Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Residency Day 10

Day 10 is now passed. The workshops wrapped up, the class notes filed in a convenient place to look back over as I work. The clothes – all those sweaters! – and handouts and empty soap and shampoo containers packed in Oregon and then unpacked here at home. The first residency is done.

Above are some of my new dear friends - all writers from my workshop group - all smart and talented and fun. I will miss long lunches with them and heady conversations about craft and critiques and hopes and books. It was all good.

The last day ended the week as it should. The first class of the day was probably my favorite of all of them: a lecture on building scenes by Debra Gwartney, a non-fiction author whose book Live Through This was one of my favorite reads last year. Her advice on how to create great scenes was so practical I opened a separate page on my laptop while taking notes to add my own flurry of thoughts about my own revisions, so I wouldn't forget them.

By lunch I could tell we were all already starting to go home in our minds. The usually raucous conversations that had us all talking over each other at times was less rowdy: quiet and introspective. We were all thinking not so much about the day anymore, but about the days ahead.

The last class of the day was an appropriately timely one on publishing. It was depressing, as the internet and most publishing information is depressing. 80% of all books are unprofitable. Agents only offer contracts to 1% of the writers who query them each year. Only 1% of all books published find a shelf in a brick and mortar bookstore. Borders is surely going under. Mid-list authors fear for their stability in the industry. You, as a writer, need a web presence.

None of this was new to me. Sitting in a room with mostly graduating students, though, it felt a bit morbid: Here you go, guys. You've just mortgaged your home to finance a future that probably isn't even there. 

But in the end, the lesson is the same one Janet Reid constantly states: Above all: write well. If you can do that - not just well but very well - you have a shot. Because books are being published. Because when the rest of retail tanked 9% last year in revenue, books only dropped by 2%. Because people still like reading.

So that is my goal this year. Not to get my next book published. Not to secure an agent. But to write well. And that, itself, feels a bit like a homecoming.


  1. I'm SO with you. The numbers are dismal but the one thing that brings me hope is that people are still reading, and that whole 1% thing means that if more than one person out of 100 picks me up, I'm above the odds ;)
    Glad your first trip went so well, broken limbs and all!

  2. Some very inspiring concluding thoughts, Heidi. It sounds like the whole residency was just an amazing experience.

  3. Welcome home Heidi. Loved reading about your first residency. Beautiful picture of eveyone.

  4. Everyone looks so happy. What happens next? Do you just have assignments then go back again?