Writer's Digest Books, 2010. ISBN 978-1-582-97995-3.
Reviewed by Mary Ann Moore
Posted on 04/13/2011
Nonfiction: Creative Life
I've never called myself a productive writer, as it's been the process and the inner journey that has kept me engaged in writing as a spiritual practice. I do like to share my stories and insight with others so as to encourage their own stories. Also, some of the subjects I write about may let readers know that they're not alone—and getting paid for something I have a passion for is an appreciated bonus. For those reasons, I've been following Sage Cohen's "tips and tools to help [me] write more, stress less & create success." Every chapter of The Productive Writer is jam-packed with good advice, encouragement, systems for scheduling and organizing, and questions to prompt my own useful lists from a writer who walks the talk.
Cohen is self-employed as a marketing communications consultant during the day, spends time with her husband and son at the end of the workday, and writes books, articles, a blog, and a poetry zine late into the night.
"Just Say Yes," Cohen says in Chapter 1. "You need a life that flows from YES." She has the reader defining her writing goals and studying her heroes so as to cull her favorite strategies as well as defining "productive writing life" for herself. Cohen's definition is: "The Productive Writer writes what she is called to write, pitches it intelligently and places it well, is paid fairly, makes a lasting and favorable impact with promotions and presentations, and lives an engaged, balanced, satisfying life." Sounds amazing doesn't it?
A handy chart helps the reader hone in on her "platform" and the "audience(s) she serves with her writing." Cohen says, "Platform is about becoming a recognizable expert." At first I thought Chapter 2 was too early in the book to be thinking "platform"—I try not to think about my market until I get to the editing stage. However, the title of the chapter, "Claiming Your North Star" is definitely something I can relate to as I let myself meander into a realization of myself as the expert of my own story.
I appreciate what Cohen has to say about desire, which "brings in the body, the soul, the spirit, and embraces the messy wonder of who we are." Desire is the "energy source" for the discipline that "keeps us moving toward our goals."
To get things done, Cohen advises using systems, and she has created many examples. Several downloadable worksheets and templates are available on her website.
As I read The Productive Writer at the beginning of a new year, I appreciated the categories Cohen included in "My Writing Goals this Year." I created my own chart to include her suggestions: writing, submitting/pitching/proposing, platform development, and community building/education/inspiration. I actually call my platform "the grandmother's way" as my expertise has a slow, in-its-own-time, contemplative pace. Recently I've started a time-tracking log as outlined by Cohen. I was curious about the big picture and how long it takes to do the work I'm doing, how much time I'm wasting (That one was a shocker!) and how much time I can actually assign to my writing practice.
The Productive Writer isn't a book I will be putting on my bookshelf; it will stay on my desk for regular reminders. I've already used so many of its suggestions for my own practice, and in circles where I share these ideas with other writers.
"Accomplish what matters to you," is among the many offerings of this book. And isn't that what the writing life is all about?
Sage Cohen, of Portland, Oregon, is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writer's Digest Books 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Visit her online community and learning laboratory, The Path of Possibility in Writing and Life.
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