Brrrr, it’s cold in Martinez! As I’m writing this, the high is only going to be forty-three degrees today, which is colder than usual. I know I shouldn’t complain—I grew up in Minnesota, so I know what really cold weather is like. When I was a teenager, I remember going out when it was sixty below zero with the wind chill factor. Crazy, but I survived! But that’s one of the reasons I moved to California, I’m done with cold weather.
If you want to snuggle up with a good book and wait for warmer weather, check out this interview with S.A. Snyder. She has written a number of interesting books including her latest, DIY Solo Retreats: A Handbook for Creating Your Space, Setting an Intention, and Getting the Self-Care You Deserve. Enjoy the interview!
About the Author
S.A. Snyder has been a writer for more than thirty years. She participates in live storytelling and blogs about self-care and retreating. With humor and insight, Sarah inspires others through the telling of her own experiences to examine what it means to live a meaningful life. Learn more at www.lunarivervoices.com, where you will also find links to purchase her books and listen to guided meditations.
- DIY Solo Retreats: A Handbook for Creating Your Space, Setting an Intention, and Getting the Self-Care You Deserve
- The Value of Your Soul: Lessons in Dealing with Life’s Annoyances
- Plant Trees, Carry Sheep: A Woman’s Spiritual Journey Among the Sufis of Scotland
- Scenic Driving Montana
Who or what inspires you to write?
Writing is something I have to do to feed my soul. I don’t see it so much as being inspired as being required! I am, however, inspired by a deep need to communicate what I’ve learned and what I feel might be useful to others on this journey we call “life.” Most of my writing is nonfiction and roughly deals with telling my story with the goal to enlighten while making people laugh. On the fiction front, I have a lot of stories both in my head and on paper, stories that show up from my imagination, full of characters who seem to really want their stories to be heard—fictitious or not! I’m looking forward to publishing some of my fiction in 2023.
I can really relate to what you said about having a deep need to communicate what you’ve learned and what might help others. I think connecting with people is one of the best things about writing. What is the best thing that has happened because of your writing?
Getting published has taught me courage and also to have thick skin. I have my critics, and they are just as valuable as fans. Fans encourage me by letting me know that my writing is landing somewhere—people are reading and appreciating what I have to say. Critics are valuable in helping me to let go of the ego’s need to be perfect and loved by all. Critics teach me that it doesn’t matter what anyone thinks about who I am or who they think I am—even fans. I am not my writing. My writing is an extension of my manifested form, but the real me (the real any of us) is so much more than our physical manifestation. What matters is that I’m writing and I’m publishing. I’m feeding the soul (not the ego), which brings me satisfaction in this life and teaches me about the joy to be had here.
It does take courage to put yourself out there by writing, publishing, and marketing a book, and it can be so difficult. What is the most difficult thing you have experienced about writing or publishing?
Writing my memoir took nearly twenty years after the time period about which I was writing had passed. I started writing my story (Plant Trees, Carry Sheep) while it was happening, knowing there was something there, lessons learned, that others might find valuable. But it was years—and dozens of drafts—later that I actually published. The biggest difficulty I encountered was the courage to be honest and raw about my feelings and my experiences. I include some deeply personal things in my memoir that to other people may not seem like such a big deal. For a hyper-private person such as myself, however, I was afraid to put them on paper and kept disrupting my prose with sarcasm, you know, to avoid getting too personal. But in the end, I included things that embarrassed me because I felt there was value in letting people know that, hey, I’m human too. Shit happens to everyone, and we all break down eventually, or we do stupid things that we aren’t proud of, so let’s just stop pretending we have to put on a perfect face for the public and admit that being human can really suck sometimes! Regarding publishing, the most difficult thing was—and is—building an audience! Us indie writers work doubly hard to get our works read and we can still languish in anonymity.
I love that you had the courage to be honest and raw about your feelings and experiences. I don’t think readers always realize how hard that can be for authors, and how exposed we can feel. Was there anything you didn’t do during your writing or publishing journey that you wish you had?
I wish I had stayed the course and kept working on my memoir until it was published. Instead, I kept taking breaks, telling myself that I needed time to think about things when really, I think, I was avoiding the hard work of rewriting and being honest and raw in the story. My next two self-published books were published quite quickly, I think in less than a year for the second one (The Value of Your Soul) and in just over a year for the third one (DIY Solo Retreats); that’s from the initial draft to the published product. Also, it’s important to have an outstanding editor who can really help you shape your book. Although all of my books passed through the hands of at least two editors (one for content and one for copyediting and proofreading), I wish the content editor had been more exacting and harsh. So, I’m still in the market for a really great content editor for my next work!
Being a slow writer myself, I’m always impressed by writers who can write and publish a book in a year, and you did it twice—congratulations! Do you have a publisher and/or agent, or are you an indie (self-published) or hybrid author?
Mostly I’m an indie writer, but my first book (Scenic Driving Montana) is part of a publisher-owned series that I was commissioned to write. I’ve tried to get an agent and got tired of the waiting-and-rejection process. Nonfiction can be a hard sell, and agents have told me they thought I was an excellent writer but that no one would be interested in my nonfiction because I was “an unknown.” In other words, agents were looking for nonfiction they thought could make them money, and mine wasn’t it. I lost my patience with people who liked my writing but refused to take me on because they thought I couldn’t make them money as an “unknown.” This world is full of awesome unknown writers and terrible popular writers, so it didn’t sit right with me, and I decided that having more control over my work and a greater share of the royalties was more important than being agented. By the way, my books are selling just fine!
That’s so great your books are selling well, because many authors struggle with that, no matter which genre they choose. Which genre(s) do you like to write in, and why?
I like nonfiction of the self-help, lessons-learned variety. My latest two books fall into that category (DIY Solo Retreats and The Value of Your Soul). My memoir (Plant Trees, Carry Sheep) falls into that category also, but it’s also a fish-out-of-water story and a hero’s journey that aims to entertain as much as to say, “Here’s how I spent two years of my life—sometimes torturing myself with completely unnecessary behaviors—and here’s what I learned about how to be happier than I was.” I hope readers of my memoir and the spinoff (The Value of Your Soul) helps others on their life journey. I’ve made it my life’s mission to be of service to others, so that’s why I like writing in this genre.
That’s such a great title for a book, Plant Trees, Carry Sheep—it just begs to be read. Helping others find happiness through the lessons learned that you describe in your memoir is a great plan. Do you outline your books before you write them?
Yes, I definitely had an outline for all four of my books. However, sometimes the book takes on a life of its own, defying my outline! At the moment, I’m writing a fictional story that I hope to sell as a television series. It started out as a ninety-minute film and has evolved into this serialized show—and that’s all just from writing the detailed outline! So this particular work has definitely taken over and has been telling me what I want instead of me guiding the story through my rough outline. This is one of the things I love about the writing process—the beauty of just sitting down to write and having the writing take over. I love it when the creative process just flows without regard for what I had in mind originally. Oftentimes the new ideas that flow from the physical act of writing turn out much better than your original idea.
It sounds like outlining your books but then allowing them to take off in new directions has been very successful for you. How do you define success as a writer?
Getting your story finished—that’s it! Does it matter if anyone reads it? Depends on what your goal is. Of course, my goal is to have readers and to eventually earn a living on my creative writing. That takes a lot of energy and planning and patience—and money—as an indie writer. Ultimately, I want to make a living from my creative writing, and I’m not there yet. But I stopped defining my success as a writer by those terms. Instead, I decided to just have fun with it and let the stories flow. If it’s meant to be, my stories will find their readers. Besides, like I said before, writing is as essential to my existence as air and water, so the fact that I have four published books, with more on the way, spells success to me.
That spells success to me too! It’s really difficult to make a living from creative writing, especially with fewer people reading books and the small amount in royalties that are made on each one, but some authors are able to do it—I bet you’ll be one of them. If you could have lunch with any author, who would it be?
I have four. Mark Twain for a good laugh and some lessons in tale spinning. Agatha Christie for lessons in how to develop a complicated and compelling plot. Barbara Kingsolver for how to write with deep emotion and character motivation. And Louise Penny for learning how to make your readers fall in love with your vast array of interesting characters who are really just ordinary people made extraordinary by their simple ordinariness at the hand of an outstanding mystery writer. I want my readers to want to feel like they could walk into any of my stories and become friends with the characters, real and imagined, because they feel like they know them so well.
Those are all great writers who have entertained many people with their characters’ adventures. Tell us about a great adventure you’ve had.
Well that one is easy—my two years living in Scotland as an American volunteer at a spiritual retreat center getting the shit kicked out of my ego! I won’t give the rest of it away, but you can read all about it in my humorous and poignant memoir, Plant Trees, Carry Sheep: A Woman’s Spiritual Journey Among the Sufis of Scotland. It has everything: laughter, tears, depression, ecstasy, and a good hearty dose of falling and getting back up again, over and over.
It sounds like a life-changing adventure, one that I’m sure many readers will enjoy. Sarah, thank you so much for sharing your books, thoughts, and experiences with us! Readers, you can find out more about Sarah’s books below.
Plant Trees, Carry Sheep
Sarah’s memoir captures her story about leaving a perfectly good life in Montana for Scotland, where she volunteered at a spiritual retreat, a diminutive and humbler version of Downton Abbey, except everyone was a servant. Sarah soon discovered that not only was she expected to plant 6,000 trees, but also manage flocks of poultry, a band of truant sheep, and a one-acre vegetable garden, AND help with housekeeping and cooking to support the communal residents.
During her time there, she tries to give the Beloved a second chance, but God starts to get on her nerves. Can overwhelming chores, odd spiritual teachings and rituals, and a troubled romantic entanglement with her “boss” help fix her soul? Buy the book on Amazon or Barnes&Noble.
The Value of Your Soul
A spinoff from Sarah’s memoir of living at a spiritual retreat in Scotland, The Value of Your Soul features a collection of 38 peculiar life “annoyances” about people and life. Using select verses from the Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Rumi, the book teases out some lessons Sarah learned from various experiences and offers a soupçon of homespun wisdom for coping with people, circumstances, and life. The witty style and unique experiences combine to make this a fun, light read with a reminder not to take life too seriously. This collection of short tales with whimsical illustrations is something you can dip in and out of or whenever you need a little reminder that we are more than the sum of that which annoys us. We are human, and that’s just Divine! Buy the book on Amazon or Barnes&Noble.
DIY Solo Retreats
If you need time to reset or recharge your life but leaving home to go on retreat isn’t an option, this book is for you. DIY Solo Retreats is chock full of tips, tricks, and ideas to help you create your own self-styled retreat and space to listen for answers to nagging questions, figure out what’s next for you, resolve an issue, or just get some quality self-care time. Get some ideas for retreat topics and learn how to prepare your mind and body for retreating. There are also tips and ideas for creating your own small group retreat, in person or online. When travel is difficult, risky, or impossible, or going away on a retreat is not in the budget, this book is your inner travel companion. Buy the book on Amazon.
You can also buy signed copies directly from Sarah by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org or by visiting her website at www.lunarivervoices.com.
Readers, what do you do when you need a recharging retreat? Let us know in the comments!