Productivity for Poets: Guest Post (and Book Raffle) From Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic and The Productive Writer. In fact, this post is part of Sage’s virtual book tour promoting The Productive Writer. Anyone who asks a question and/or takes part in discussion in the Comments of this post today will be entered into a raffle for a free and signed copy of The Productive Writer.



The easier it is to dive into your poetry process, the more likely you are to do it. That’s why a simple system that puts your ideas, goals, submissions and poems at your fingertips is critical to staying engaged with poeming.

Over the years, I have kept both paper
and computer files that help me put everything I need to write or publish a
poem at my fingertips. Here are some of the categories I’ve used and approaches
I’ve taken. Feel free to use whatever suits you and make it your own.

for the year

much time do you intend to make for your poetry every week? How many poems
would you like to finish every month? How often will you send out work? How
many publications are you striving for? Do you intend to join a critique group,
take a workshop, attend a conference, or pitch a book? Whatever it is that
you’re setting your sights on in the coming year, write it down. Take a risk or
two. Dream big. Then let it go and get back to writing.

Great quotes

quotes that inspire you––about writing, and any other themes that are
attractive to you or meaningful to your work. Often a quote will spark a poem.
Or I’ll realize after writing a poem that a certain snippet of wisdom would
make the perfect epigraph.

I love

I save my favorite poems by my favorite
poets and refer to them often. These offer inspiration fuel whenever I need a
refresher in what’s possible in poetry. They’re also really useful in triggering
new work; when I’m stuck, I’ll imitate some craft choice I admire, and often
I’ll find a new way forward.

When it comes to inspiration, I say
there’s no offense like a great defense. Squirrels use their feasts to prepare
for the famine, and so can you. When our minds are alert to the acorns of
inspiration––and we have a good system for saving those acorns––we can build up
a surplus. This secret stash of great ideas can keep the pilot light of
inspiration going, and get us through even the harshest winters of creative

Whether you’re using index cards, Post-It
notes or the backs of envelopes to capture those fleeting images or words, it’s
really helpful to designate one, easy-to-access place where you can compile and
easily reference your ideas, inspirations and poem snippets. Mine pile up in an “in box” and then all get input into an endlessly evolving “acorns” document in
my computer.

in the works

All draft poems that are still taking
shape live here. Most of my poems spend some time ripening in this folder. When
I sit down with my “editor” hat on, I generally have a selection of
in-the-works poems to choose from.


Keep your finished work that’s ready to
go public here. This will help you easily make decisions about what to send out
and how to group poems when you’re ready to send in submissions to literary

and publications

Filing submissions requirements and
deadlines for contests and literary journals in one place, organized by
submission date, will help ensure that you don’t miss opportunities to submit
your work for publication. It will also put the information you need to
successfully meet publications’ guidelines at your fingertips.

Submission log
Use a hand-written list, Word table or
Excel spreadsheet to track when and where you submitted your work, and whether
it was accepted. Make note of any personal correspondence your receive from
editors so you can follow up effectively with the next submission.


Keep a list of your poems published and
the publications in which they appear, as well as the publication dates. This
will help prevent mistakes such as sending out a poem that’s already been
published. And it helps you keep your bio up to date with all of your latest

What systems are you using that serve
your life poetic well?


Sage Cohen is the author of The
Productive Writer
(just released from Writer’s Digest Books); Writing the Life Poetic and the poetry
Like the Heart, the World.
She blogs about all that is possible in the writing life at, where you can:
Download a FREE “Productivity
Power Tools” workbook companion to
The Productive
. Get the FREE, 10-week
email series, “10 Ways to Boost Writing Productivity” when
you sign up to receive email updates. Sign up for the FREE, Writing the Life Poetic e-zine.
Plus, check out the events page for the latest free teleclasses, scholarships
and more


For All Beginning Writers!
Beginning on January 1, the started offering the Getting Started in Writing Premium Collection. With a retail value of $474.95, this bundle of goods and services costs only $139.99, but interested parties should act fast, because there are only 100 available (and as of yesterday, 27 had already been claimed). This premium collection includes a writing course, webinar, planner, books, and more!

Click here to learn all the details.

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48 thoughts on “Productivity for Poets: Guest Post (and Book Raffle) From Sage Cohen

  1. Carol A. Miller

    Hmm. When it comes to inspiration and to start and progress to finish there’s something amiss. Lost close family members these past five to seven years. Writing doesn’t seem to have filled the void. I’m in a stall mode mostly, but still moving ever so slowly at that. What is it that I need to go on? Get closer to God and supportive people? Surely, I’ve been working on that. Perhaps, it’s to just let go of the pain in all of its hurtful ways and create a life in betterment than ever before I’ve known. Yes… to be free, bold, and truthful!

  2. Megan

    I love this post. It is full of inspiring ideas.
    As a newbie to the world of writing/poetry, I am easily discouraged and overwhelmed. These ideas give me hope and direction as a writer.
    Thank you! I know I will refer back to this post often.

  3. Sandra Evans

    Great to hear of a book that people really use. I would love to be a part of the raffle to get the new one.
    Thanks for the great ideas. As a fresh MFA graduate, I’d have to say that wasn’t something we discussed a lot. I still think the most productive way to write is to read the poetry(and prose)of others, but most of us creatives could use some help with the organization.
    Thanks Sage

  4. Jeanne Rogers

    Thank you, Sage, for the great advice. I, too, have a bits and pieces document into which I throw any tidbits–words, one-liners, poem ideas, phrases, etc.–that I cannot immediately use in a poem. Sometimes, something in that document gives me just the push I need to start a new poem, or just the right line or idea to give depth to work I’m editing. I’m printing out your suggestions for maintaining order with the mass of material a poet tends to accumulate.

  5. Margaret Crawford

    This is all very good advise. Thanks for being here. Just a quick question, more for curiosity than anything. Do you write poetry everyday? How much time to you devote to writing each day?
    I’ve just recently returned to writing and I’m enjoying it immensely, but finding the quiet time I need is the catch.
    Thanks again.

  6. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    I am adding the suggestion that if you don’t already have a back-up plan for saving your digital writings, you should. My husband gave me an external storage system to save my writing. When my hard drive crashed, due to a virus, I only had to reload all my writing back in. I would have lost hundreds of poems!

  7. Charmion Burns

    I have "Writing the Life Poetic" and find it VERY helpful.

    Liked your list to organize ideas, thought, material, etc. You said you use it on computer and paper–Question: How do you keep the two synchronized? When I have stuff in more than one place I spend a lot of time checking in both places for all my information.

    Thanks for your helpful writing. I’m looking forward to reading your new book.

    Charmion Burns

  8. bc

    I’m sure you get the "That’s sage advice, Sage!" all the time, right? Well, it is great stuff. As I’m just getting into the publishing part, these are great details for me to consider. For all of you others who are just starting, you mentioned that we should keep a submission log. I use Duotrope to help keep my submissions online and it’s free. Don’t know if you’d recommend that, too, or not, but I thought I’d ask.

  9. Victoria Kaloss

    Such good advice and easy! Simple productive tools work best for me. I had veered from poetry, focusing on children’s books and fiction. In general, I love to write but poetry is my first true love.
    I’ve observed my spirit guiding me back to love as with a new physician who co-teaches English Literature at a local college. Really, what are the odds?
    So thank you, Sage, for your gentle, effective guidelines.

  10. jim o

    I have stacks of journals and notebooks I’ve filled over the years. If I have a good start on something as I am journaling I will make a note or draw a star in the margin so I can go back and harvest that acorn at a later date. It is a bit random, though, so I think I will take your tip and centralize them for easier access. Thanks for the great advice and I look forward to reading the new book.

  11. Sage Cohen


    Start with what you love. Submit to the publications you know and like–ones whose poems seem in some way familial to your own. If you don’t know and like journals yet, look in the acknowledgments pages of poets you like. See where they were published. Start investigating those magazines. Ask your friends for recommendations. Sounds like you have a copy of The Productive Writer — it might also help to read the fear chapter. It is designed help you identify and work with blocks you may not even be aware of! Happy submitting!

  12. Sheila Deeth

    Thanks for all the tips and encouragement. I always want to do everything at once–drove my Mum up the wall the other day trying to clean the whole house in one go when I really wanted to be writing. I’m trying to a) get organized, and b) set realistic goals–e.g. organize one thing per week. Time for some poetry admin.

  13. Linda Watson Owen

    I’ve attempted to organize my writing, but somehow it still gets out of hand. What you’ve suggested sounds like exactly what I need. Thank you, Sage. So glad I’ve ‘found’ your work!

  14. Satia

    As others have said, I don’t seem to have a problem with prolific but being productive is another matter entirely. I’ve recently pulled a few pieces together for revision and was ready to dive right in. I think I’ll be printing this post out as well, keep it close. And for the first time in ages I wish I were no longer on a book buying freeze (for personal reasons). I would definitely invest in your new book. Thank you Robert, for giving Sage your forum for her book promotion tour.

  15. Vicki

    Hi Sage
    So excited to have your expertise – I love your Writing the Life Poetic and have highlighted the heck out of it! I had already started to incorporate some of the things you have suggested in the Productive Writer in regards to organizing my writing, but I haven’t really submitted much (fear!), so I guess that is a big challenge for me in 2011. Just the immensity of the whole market is daunting. Any suggestions about how to narrow down the field a little? Thank you again for your inspiration – I look forward to being more productive in the new year!

  16. Paige

    super tips!

    I have keep a list of my poems as a word doc, but am now in the process of setting up a spreadsheet in excel, along with cross ref on subs & pubs.

    for the most part I use a notebook for phrases, lines, words, poems in progress etc. I know it’s bad of me but when I type up a poem and do editing I X it out (my signal to me that it’s typed)

    I like your system, thanks again for sharing.

    best of luck to everyone for 2011

  17. Noreen Ann Jenkins

    I realize now that I, too need to reorganized my poetry better. This year I want to start more notebooks to categorize my poetry that I have on other websites including my official website. I want to start filing all of my poetry (1000 +) on my hard drive on my word processor.
    Thanks again, Sage, for the valuable advice!

  18. Andrew Kreider

    Great input, Sage! Thanks for being here today. This is just what I needed to start a new year. I especially appreciate the idea of setting aside time for "poetry admin." I write poetry like I garden – I’m better at planting than weeding or harvesting – so it’s good to be prodded to tend to the end product.

    One question I have is whether anyone has used Microsoft OneNote to organize their poems, acorns, or admin. I keep thinking it seems like a terrific tool, but I can’t quite get my mind around how to employ it. (It’s probably more of a harvester than planter!)

    Best to you all for 2011!

  19. Sam Nielson

    I am not a professional writer, so that gives me room to be lazy in my approach to publishing. For years, my focus has been simply on writing not publishing. Travesty or boon to the publishing end, not my place to say. I am, however, always interested in way people track their writing, and their physical space for it.

    Writing process
    I write longhand, often multiple drafts. It wanders with me, home, work, in pockets, notebooks, etc., but at some point I have to see the words ‘in print’ to edit. So I type them in a simple word processor. Those files tend to stay on my desktop until I do something with them, like a Poetic Asides submission, or a haphazard ‘publication’ for my mother. Then the poems get copied to Word/ WordPerfect, and/or Adobe .pdf files, and into folders for longer-term handling.
    Often I sew together in a temporary, coverless bindings works I’m considering. If those get lost, burnt, torn, dirty, etc., I can reprint or repurpose them electronically and print them again. If at that time the electronic file is lost, I guess the text is gone. My grandfather burned most of his writings in the 1940’s. That plus the tenuous state of electronic storage, give me some rationale. You keeps what you can, and if you can’t, oh well. Life is for living and that swims on. If I decide that publication is more important to me, that valuation may change.

    I had some work published, years ago (and a few readings while in college, that ilk) so I probably wilted my need to publish at an early age. The publication process now would take over the time I have for writing, and I’d prefer to write rather than submit. Probably an excuse, but there it is.
    I have a board outside my office door, where college students can freely post their poems, and comment on others, a low-key publishing opportunity for them, a mini-Poetic Asides thing, if you will. Only to prevent that board being empty, I will rummage in my computer files to find a suitable poem of my own to post, until students step up again to fill the slack.
    Posting to Poetic Asides, I suppose is a publication as well. I appreciate that forum. I don’t yet have any other poetic community to experience regularly at any quality. So Poetic Asides gets what time I can spend there.

  20. Michelle Hed

    Thanks for the tips. I have a few ideas for chapbooks that I would like to pull together this year and I would like to be a bit more organized. Every other Sunday is impressive. I’m thinking a couple of hours on a free day, the beginning of each month to organize, edit, submit – whatever is on my plate at the moment. I also have a writing group and we try to pick a literary journal to submit to once a week and have our group edit our poems if available. So that is always an option available to me. Thanks again for the tips.

  21. ideurmyer

    I want to add my thanks to all your helpful hints in organizing our poetry, Sage. Because of your suggestions I realize I did not have my poetry divided into enough files or folders, so I am revising that.
    As for submitting or admin tasks, I hope to be better organized this year and am starting a calendar for just publications and their deadlines for submissions. I plan on spending one morning a week on either submitting work or checking out new publications that might fit my writing style.
    Thanks again for your valuable input.


  22. Crystal Tice

    I really like these category suggestions. One of my goals for the year is to organize my writing and start submitting my work, both poetry and stories. These categories will help make it a bit easier to keep the momentum flowing.

    I have a day each week where I am going to dedicate a few hours to polishing, organizing, and submitting my work. Otherwise it gets lumped into the ‘I’ll do it someday’ pile.

  23. Sage Cohen

    Hi, folks!

    Answers to some of your questions…

    I offer some detailed suggestions about naming multiple versions of documents (in this case, poems), in The Productive Writer. It’s a bit too involved to explain here, but that should help answer the question of managing many drafts.

    Yes, I save information about the various journals that interest me. I’ll print out submission info, file it alphabetically in a binder, and then my submission log tells me where I submitted, when, and what happened.

    My rhythm for sending work out changes a lot depending on what else is going on in my life. In 2011, I plan to dedicate three hours every other Sunday to my "poetry admin" tasks — sending work out, honing my systems, researching new publications, etc.

    What are you all committing to in your "poetry admin" for 2011?

  24. AC Leming

    I usually write out rough drafts longhand, then type them up. I when I edit them, I *try* to save them under the title (or prompt, if appropriate) with a ii, iii or iv (et al) indicating where in the editing process I am with the poem. And so if I don’t like what I did to a poem, I have an original to work from again.

    With chapbooks, working on my third to submit to RLB’s contest, as well as others, I’m just starting to think about how to organize drafts, so any suggestions would be helpful.

  25. Michelle Hed

    Hello Sage, thank you for the wonderful tips. I write poetry (almost) daily and keep an online file per month, once the month is over I print the month out and it goes into a binder for the year. I like your idea of having a to be edited file and a ready to go file. I guess I have just considered the binders all ‘to be edited’ poems, but this can be cumbersome when looking for poems to submit.

    I am curious, how often do you submit your work? A friend of mine just made a resolution to submit every other month. I was thinking this might be an acceptable plan.

    I am also curious to your answer to Linda Hofke’s question. Selecting literary journals to submit to can be a really daunting task. I can see where organizing information about journals could be really beneficial for future submissions. Please share any ideas or methods you have used.

    Thanks for taking the time to read and answer our questions! Much appreciated.

  26. Carol

    Welcome, Sage!

    I, too, have a signed copy of Writing the Life Poetic from the push on Amazon. The tips you have shared today are just what I need to start 2011. I have all of my poems from early days through 2009 sorted into 5 or 6 folders on my computer,by theme, with hard copies in colour-coded (to match the file names or vice-versa!) Then I have a draft poems 2010, and a new one started for 2011 (nothing in there yet!)
    But I find sometimes that I have several versions of the same poem and don’t know which one is the latest (as they sometimes are in different places) The hard copies are earmarked for editing, but a huge volume…enough for 5 or 6 books I think. Which strangely, is holding me back from actually getting a first book off the drawing board! Some of your tips will work better for me this year.
    My biggest problem is procrastination and finding so many other things to do rather than write. Why is that? Fear of failure? Fear of success? I don’t know……

    Carol A. Stephen

  27. Linda Hofke

    In the past year in started sending my work to literary journals. There are so many journals, each with their own style/preferences. There are so many and some only accept form poetry or narratives or work related to a certain topic, etc. Do you organize this information as well and, if so, how?

  28. stu pidasso

    Also (just popped to mind after I posted my last entry), I am in the habit of mailing a copy of my work to myself, once I deem them to be finished. I have heard this called "a poor man’s copyright". Any ideas from any of you fellow writers as to how effective this may be? I think it may be quite compelling evidence to have a copy of a poem in a post marked, un-opened letter for future reference, just in case there may be a question as to the timeline of a written work.

  29. Sage Cohen

    Sorry, RJ. I don’t use online trackers. Every year, I refine my submission system and start fresh with a new doc. That’s how I manage it over time. And I use both and a second hard drive to back everything up. I think Writer’s Digest has a good system for tracking submissions online, if you want to check that out!

  30. stu pidasso

    I have already tried to stay organized with some variation of all of your topic suggestions except for making goals for myself (daily, weekly or yearly), keeping a submission log or keeping a list of published works (none, to my knowledge, other than on websites like this one).

    As I develop my collection of works, I suppose I may want to explore more avenues of actual publication possibilities at some point.

    This has lots of great information and I enjoyed seeing that I am at least thinking along the same lines as a published author.

    I must say, however, that I write mostly for my own leisure than for the prospect of getting compensated for my efforts (which would be pleasantly surprising if it did happen).

  31. RJ Clarken

    I have an autographed copy of Writing the Life Poetic, which I got during the March 2009 push to make your book one of the very top ranked book on Amazon! (Very cool!)

    Anyway, there are lots of great ideas listed for organizing, but I have a question. While Excel and Word may be great options for tracking submissions (I have an ongoing table in Word) it seems that after a certain number of years, not to mention, a lot of submissions, the document tends becomes way too cumbersome. Also, it’s a bit scary if one’s computer crashes, even with a backup system at the ready. Is there an online tracker you’d recommend which is safe and easy to use?

    Thanks – and great to see you here at Poetic Asides!

  32. Dianne

    Thanks for an extremely helpful post. I’ve been writing poetry for about two years now but have done little to be organized or proactive about it . . . that is one of my goals for the coming year. These ideas for getting a system in place make so much sense. My thoughts are all ragtag, all over the place! Thanks again for sharing.

  33. Noreen Ann Jenkins

    Thanks for the tips, Sage. I have a lot of goals for the new year in 2011 concerning my poetry and for my husband’s poetry,too.
    I have notebooks that I used to write my poetry in drafts. When I am satisfied with what I write, then I transfer my poetry in another notebook. I also have another notebook that I lists the titles of all my poetry and categorized them.
    Thanks once again, Sage. Keep up the great works.

  34. Margaret Fieland

    Lots of great ideas here. I like the idea of an in-the-works and ready-for-submission folders.

    I have extreme data loss phobia, so I keep master copies of my work in Google documents, in multiple folder, one of which is a "needs work" (as in junk heap). I have an excel spreadsheet that I got from a kind soul that I use to track submissions. Still, at this point I have an overwhelming number of poems. It feels like time to go over the list and figure out what do do with them …

  35. James

    Thanks for the great advice here. Someone gave me <i>Writing the Life Poetic</i> for Christmas and I can’t wait to get into it.

    I started an excel spreadsheet for submissions and publications last year and that has been a terrific help. I love the acorns idea. That’s a paper tiger on my desk if ever there was one. A folder/inbox. How wonderfully simple and useful. I’ll try that.

  36. Myrna Rosa

    This is wonderful advice. I’ve always wanted to write, though I never considered writing poetry until recently. So, I’m a fresh beginner who needs all the help she can get. Thanks so much and good luck with your book!

  37. Sage Cohen

    Thanks so much for having me here, Robert. And thanks to you all for sharing your goals, desires and successes with us. AC, you mention one of the key variables to a satisfying and productive writing life: community. Having friends and colleagues to share leads, publication opportunities, success strategies and craft feedback with can make such a huge difference. I wish for all of you the company of a good writing friend, classmate, mentor or teacher this year.

  38. Walt Wojtanik

    Again, great information, Sage. Seems to be a conflict between prolific and productive for me. I keep a journal for ideas (Acorns, nuggets,…), have alphabetized my work and am categorizing them as the new year finds its legs. As Robert can attest, I have been able to pen mass quantities of poetry (prolific) but have the same struggles getting them looked at (productive/unproductive).

    I’m going to re-focus my energies to those ends, and I’m sure your tidbits of information will be a great help.

  39. Patricia A. Hawkenson

    I have a dog-earred copy of Writing the Life Poetic that I keep next to my desk at school, and I would LOVE it to have a companion! 125 6th grade Language Arts students see my writing as everyday classroom examples, and this forces me to be productive! I share my writing with them, and they challenge me to try new topics and techniques. THANK you for the free downloads! WE will put them to good use. 🙂

  40. Bruce Niedt

    I do keep a submission/contest log and a list of published poems, but don’t really organize my work other than alphabetically. Your categories, along with tips on keeping a list of quotes, favorite poems and "acorns" are very good, and I’ll consider starting my own.

  41. AC Leming

    A friend and I pass on contest info &/or submission info that we might not necessarily be interested in ourselves, but sounds like something that would fit the other’s work.

    We also touch base over the phone at least weekly to talk about our recent work, how our creative life is in it’s struggle with the other things that like to get in it’s way, i.e. kids, dogs, paying work, Internet trolling.

    She takes a weekend to herself and spends it at a hotel so she has 24-48 hours of quiet time away from distractions to focus on a project. I’ve done it myself. And plan on doing it again.

    Since I’m not an organized person, your list of suggestions should come in handy to help me focus on getting that way.


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