your own name years ago, back when you were flush and earned a healthy bimonthly paycheck. Yet that’s exactly what I did to attend Hedgebrook’s Master Class in Tuscany with Hannah Tinti. I didn’t need to return to Italy; I had just been there the previous year. But Hedgebrook is different. And the experience proved to be worth every penny.

Honestly, I can’t even begin to place a dollar value on my week there because this particular writers’ retreat was like no other. I want to call it magical, life-changing, life-affirming, all those other “feel-good” words you see on the cover of Oprah magazine because they’re all true. I’ve attended writers’ conferences before; I’ve been workshopped by rock-star authors. Hedgebrook delivered something different: community that’s committed to ensuring that every woman is heard.

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By Guest Author

The Bookshelves of Hedgebrook by Ayobami Adebayo

When I was packing for my Hedgebrook residency, I chose four big novels and two anthologies to see me through the month I was to spend on Whidbey Island. I haven’t left the house without a book since I was teenager and travelling to another country without taking novels with me is still unimaginable.

At the airport in Lagos, a customs officer rummaged through the carefully arranged contents of my suitcase before I could check it in.

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By Guest Author

Hedgebrook Authoring Change – Interview of Rahna Reiko Rizzuto

Tell us about your work as a writer—do you write in multiple genres/forms?

Sadly, yes. I’m a self-taught writer, so every time I write a book, I have to teach myself to write all over again, and it’s not a quick process. For my first novel, Why She Left Us, I read like crazy and mapped out the books I liked to figure out what a novel was. I dissected them, teaching myself everything from how to end a chapter to how to format dialogue.

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By Guest Author

Nostalgic for Some Radical Hospitality

What I wouldn’t give to be in the soothing, lulling calm of Hedgebrook Farms right now. I could use a little radical hospitality of the soul post November 8.

I had the good fortune to attend a Master Class last June and while I can’t say it radically changed my life I would definitely say it substantially altered the course of my work.

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By Guest Author

Alumna Reflection: Elissa Washuta

In 2009, nearing the completion of my MFA in creative writing, I sat in on a panel of faculty and alumni who shared their post-MFA experiences and let us in on their secrets of productivity after the quarterly deadlines disappeared. This was the first time I’d ever heard of a writing residency.

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By Guest Author

Alumna Reflection

I arrived to my Hedgebrook residency in February 2015 with a pile of grocery bag paper, fabric scraps, pens and glue sticks, and a few finished pages for my second book, Death Is Stupid. I was there to illustrate the story I’d written about a child facing his grandmother’s death while adults say stupid things to him, like “she’s in a better place.”

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