Archive for November, 2009|Monthly archive page

Don’t Abuse the Slush Diggers

In Business of Writing, Craft on November 29, 2009 at 4:31 am

In the game of writing, we must either learn to laugh at ourselves, or it’ll be a non-stop sob-fest, right?

Which is why I love the rejectionist for (her?) refreshingly honest barbs about life as a slush pile digger:

“I wish I could say that my role as an intermediary between the humble masses and a publishing contract has taught me grace and compassion; instead, it’s taught me that the world is overrun with racist, lady-hating lunatics, hell-bent on inflicting their own horrific visions upon an unsuspecting populace. And yet, once in a very great while, I find a little island of magic in a sea of despair: that query so lovely, so perfect, so charmingly funny that I can almost picture its author, its sample pages peppered with a handful of flawless phrases that make me catch my breath in wonder and think, Yes, thank God, this one. This one. For that chance, I’ll keep reading. “

You don’t want to abuse the likes of her with your query, do you? I don’t like to toot my own horn, but I’m good at queries. Mine have worked at getting me agents, freelance assignments and a variety of other miscellany. I can help you with yours, too.

Contact me if you need such a service (Hint: select the “contact” button at top), or visit my website:

Arrest Me

In 1 on November 28, 2009 at 12:21 am

…by which I mean, stop me in my literary tracks, please, with an image so stark or jarring or perfectly built that I can’t help myself.

Like any good John Gardner fan, I want to be caught up in that seamless dream that fiction, or really any well built narrative creates. But I also like to stop and admire the posies in your prose. If you can plant a sturdy image that plugs me in the heart, or cuts scythe-like straight to my subconscious, or taps at some thematic echo in the story, I will remember your writing. I will covet it and want to read more.

There’s good writing, and then there’s good writing with fabulous images.

And I’m not just talking about pretty landscapes or interesting details about unique settings. I’m talking about images that conjure other things. That poke emotional holes in a reader. That grease the story with your theme, but only subtly.

If you can learn to write them well, your writing will stand like a burning bush amidst the shrubs of the rest.

If you’re interested in learning how to do this better, it’s not too late to sign up for Image Building, beginning November 30th. 1 week. $49. Intense and Fun.



In 1 on November 26, 2009 at 6:49 pm

I am grateful for many things today, not the least of which is for the malleability of the written word, its fearsome beauty and ability to connect us on so many levels.


Creative Deal Making

In 1 on November 18, 2009 at 9:18 pm

About 1 out of every 3 writers I know is doing NanoWriMo right now, which means a bunch of exhausted, exhilarated creative people everywhere I turn. But for those other 2 out of 3, maybe you’re having the opposite experience–not enough motivation. Not enough of a push. Sometimes when Fall hits, the urge to hibernate can overtake the urge to create.

So to help you “2 out of 3” out, or anyone who just wants to keep the energy alive, I’m offering an amazing special that you must take advantage of between today, November 18 and Sunday the 22nd: Register for any ONE of my December 1 week online intensive writing workshops (Image Building, Famous Firsts, and Method Writing at ) and I will give you the second one of your choice free. That’s right. No hidden fees. No fine print. No extra shipping.

OR: If you’d like to take the entire 3-week series, I will give it to you for just $100 (a savings of $47). That’s three 1 week classes for $100.

All you have to do is register  between now and Sunday!

You may also give these classes as a gift.

Looking forward to working with you!


‘Tis the season to write poetry

In 1 on November 16, 2009 at 5:28 pm

A conversation with Sage Cohen author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry

As the holidays approach in a down economy, Sage Cohen proposes that poetry can provide a meaningful way forward.  Cohen sees poetry not just as an art form, but a way of life. Following is our conversation about the possibilities of poetry today.

It’s the holiday season. Why poetry? Why now?

In today’s economy, many people are seeking alternatives the typical holiday spending frenzy. The good news about hard times is that they challenge us to find creative new ways to give, share and create meaning. Poetry can be a powerful instrument for conjuring such alchemies.

These days people have less cash than usual. How can poetry help?

Poetry can’t change our bank statements, but it can change the way we think about wealth and prosperity. In fact, it is my lifelong relationship with poetry that has taught me that income is one thing, but prosperity is frequently something else.

For example, a few years ago, I heard Mary Oliver speak. She reported that a critic of her poetry complained that she must be independently wealthy to have so much time to lie around in the grass and ponder nature. This made the poet laugh, because the critic was reporting in an underhanded and confused way about a truth that Oliver tapped into long ago: the act of lying in the grass and listening to the world IS wealth. The truth is, we don’t need to go anywhere special to tune in to poetry. Our lives are already inundated with sensory information that is the raw material of poems. All we need to do is slow down, pay attention and wwtlpcoverhighrite down what moves us, intrigues us or stirs our curiosity. This does not require an inheritance or a 401K. It simply requires a willingness to welcome the abundance that is already ours, and to follow the golden thread of language wherever it leads us. What poetry can give us is something far more valuable than money could ever buy – it gives us ourselves. Poem by poem, we write our souls into existence. Weighted in words, the spirit that animates us becomes palpable. By the same token, each poem we read offers a small window into the human condition, in which we may better recognize some glimmer of our own being. The world seems to be falling apart around us.

Why should we be focused on poetry when it can’t help change anything?

You’re right; poems may not stop the clubbing of baby seals, domestic violence, child trafficking, dog fighting, genocide, conflict in the Middle East or whatever it is that feels most difficult on any given day. But as the motorcyclist must lean into the turn to prevent a fall, poems become a kind of machinery of transport, giving us a context for leaning into the pain that we meet and safely navigating through it.

My father always said, “Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted.” And poems are the treasures that can be exhumed from those undesirable experiences.

Just think all of the great, poetic opportunities for understanding that lie coiled at the heart of every mistake, heartbreak, disappointment, and regret. What if you were to literally look to your poetry practice as a way of moving through what pierces you to the core? What injustices might it help you examine unflinchingly? What epicenter of pain or grief might it help you enter and consider? How might you relax into the universal truths of divorce, death, intolerance, and change, and make a poem offering that illumines these truths with compassion? How do you recommend that readers get started with their holiday poem-making?

I always remind people that their ordinary lives will offer more than enough source material for poetry. The following exercises are designed to get folks mining their own daily experience to see what inspired thoughts and language might be awaiting them below the surface.

1. Choose an activity you do regularly that is the absolutely most routinized, unremarkable event of your day. (Mine would be doing dishes.) Write down the answers to these questions about it:

• Notice the physical feeling of this routine. Which muscles are involved? What kind of rhythm or tempo does it involve? Are you cold or hot, energized or depleted?

• How do you feel emotionally when you do this?

• What are the smells associated with this activity? (I use lavender soap, so my sink smells like a French garden.)

• What do you see when engaged in this routine? (I look out at the butterfly bush and magnolia tree in my back yard. I enjoy watching meals erased from plates and glasses.)

• Pay close attention to your thinking. What images and ideas bubble up as you are doing this activity?

• How does the time of day or weather or location (indoors vs. outdoors, your home vs. someone else’s home, summer breeze or snowfall) affect your experience?

2. What wildlife, plants and trees do you see out your window at home, at work, or en route? What do they look like, feel like, sound like? What are their names? What are the visual cues and references in your home and/or workspace?

• Make a list of the 20 things you come into contact with most.

• Write down something else in the world that each of these 20 things remind you of. For example, The red teapot reminds me of the robin red breast. The worn wood of the mirror over the sink reminds me of the door to Grandpa’s barn. The curlicue pattern on the silver platter makes me think of storm clouds.

3. Think of someone you see regularly in passing but do not know well, like your mail carrier, barista or neighbor. Write a poem that imagines what their life might be like:

• Who do they love? • What have they lost?

• What do their pajamas look like? • What are their aspirations?

• What do they eat for breakfast?

4. Explore your holiday archives:

• What was your biggest holiday surprise?

• What holiday is most meaningful to you and why?

• Who do you yearn to see during the holidays?

• How has Santa (if you have a relationship with Santa) satisfied you and let you down over the years?

• What is the most embarrassing thing that ever happened around the dinner table with your family at holiday time?

• What outfit comes to mind when you think back on past holiday celebrations? This should give you a foundation of source material to start playing with. Circle a few words or phrases that interest you, and let those be the kindling for your poetic fire.

Don’t know where to go next? Freewriting can be a useful way to take your ideas and language a little further into the realm of the poetic. Set your timer for 10 minutes, sit down with your notebook, and keep that hand moving across the page, no matter what, without stopping, for the entire 10 minutes. You’re not trying to be brilliant here – just to get loose and let words start coming without thinking too hard. The more you practice, the looser you’ll get. And the looser you get, the more your language will surprise and delight you.

I’d like to send readers off with a thought about poetry and holiday cheer Egg nog, move over. Rudolph, there’s a brighter light guiding our sleigh tonight. I’ve never experienced any holiday cheer that rivals the state of grace that poetry invites into our lives. That is why I often give poems I’ve written as holiday gifts. I print them on pretty paper, place them in an attractive frame and presto – the most treasured holiday gifts I’ve ever given only cost me the time I spent creating them. Try it! You just might get hooked. Wishing you all a peaceful and poetic holiday season.

* * * * *

Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry (Writers Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World (Queen of Wands Press, 2007). An award-winning poet, she writes four monthly columns about the craft and business of writing and serves as Poetry Editor for VoiceCatcher 4. Sage has won first prize in the Ghost Road Press poetry contest, been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and been awarded a Soapstone residency. She curates a monthly reading series at Barnes & Noble and teaches the online class Poetry for the People. To learn more, visit Drop by and join in the conversation about living and writing a poetic life at !

Not My Own Words

In 1 on November 14, 2009 at 5:00 pm

I thought I’d lead you into the weekend with some great quotes by others. Have any favorites of your own to add?

“The only thing worse than an expert is someone who thinks he’s an expert.”–Aly. A. Colon (does that name sound suspicious to anyone else?)

“Look out how you use proud words. When you let proud words go, it is not easy to call them back.”–Carl Sandburg, Slabs of the Sunburnt West

“There is nothing stronger in the world than gentleness.” Han Suyin, A Many-Splendored Thing

Let the Page Hold Your Weight

In Classes, Craft on November 11, 2009 at 5:56 pm

crinkly paperIt’s been a trying time lately. Sad, difficult and unexpected events have happened to people all around me, close friends and family members. I feel like I’ve been sitting inside a thin tent in a Saharan windstorm–protected, but barely. Eventually, the silt gets in, even if it isn’t yours.

On my low days, I take it into my very cells and feel heavy with it. Stay in a bad mood. Snap at my son and husband.

On good days, I channel it into writing. It just so happens that the protagonist of my novel and her best friend/co-protagonist have to get into some seriously screwed up situations, too. And on a regular old sunny day with blue sky flaunting herself out my window, it’s hard to get into writing about these emotional tangles. 

So these difficult days, days like today, when the funk is thick and the mood is blue–I can go there into the sorrow, the conflict and the muck. I can shed my pain in my pages, let my characters wear it instead of me.


If you want to learn more about this, I’m teaching a 1 week online class called “Method Writing” the week of December 14th. Just $49, or, if you want to sign up for the three week series, it’s $129 for all three.


Marrying the Muse

In Craft, Musings on November 8, 2009 at 10:58 pm

Guest Post by Eros-Alegra ClarkeEros-Alegra Clarke

Seven years ago, when my husband and I announced our engagement, we were counseled by an older couple to develop a habit of ‘couch time’ for our relationship; a time each day where we sat and talked. We laughed and nodded and said, “Yes, of course.” The couple, who had three children said, “No, really, we’re serious.” Now that we have our own two kids and a third one on the way, we understand. We know how seductive exhaustion can be, how easy it is to turn on the television and tune out. It is tempting to believe that our marriage is self-maintaining, that it will continue to write itself the way we want it to.

I have come to believe that crafting a novel requires the same sort of commitment to couch time as a marriage does. It is a different type of relationship maintenance than that required by short stories. Working on a short story is a brief and passionate affair. The short story muse can knock on my window in the middle of the night and whisper, “Let’s go walking beneath the stars.” And I follow that flash of brilliance and let it unfold because it will only last so long. Sleep can be caught up on; small issues can be obsessed over; spontaneity held in high regard because at the end of our time together, we can retreat to our separate lives. The revision happens without children in the background jumping on the furniture. I can focus on the scene at hand, perfecting it without worrying about how the choices I have made will show up 10 or 20 scenes into the story ahead. A short story is like taking care of someone else’s child for a few days. I can be full of patience. I wonder and delight in the child’s mischief. I can buy some quiet time by feeding them cookies after midnight without worrying I have just turned the cute little Gizmos into Gremlins.

A novel, from the first chapter, is a marriage with children and a mortgage. It requires the balancing act of being in the inspiration of the moment while tending to all of the daily responsibilities. I have to make sure the characters, like my children, are fed, bathed, happy, played with, growing well, learning the lessons they should be learning. I get up in the middle of the night when one of them cries. I make sure the plot is a solid home for them to live in. I pay the bills, keep the car running, clean the toilets, do the laundry, and agonize about important decisions for the future. And at some point each day, I need to sit with the story and talk. I dig out the issues. I listen carefully. I edit what no longer belongs. I try to be honest. I have to let everything else go and tune into the heart of the relationship.

The work is intense, but as is often said about parenthood, “It is the hardest thing I’ve ever done but it is also the most rewarding.”  I love the intimacy of working on a novel. Looking back over the rough drafts is like tracing the developing lines in my husband’s face. They are a roadmap of the life we have chosen together. The daily hard work, even when I am complaining every step of the way, is a testimony of how deeply I love the world I am creating.


Eros-Alegra Clarke is currently writing her first novel under the mentorship of her agent. In the meantime, she has been slowly building publications including a story “Naming Shadows” in the literary journal Bitter Oleander. A wife, mother of two (with a third on the way), and graduate student, Alegra contributes to Maria Schneider’s website Editor Unleashed for writers: and can be found blogging about life, writing, and everything in between at: .


Making Time

In 1 on November 2, 2009 at 4:02 pm

make timeI’m a mother with only 15 hours of daycare a week (and a little bit more if you count the time that his father takes him over the weekend). A self-employed freelance writer, editor and teacher, and novelist too.

Before my son was born, before home ownership, I marvel at how much I got done: I worked nearly full time, enrolled in a low-residency MFA program (yeah, I graduated too), wrote fiction in the morning before work, produced a bi-monthly radio show, a weekly evening reading salon, and freelance wrote on the side. I know, what side, right?

But there was a side–I socialized and spent time with my husband and saw my family.

Did I mention I’m a little Type A?

So right now I’ve got a fever to be doing NanoWriMo…I want it so badly I could have a little tantrum, but I hate to set myself up for failure. When I don’t finish something, it really, really irks me. And I’ve got plenty of unfinished material crowding up my desktops–literal and virtual–already.

But there’s no reason I can’t try to write 1000 words during my son’s naps (rather than relaxing) this month. I don’t need to write 50,000–I’ve already got 60K written (though there will be a lot of paring eventually).

I can still ride this wave in my own way and so can other Type As with not enough time to go whole  hog. There’s never a good excuse for not writing.