Saying Goodbye to the Monkey Year.


Dear Writer,

This is the time of year that I usually go into my “cave” and reflect on the year that just passed. I light a lot of candles, do a lot of journalling, stay quiet, and meditate. I write down my dreams. I pick a word to focus on for the new year. I do Susannah Conway’s Unravel Your Year. Sometimes, I go away on a silent retreat.

On Boxing Day last year, my mom took me horseback riding as a Christmas gift. This one-hour trail ride turned into a nightmare. I’m sorry for the cliché. I honestly don’t know how to describe it briefly in a blog post. Maybe I will write more about the experience one day, when I feel brave enough.

It was her first (and last) time on a horse. The horse was gentle and steady — and for no apparent reason, he bolted, along with five or six other horses. Mine included. I thought I was going to lose my life. I thought she’d lost her life. I (just barely) managed to stay on my enormous runaway horse; my mom fell off of hers.

One year ago today was the first day of her next six months of hospitalization. There were complications. Five hospitals, two surgeries, and a whole lot of physiotherapy later, she has finally healed.

I look back at 2016 with some suspicion. The Year of the Monkey is apparently very bad news for Tigers, like me. The truth is this: I nearly lost my mom one year ago today. But I didn’t. And that has made our time together this year feel very special. I actually feel lucky.

That’s why I think my mind has been waking me in the wee hours of the morning, to work on my novel. Because I can. Life is full of unexpected events. Even the best Virgo can’t prepare for everything.

If I don’t write my book now, then when?

During those blurry months of hospital visits, Ryan and I also renovated and moved into our dream home, a project two-and-a-half years in the making: we bought a barn in Prince Edward County, Ontario, and turned it into Skybarn. This is now our home. It’s also a movement and meditation studio, a performance space, and a retreat and workshop venue. Oh, it’s gorgeous! Even more beautiful than I imagined it would be when we purchased the intimidating-looking work-in-progress two years ago.

We also launched two brand-new websites (year-long projects, both), hired our first real full-time Director of Marketing for Story Is a State of Mind School (Yay for Trish Osuch!) and I finished the first draft of my novel.

Oh, this year. The best of times and the worst of times, superimposed. Nothing in 2016 happened the way I would have planned it: I feel like I’m still spinning from it all. I’m going to take a little rest, now.

But before I go into my cave, a few good things:

I was invited to speak to The Book Doctor (aka Caroline Donahue) this winter as a lucky second-time guest on her Secret Library podcast! You can listen to my episode here. 

If you missed our first conversation together this summer — about how to start writing, and where stories come from — here’s that episode.

Caroline is an inspiring Story Intensive alum, and I’m so happy she’s stayed in touch. (By the way, she’s also a very good person to talk to about tarot).

In this recent podcast, I told Caroline about writing the second draft of my novel, and how I’m making this work manageable and enjoyable.

Which leads me to ask you: Do you think that in your second draft, you have to look at everything you did wrong in your first draft? Would you rather start writing something new than face the fear of revision?

Ah, but this is just such a joyless way to see it, and inaccurate besides. It’s important to know the difference between the editor and the inner critic.

There’s so much satisfying magic in revision. It can feel just like a first draft, but better.

If you’re interested in this conversation, have a listen to my episode on The Secret Library podcast to learn more.

Thanks to Caroline Donahue for generously having me back! It was a pleasure to continue our conversation from this summer. Seriously, I feel like we enter a kind of portal when we get on Skype together — magic happens in our conversations.

Now here are a few random things that I’m also loving lately:

Lisa Daria
I’ve been taking painting classes, and discovered this artist and her one a painting a day practice. What she does is like our daily prompts, but with still life paintings. Her pieces are inspiring and beautiful, loose, imperfect, real, and raw.

This Is Happy by Camilla Gibb
From the end of part one: “Writing made it tolerable to be human in a way nothing else ever had. It gave me a place to thrive, to exorcise, to cultivate some understanding of aspects of being human that were otherwise confounding. And to put these insights into practice — to embody and enact them through character — rather than theorizing about them in an academic way. It was the perfect marriage of head and heart.”

Anna Jones
Her cookbook, The Modern Way to Eat, is my favourite book of 2016. (I know it’s not a 2016 title, it’s just that this was the year I found it — thank you, Heather!) Anna Jones is from the UK, describes “scrunching” kale, and writes these simple, glorious, mostly vegan recipes that have completely unexpected ingredient combinations.

Muse Monthly
How sweet is this? A subscription service that sends you a carefully selected pairing of literary fiction and organic tea, once a month!

For people who want to learn how to live in tune with the seasons: look at Sarah Jenkinson’s project, A Deep Season. It’s not 100% ready yet, but it’s coming soon! I’ve had the benefit of being in one of her pilot workshops; it’s going to be amazing when it’s released. Get on the list now so you can find out when the program begins again (and when she holds her in-person workshop at Skybarn next year).

I’ll be going into my cave now, to pick my word of the year, reflect on what else I’ve learned from 2016, and (fingers crossed), I’ll finish the second draft of my novel. I’ll see you next year for The Story Workshop, a special in-person Writing with Horses retreat (no riding! Just WRITING), and more.

However you like to spend this silent and still time of year, I hope it’s quiet and relaxing. Unless you love to party, in which case, I hope it’s glittering and excellent!

Who knows what will come next year? Whatever 2017 brings, I know this: life is short. The unexpected happens. No matter how much we worry and prepare, we can’t prevent life from happening. Write now, because you can. Have a happy and peaceful new year.


[Editor’s note: this post contains programs which are no longer available. For current offerings, see here.]

Embrace your weirdness.
Why should I write by hand?


Nicola Grote

Dear Sarah, thanks so much for all your letters. They always bring me motivation and courage, when I`m just before giving up my writing. But to tell the truth, I can't live without writing. So... I wish you a very very happy 2017. Nicola xx
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Stephen D. Forman

"I know I haven’t written much to you about the accident, or moving into our barn home, or any of the other emotional experiences I’ve had over this year. Perhaps because I’ve been focused on writing my novel whenever I can. More likely, because the changes in my life this year have been so overwhelming, I simply haven’t found the words to tell you about them, yet." Don't carry guilt: you owe us nothing. I checked out the pics of Skybarn-- congrats on such a snazzy renovation, it looks catalogue-ready. And now you've joined the ranks of the illustrious ultracool, those whose residences have names, like Monticello, Fallingwater or Graceland. : )
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I'm so glad you (and your mom) are okay! I've loved seeing glimpses of your renovation, and am so looking forward to reading your novel when it's ready for the world. And what a treat to hear you talk about your process on the Secret Library podcast! You're such an inspiration, Sarah. Wishing you a wonderful 2017.
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Oh yes... something magical does happen when we get on Skype! Thank you for this letter and for sharing a bit of the behind the scenes that you've been working with. How extraordinary that this novel still happened this year with moving and renovation and the worries about your mom. You have inspired me yet again. I am going to hold onto these threads as I finally dive into my novel draft this year... it's happening. Thanks for being such a great cheerleader for the writing process. We need your voice to keep us all scribbling away. Enjoy the cave! You have more than earned it. ?
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Thank you, Nicola! Happy new year. xo S
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