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WD Author Q&A: Sage Cohen

Check out an exclusive Q&A with Sage Cohen, author of The Productive Writer. 
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When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer?

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I never really thought about wanting to be a writer. From a very young age, writing was just something I did––like breathing––to stay alive. In my early 20’s, it occurred to me that I wrote poems every day, and perhaps that meant that I was a poet. It was a bit of a shock, really, to discover that I was a writer when I had no self-consciousness about it for so long.

What was the first thing you ever wrote?

While it was certainly not the first thing I ever wrote, my 10th grade paper on “The Once and Future King” was my initiation into the alchemies of the writing life. I remember carefully articulating my three-point argument to back up my thesis statement, just as we were instructed to do. And then, when I arrived at the conclusion, it sort of wrote its way through me. I lost conscious control and some other impulse drew the unifying revelation out and onto the paper. It was almost a mystical experience. I was hooked.

What piece of advice have you received over the course of your career that has had the biggest impact on your success?

Natalie Goldberg’s instruction about freewriting helped me cultivate a practice of welcoming my writing without judgment. Through regular freewriting, I stopped hearing those unfriendly “editor” voices and started allowing what wanted to come through in words to find its way to the page. (The editing came later, of course.)

What message do you find yourself repeating over and over to writers?

Your ordinary life, a pen and paper (or computer and keyboard) is all you need to write. There will always be writers more and less talented, more and less successful than you. You have your own, unique place in this world, and your job is to write yourself there.

What's the worst kind of mistake that new writers, freelancers, or book authors can make?

Many writers will short-circuit themselves by expecting perfection, when really all we’re doing is practicing. The best we can do is our best from day to day, and let that be good enough. Ira Glass astutely said, “If you want to be really good at something, you have to be willing to do it terribly for at least a decade.” In my experience, the trick is to love what you’re writing so much that “good” and “bad” won’t matter nearly as much as the gratification you get from doing what you are called to do.

Of course, the more you write, the better you will get. And tomorrow, you’ll have insights about your craft, your audience and your market that are simply beyond your comprehension today. I’d suggest that you let it all unfold and trust that you are learning what you need to learn along the way.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Typical day? What’s that? : ) In addition to being an author and a poet, I care for my toddler son (with some daytime help), lecture, teach, and run my own marketing communications firm––so life is pretty full these days. While every day is different, the general mix includes: a family dog walk, leisurely time with my son, and at least eight hours of “work” –– often a mix of client projects, teaching/lecturing/reading, creative writing/authoring, and book promotion. I’m grateful that I love what I do, because I do a lot of it.

What’s the one thing in your writing life you can’t live without?

You asked for one, but I equally value the two rituals that bookend my days: morning dog walks in the forest and evening soaks in the tub. I don’t know if or what I would write without that contemplative mix of action and stillness.

In what way (if any) has your writing/publishing life changed in the past 5 years?

My entire writing and publishing life has been rewritten these past five years. I have authored my first three books while getting married and becoming a mother. I consider my son Theo and my book “Writing the Life Poetic” to be my multi-media twins, as they were conceived and birthed at approximately the same time. Both exhausted me, thrilled me and broke me open to unprecedented new possibilities. And, thank goodness, the book knew how to sleep through the night the moment it was born!

Do you have any advice for new writers on building an audience?

Start by writing what you are called to write, then share it as much as you can: blog, read publicly, publish, participate in workshops and critique groups. Pay attention to who is interested in/moved by your work, and then start refining what you write and how/where you offer it from there.

For example, when I started blogging, I considered my blog a “literary” experience. Yet, the folks who seemed most interested in what I had to say seemed to identify as “spiritual.” So that got me curious about what I was actually doing in my writing, and how I might continue to offer something of value to those readers. As a result, I recently launched a site specifically designed to bridge the literary and spiritual.

What about advice for writers seeking agents?

Remember that you have something uniquely valuable to offer, and the right agent will be able to perceive this value – then help you polish and package it most effectively.

When you are making your selection from the many agents eager to work with you (let’s assume that’s just a matter of time), trust your gut about who you want to represent your work and introduce you to the realm of publishing.

Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure the agent’s experience, expertise, track record and author list lines up with your own goals in a way that makes sense to you. And talk to a few authors represented by the agent, if possible, to get a sense of what to expect from your working relationship.

You have now published a book about poetry and a book about productivity. Why these two topics, and how are they related?

I’ve discovered through writing the books “Writing the Life Poetic” and “The Productive Writer” that my central inquiry seems to be: What is possible in our writing and our lives? And what I want most is for my readers to find ways to turn their sails into their own, great gusts of possibility. So that someone wanting to be more poetic or productive doesn’t have to waste any more time wondering how to get started––or if they’re good enough to even try. They can simply jump in and start exploring through the creative companionship that my books provide.

Any final thoughts?

My son’s favorite book this week, “The Little Engine That Could,” offers an important reminder about the human condition: When you tell yourself “I think I can,” it’s far more likely that you can – and you will.

Come visit me at pathofpossibility.com and share your insights about what’s possible in writing and in life.

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