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by Hedgebrook Guest

Residencies and Master Classes at Hedgebrook should come with a warning: This will change your life.

I spent the first two weeks of August 2015 at Hedgebrook. My goal was to finish a book I’d been writing for ten years – and I did.

At Hedgebrook, I did the same thing every day: woke up, brewed coffee, made toast with peanut butter and banana, and wrote until I was so hungry I had to stop to eat whatever amazing creation I’d carried in my basket the night before. Then I walked on the beach until dinner.

I vowed to stay offline during my residency – and much to my amazement, I did. Living without internet reset my brain. I discovered that I let emails dictate my life at home – what I should do, how I should feel, what I should give my attention – and over those two weeks away, I felt my mind return to me.

Everything at Hedgebrook is designed to support women’s words. From the cottages to the farmhouse table to the library filled with women’s voices – the message is clear: your writing is so important we built this place for you. And that commitment demanded something from me in return. At night, reading in the lofted bed overlooking my desk, a question started running through my mind: What would happen if I built the architecture of my life around my writing?

I returned to Hedgebrook in March to take a Master Class with the brilliant writer and poet Carolyn Forché.* The timing felt auspicious. My agent had just sent the manuscript I’d completed during my summer residency to an editor, and we were waiting to hear from him.

Carolyn gave us homework. Write for three hours. In a row. Every day. Before class. And it should be new writing, she said. Don’t revise, don’t go back, go forward.

I’d been working on the same project for a decade. It had been a long time since I’d written anything new. I worried I’d forgotten how.

But on the first day I wrote 40 pages. And on the second. And on the third.

I wrote 220 pages on a brand new project in just six days. Because of Hedgebrook. Spending time in a place dedicated to supporting women’s writing has life-altering effects. And I don’t mean that metaphorically.

My agent had given the editor until Thursday to say yes or no to my manuscript. It was Thursday, and I hadn’t heard anything, so I assumed the editor was going to pass. Still, I made myself write new pages for three hours before checking my email. Then, this message arrived in my inbox from my agent: Call me!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

My phone didn’t work in my cottage. I tried the phone in the pump house, but the landline wasn’t working. I ran all over the woods waving my phone in the air to try to pick up cell service. Nothing. I ran to the office. I arrived breathless. Harolynne waited for me to catch my breath. After I told her I’d sold my book, I looked down to see I was still in my pajamas. I had acne medicine all over my face.

My time at Hedgebrook – both the residency and the master class – shed light on my life, putting things in relief. How am I spending my time? What matters to me? What changes do I need to make to put what matters at the center of my life?

Soon after I got home, I quit a job that had defined me. My husband and I put our house on the market and are moving to a mountain town – something we’ve longed to do for years. And we’re in the process of adopting a child through the foster care system. Some people might say I Kondoed my life. I would say I Hedgebrooked it.

During my residency last summer, a new friend and I would walk through the woods or to the beach or farmhouse and shout Hedgebrook’s motto over and over again. Women authoring change, we said, in stranger and stranger voices, and it made us laugh, though we knew it was true.

I know writing changes the world. That’s why I write. I understand words to be world making, and I want to help bring into being a more just and life-giving world. What I hadn’t anticipated was just how much writing at Hedgebrook would change me, too.


* A note to all you academics: I was a visiting professor at a university, and they generously paid for me to attend the Master Class! Maybe your universities will do the same for you?


Learn more about Hedgebrook Master Classes and the current classes available: www.hedgebrook.org/master-classes/


About the Author:

Sarah SentillesSarah Sentilles is the author of three books, including Breaking Up with God: A Love Story. Her fourth book, Draw Your Weapons, will be published by Random House in 2017. She earned a bachelor’s degree at Yale and master’s and doctoral degrees at Harvard. At the core of her scholarship, writing, and activism is a commitment to investigating the roles language and images play in oppression, violence, social transformation, and justice movements.






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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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