My Hedgebrook Experience

By Hedgebrook Guest

Categories: Women's Voices,

For a few years in the 1990’s and early 2000’s I was the director of a writers’ festival in New Zealand. An annual literary event that featured well-known international writers, it enabled me to meet and mingle with some of my favorite authors; Jane Smiley, Joanne Harris, Frank McCourt, Tom Keneally, Margaret Atwood, Ruth Reichl and many more.

In addition to overseeing an array of tasks associated with producing a festival, I also provided airport transfers for visiting writers as I think it’s important to meet and greet festival guests personally. I sometimes spent an hour or more in a car with a writer I admired so much that I found it hard to speak for the first five minutes or so. It was only after my starstruck state dissipated that I’d be able to ask them about their flight, latest book, writing process and if they had any advice for an aspiring novelist. Some would laugh and joke saying things like: ‘There’s nothing wrong with being a banker ya know.” And I’d often have to scramble to find a pen and paper when someone offered the name of their agent or publisher, or provided a piece of great advice that I thought might come in handy one day. Things like:

“If you want to be a writer, be prepared to ask for help, lots of help.”

“Don’t ask your mother to read a first, second or third draft.”

“Write as though no one will ever read your work because chances are they won’t.”

For me, this part of the festival was the best. I always felt inspired and energized about writing during and just after a festival. But it wasn’t until years later that I would write a novel.

I first thought of becoming a writer when I was in junior high school after I’d read Betty McDonald’s Onions in the Stew and Anybody can do Anything. I loved those books. They made me feel like I could write a book too. As I got older and my life didn’t go the way I thought it would, I gave up on the idea.

After I moved my family from Tacoma, Washington to New Zealand in the 1990s I began to indulge the writing idea again. I bought and read lots of books on the craft of writing including Natalie Goldberg’s The Essential Writer’s Notebook and Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. I also joined a writers’ group, PEN and took a few creative writing courses. By June 2011, I had a 75,000-word manuscript. Throughout the next several months, I submitted it to at least fifteen different publishers and agents.

A year later, I still had my 75,000-word manuscript on my desktop as well as several rejection letters in a drawer. I also had a personal note from a publisher suggesting I find an American editor to help me with a re-write, as she thought my novel needed it.

I was disillusioned, and a bit sad about the publisher’s note as I didn’t realize my manuscript was in need of more work, and I didn’t know anyone in New Zealand who could help. So I put my manuscript on an archive storage disk and got on with other life projects. It took a visit from an old friend a year later to inspire me to search further than New Zealand for a community of women writers who might have the information and resources to help me.

I searched the internet for a few weeks before I found and signed up for Hedgebrook’s June 2013 Vortext weekend retreat. It was a huge thing for me to do, as I’d never spent much time with other writers as a writer. And I must admit I had concerns about the cost to travel and attend the retreat.

My concerns were put to rest the opening night of Vortext when the Hedgebrook staff welcomed me and the other 25 or so attendees and then introduced the tutors for the weekend: Karen Joy Fowler, Jane Hamilton, Dorothy Allison, Ruth Ozeki and Elizabeth George. Each introduced themselves and spoke about their association with Hedgebrook and their commitment to supporting other women writers.

In addition to the great line-up of guest writers and tutors, the food at Vortext 2013 was superb, the accommodation was comfortable, and the workshops I attended were informative and enlightening.

Best of all, I sat with a woman at lunch who knew a few writing coaches and was willing to provide me with the contact information for someone she thought I should get in touch with about a re-write.

Throughout the next year, Brooke Warner from She Writes Press offered her editing advice and skills as we re-worked my novel, How to Grow an Addict. It’s now longer, better and put together in a way that makes me feel great about being an author.

I really appreciate the many types of support Hedgebrook offers women writers. It’s a great thing, and I hope to get back there one day for more.

 

About the Author:

J.A.Wright_BW_Highres_smJ.A. Wright was raised in the Pacific Northwest and moved to New Zealand in 1990. She is the founder and director of the World Buskers Festival (1994–2014) and the New Zealand Jazz and Blues Festival (1997–present). With more than 30 years in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction, she spent years crafting her recently published novel, How to Grow an Addict.

 

 

 


 

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Hedgebrook supports visionary women writers whose stories and ideas shape our culture now and for generations to come. The opinions expressed here are not necessarily representative of the opinions of Hedgebrook, its staff or board members.

 

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1 Comment

  • Suzanne W.
    11:35 AM - 11 February, 2016

    Thank you for your message, J.A.! I can say “amen” to most of what you’ve written. (Finding a nurturing writing community is so important, both artistically and spiritually. I live in Louisiana, and it has been a struggle to find a community that is the right “fit” for me. I have received useful feedback from my time with groups that were not the right “fit.” But that feedback was (merely) constructive for my work. Participating in a group that is a kindred spirit on the artistic and personal levels–well, both your work AND your soul get nurtured.) Like you, I’ve found those communities far from home–in Kentucky and in Washington, D.C. Your words, “And I must admit I had concerns about the cost to travel and attend the retreat” rang so true with me. Ultimately, the cost proved to be worthwhile. Despite my positive experiences with traveling long distances for some writers’ retreats and events, I cringed (a little) when I looked at the fees for the upcoming Vortext and when I thought of the travel expenses. Your testimony is making me re-think my initial reaction. Thanks again for sharing.

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