Archive for the ‘Business of Writing’ Category

Sage Cohen Uses Both Sides of Her Brain: So Can You

In Business of Writing, Craft, Interviews, Profiles on January 17, 2011 at 7:40 pm

 Sage Cohen first slipped quietly onto my radar via Christina Katz, (whom many of you know as Writer Mama). I quickly friended Sage on Facebook and watched in awe at her productivity and grace, all the while becoming a new mother. She continues to inspire me with the publication of her third book: The Productive Writer, which speaks to both the artist and the business person in every writer. Join me for a Q and A with her now about learning to place as much importance on process vs. results, using both sides of your brain, structuring your time wisely, and much more.

JR: What inspired you to write/create The Productive Writer?

 SC: My first book, Writing the Life Poetic, was published by Writer’s Digest Books. When I learned that another editor at WDB wanted to publish a book focused on organization for writers, I pitched it and they bought it. As we got under way, the topic fanned out a bit and morphed from “organization” to “productivity.” It’s been a really fun and relevant topic for me, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to share my ideas with readers.

JR: One of the things I love best about your book is that it couples strong work ethics with what you might call more “artist-friendly” concepts like building a writer’s “blueprint” and “embracing fear.”  How does this blend of right and left brain help writers be more productive?

SC: In my experience, the best strategies and tools are not effective when layered on top of the shaky foundation of bad habits and attitudes. So, my goal is to help people create the writing lives they want by first understanding who they are, how they think and work and vision and plan best, and then engaging these strengths to get the results they want.

 I invite readers to answer questions such as: What motivates me? What do I most want to accomplish? How much time do I have and how do I intend to use it? What do I want to produce? How do I define productivity in my writing life? What did I just do that worked, and what strategies do I want to reinvent?

 Once the reader has a clear picture of her own writing goals and work style, she can choose and use the tools and techniques that are best suited to her. I also offer a range of strategies for identifying and managing resistance along the way—such that even procrastination and fear can be channeled productively.

 JR: In Chapter 16 you discuss the importance of not always relying on external validation. What are some first steps a writer can take to start validating herself even in the face of rejection or not yet achieving publishing goals?

 SC: I think the absolute most important thing is to stay focused on and committed to your love for your work. If you’re writing because you have to—because you’re called to—then what So-And-So thinks about your final product is going to be far less relevant than that YES feeling you get when you’re engaged with your craft. This clarity of commitment is a safe harbor a writer can always return to.

 The other choice a writer can make again and again throughout his career is to focus on and appreciate her process, rather than her results. For instance, if I’m striving to have poems published in a certain publication, when I drop that envelope in the mail, I celebrate the fact that I got three poems written and polished, sealed, and sent according to specs and in time for the deadline. In short, I appreciate myself for doing everything I could to move toward that goal. The rest is out of my hands.

 Along these lines of process (versus results) thinking, I look at every rejection not as an end point of failure but an opportunity to try something new that might work better. And I invite readers to do the same, because there’s always a seed of opportunity in every so-called “failure.” In chapter 20, I share “My Writing Success Log” that’s designed to help writers track what’s working, what could work better, and what they intend for the future. Having a written record of your determination to succeed is a powerful way to stay motivated and grateful for all of your hard work.

 JR: You say in Ch. 6 “Consciousness is the first step toward change.” Tell us how this applies to writing.

 When we know what we’re doing well––or poorly––we then have an opportunity to either repeat what’s working or start experimenting with alternatives to attitudes or behaviors that are not accomplishing what we had hoped.

 For example, let’s say a writer starts using the daily time log that I recommend for a few weeks. He discovers that it typically takes him about an hour to write 1,000 words of rough-draft fiction. He sees also that he spends at least three hours a week on Facebook. He is surprised to see both how much time he was wasting online and how quickly he was able to get words down on the page. He decides to cut his time online down to one hour/week and commit to writing 2,000 more words every week. He continues to track his time and his results, fine-tuning his process and goals from there. 

 JR: I think your publishing story is a very inspiring one, as you are a poet first, and it might not seem intuitive that you would go on to publish writing books…was it a surprise to you as well?

 SC: You bring up a very interesting issue of identity here. It is true that I have identified as a poet first and foremost, and then as a writer of other genres later. Yet, fiction and essays, strategic content and thesis-driven papers have all shaped who I am as a writer. My major in college was comparative literature, and I have been writing marketing communications and advertising content professionally my entire adult life. 

In a way, the unfolding of each of my identities as a writer has been surprising––because writing has always been so intimately entwined with whom I am. Realizing that I was “a poet” in my early 20’s nearly knocked me off of my chair. And each succeeding revelation about the various writing realms I have named and claimed has been equally stunning.

I always expected that I would write books, but didn’t have a clear picture of the trajectory for doing so. In the movie The Secret, Jack Canfield explains that he drove in the dark all the way from California to New York, seeing with his headlights only 200 feet ahead of him at a time. This is how it was for me in arriving at the doorstep of authoring books. I got clear about my destination, took small and consistent steps in that direction, and was surprised to find myself clear across the country in no time at all.

 JR: Tell us something that you learned in the writing of this book that was unexpected…or anything else you’d like to say that I haven’t asked.

 SC: I learned that it isn’t necessarily any easier to write a second book than it is to write the first! For me, it was like first training a Labrador retriever and thinking, “I have the hang of this master-of-the-pack attitude.” Then you get a German shepherd puppy, and you find that none of your training accomplishments translate to this new relationship. Instead, you have to start at ground zero to adapt yourself to this dog’s herding instincts, hair-trigger fear of just about everything and hard-coding to chase cats and squirrels. I was reminded that in any writing project, we are always a beginner finding our way in new terrain, no matter how many days or years or decades we have been sitting down to the blank page.


About Sage Cohen

Sage Cohen is the author of The Productive Writer (just released from Writer’s Digest Books); Writing the Life Poetic and the poetry collection 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 Writer. 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.

Milk & Ink Anthology Benefit

In Business of Writing, General, Mothers and Writing on November 4, 2010 at 11:49 pm

Milk and Ink is here now, if you didn’t know already! This anthology of stories, essays and poems by writing mothers celebrates the intensity of being both mother and writer. It also will inspire all to recognize the power of living true to your passions and life purpose.

Milk & Ink focuses on the experience of motherhood, but it also speaks to everyone: fathers, daughters, and sons. This anthology, not only in its stories, but in its creation and promotion, seeks to acknowledge the need we have for one another.

Most important, though, proceeds of the project will be donated to Mama Hope, which supports women and children in Africa in a variety of projects.
To purchase copies you may visit one of the following links:


In Business of Writing, Musings on September 15, 2010 at 10:06 pm

In my mind I keep seeing this image: a tough, wiry dog hanging several feet off the ground by a rope that it holds clutched between its teeth. It carries its own body weight. It wiggles in circles, hanging on by the power of its jaw. What does it want? What is its goal? To win, to pull down the rope and the tree it hangs from with sheer insistence? I don’t know, but after the image the word “dogged,”  pops into my mind, particularly the definition that means tenacious, persistent. For lately I have been thinking I am nothing if not dogged. And that to be dogged is both a virtue and a vice, depending on when and where. (The other meaning, is of course, stubborn)

I have been dogged in creating a career from the ground up, one that involves a piecemeal and patchwork process of seeking out sources and pitching dreams to the future, that requires a kind of juggling that, at times, feels like flaming swords rather than writing, teaching and editing. I always tell those who’ve asked advice that the only secret I know to any kind of success is to throw yourself at your goal, and once you are even remotely near it, to hang on and be a rabid creature of persistence.

But I am also dogged in pursuit of people, of ideas for novels. I’ve lived in a “new” town for four years now, but for some reason I feel as though I only just arrived. Maybe this is partly a waking up process that comes with my son suddenly not being a baby who needs me at every turn anymore. But it may just as well be that I have caught the scent of life lived with all of the other roles that come besides mother. A foreign, intoxicating scent of things done at night of literary or cultural merit. Things that inflate me with the same vigor as reading books with a flashlight in my bed did as a child.

And now that I have no college campus or workplace to facilitate an easy way to meet other people I’ve become a bloodhound of likeminded souls. And once I lock on, it’s very difficult to free me. Like that dog hanging from his rope I am determined to get to know some new people, and in the process I know that I must come off like a big, goofy mutt who knocks you over upon first meeting and then rudely sniffs your pants.

But better that than the one that stands growling behind a fence and never comes out, never brushes up against the things he wants.

I Discovered the Internet

In Business of Writing, Musings on July 22, 2010 at 3:55 pm

There are days where I feel like I am the last person to the party. By the time I joined Myspace, everyone had moved on to Facebook. By the time I joined Facebook, well, thankfully everyone was still there, but they were also tweeting. And I was like, “hey, there’s this really cool place where you can connect with old high school friends called…”

No, seriously…The point of today’s post is to express my awe and gratitude for what the internet has done for me and my writing, even if I am the last person to realize it.

I don’t think we can hold up the “technology isolates people” banner for too much longer at this rate. It may change how we interact, but it’s made me feel more connected and more supported than I ever felt before it. I was always lucky to have a wonderful community of writing friends. Now I have one that is several hundred people large. And what amazes me, on a daily basis, is how generous and willing people are to support each other. I’ve met lifelong friends this way, some of my best critique partners, and writers whose work I admire.

So this is just me saying, WOW, this is cool. Thank you. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, take my classes, hire me to edit your work, support my literary endeavors, spread word of mouth via one of a gazillion social networks, email me to tell me you read my books, share your stories, or just generally become my friend.

Thank you.

To Convince you…

In Business of Writing, Classes, Publishing on July 21, 2010 at 4:29 pm

Next week, July 30, is the last date to get the early registration discount of $30 for my class, Revise for Publication, which begins August 16th for 6 weeks. In case you’re uncertain about this class, here are some recent testimonials:

“I was so overwhelmed I contemplating throwing all 400 pages [of my novel] into a locked trunk and burying the key. REVISE FOR PUBLICATION is Jordan Rosenfeld’s answer — and my salvation…. Jordan’s “Story Matrix” tool beats index cards, storyboarding, complex excel tables, and other methods I’ve used to keep my story, characters, and timelines straight, and was what made me recognize all the holes in my story — and how to plug them in. Best of all, Jordan provides real and honest feedback on the weekly assignments — no sugar-coating from her. If you have a heap of words waiting for better than a spit-shine polish, take Jordan’s REVISE FOR PUBLICATION course. I ended up with a vastly improved novel and an indispensible set of writing tools to apply to every story I write.”
–Linda Wastila-Simoni

“I highly recommend Revise for Publication for writers of any level who want to refine their work. The course lessons and individualized feedback helped me identify areas of improvement within my manuscript, challenged my writing skills, and encouraged me to think outside the box. Jordan Rosenfeld’s editorial advice is honest, constructive and insightful–and she makes the editing process FUN! Revise for Publication has helped transform my manuscript and I’m certain I will continue to use the tools I’ve learned in this course throughout my writing career.”
–Jeanette Marie (

My Friday Four

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Musings, Publishing on July 9, 2010 at 4:58 pm

I like this whole week in review concept. I’m often late to pick up on a strategy, so no surprise here. With half  of my face numb from the dentist (Dr. Root Canal), here are my thoughts and insights about writing and reading, et al from the week:

1. I am embracing the digital reading revolution with more gusto, have reconnected with my kindle for those “gotta have ’em now” books, while at the same time I bought three print books from my local independent bookseller, two of them BIG, meaning I spent over $14 on them (Tana French’s The Likeness, Mr three-first-names’ Shantaram, and and I’ve pre-paid for French’s new hardcover Faithful Place which goes on sale next week). I want the privelege of doing both forever. If for no other reason that there is no replacement in the digital form for children’s books. Kids are tactile–want to feel, heck, even eat, the pages of good books. You just can’t chew on an ipad with the same delight. For the same reason I want my son to experience nature rather than see it on TV, I want him to hold real books in his hands. I want him to experience reality.

2. Storytelling IS the story. To ME, as both a writer and a teacher of writing, I will never be satisfied by a book that takes shortcuts to telling its story. I hold myself to the same high standard I do my students and clients, and when I read a masterful book, I thank the author for caring so much about me, the unknown reader. I do not deny anyone their entertainment–I watch trashy shows, I read People magazine, for goodness sake–but I have no shame about demanding excellence in my reading.

3. Despite all my snobbery, it occurred to me this week that the need to create exists in all of us and it is a magnificent impulse that should be foster. And for some of us that means writing a story with a lot of pimples, no matter the outcome. The need to create is beautiful, it helps us be better people and we should all tend to it in our lives no matter the form it takes. Therefore, I have greater appreciation for even the roughest of drafts that may fall upon my desk from that standpoint.

4. Finally, the most significant insight of my week is that every writer needs to find that loyal and perfect cache of readers who know how to give constructive criticism in a way that doesn’t make you want to slit your throat. I’m lucky to have a solid little core of these people. They don’t coddle me or pretend my work is perfect, but they get my work, and they help me make it better. Big smooches to you folks: you know who you are.


A dangerous book for writers

In Business of Writing, Craft, Musings on July 6, 2010 at 4:04 pm

When it comes to books I can be a total snob. It took me years to realize that the NYT bestseller list often contained books that really are worth every bit of hype. I rejected my small-minded notion that if “the masses” loved something it must be dumbed down. (I said snob, right?)

But every once in awhile a book hits that list that makes the writing teacher in me quake in fear. These books have a compelling story buried beneath pages of dull exposition, obvious plot devices and cliched dialogue (Cough*The Da Vinci Code* Cough). They break all the rules and not necessarily in a good way. For whatever reason, in these cases, the story is so compelling to readers that they put aside their need for good storytelling, fumble and hack their way through vine-like prose, and cling to those few good bits.

I don’t really understand it. A story is only as good as its storytelling, to me. The craft of the story IS the story. If the writing doesn’t open its lovely fingers enough to let me fall into the dream, then I won’t find it.

The dangerous book  TO WRITERS (let me make that clear!) right now–or rather, a series of them–begins with Stiegg Larson’s Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. Three times I have tried to get to the end of this book and still, I can’t do it. Because books like Tana French’s The Likeness, full of immacuately built characters with living, breathing plot-lines and intelligent, well-described conflicts offer themselves to me.

Now let me be clear: I think these books are dangerous for aspiring writers, not readers. A reader may find pleasure in anything. When I don’t have my writing cap on, I can read some pretty pulpy stuff for the sheer joy of following a certain character, or even just escape.

But a client’s book has landed in my lap for editing services that follows such a similar style to GWTDT, that I can already hear the author’s defense in advance: But THAT book made it to the NYT bestseller list. Why should I listen to you?

Why? And the truth is, that’s an individual question, but for me it comes down to pride. I believe in working as hard as is necessary to shape your work, to honor the pact between writer and reader that says: I do this, I sweat and I bleed and I go into deep dark places inside myself to find the right story and tell it to you in the right way so that you will care as much about these people, their world and their story, as I do.

Ignore the “don’ts” and “can’ts”

In Business of Writing, Craft, General, Interviews, Profiles, Musings on June 22, 2010 at 9:29 pm

When I was still pregnant with my now two-year-old son, Writer’s Digest (my publisher of Make a Scene) interviewed me at their website. And while I don’t normally make a habit of quoting myself, I have to say: I have some really good advice, that the me-of-now nodded along to. My life has changed so dramatically since my son’s birth, but pretty much everything I said here, rings true:

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

In short, “be persistent,” which actually means to me: FIRST worry about the writing (and explore it, delve into it, try a lot of things on and get excellent feedback). Work with great passion and be committed to gaining a thorough understanding of your particular form (or forms). THEN, be persistent in the face of rejection and adversity and trust the impulse that led you to create.

But, what has equally contributed to my success is a determined effort to block out all the negative noise and discouragement that abounds on the road to publication. I am a life-long practitioner of leaping first and looking later. I highly doubt I would have ever published a book if I had, for instance, paid attention to the statistics about how many writers are seeking publication (a mind-numbing number), or pursued my MFA because I thought it would make me great contacts. I have always pressed ahead towards what I was compelled to write, and only then has success followed.

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

The writing should be your priority. Make the writing as good as it can be before you dip your toes in the whirlpool of publishing. Don’t take your tender, barely finished manuscript to a conference (or send a first draft of anything anywhere!) and let yourself get discouraged or beat up by the first (or sixth) word of rejection. Don’t get sucked into the lust for publication before you’ve given everything to the work. Because you might just need another draft—but rejection could make you believe you should give up right then. (Do, however, seek critical feedback when you’re ready).

For example, a client of mine attended a conference where she was able to pitch many agents at once. They all asked for samples. Problem was, her pitch was better than her manuscript because she’d only written a first draft! The rejections that followed caused her great despair until she realized she’d just done things out of order.

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

I think the biggest mistake that anyone in any of these categories can make is what I’ve just said above, to throw yourself to the wolves unprepared, and to assume that there is any such thing as an “overnight success.” Successful freelancers train ourselves to thoroughly study the publications we’re pitching before we spend that valuable time writing a pitch, and sometimes we even have to do extensive research before we have an assignment! Non-fiction book authors survey the marketplace to be sure that the book they want to write hasn’t already been done a thousand times, before they  build a gorgeous, winning book proposal. And successful fiction writers understand the demands of the form—they get very good at it, they practice and read and get feedback and read a whole lot more. Most importantly in all of these categories, successful writers succeed because they commit to learning the highest standards of the form and then applying themselves to it.

I’m often amazed how little research a new writer puts into finding out how the industry works. There is nothing you can’t find with a simple internet search. New writers need to empower themselves to get informed.

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

Other writers, both as friends and critique partners, and for the books they write. I recommend this too, because it’s not wise to rely on our spouses or family members or non-writing friends (though sometimes any of those people might have a very savvy eye). As for other writers-as-authors, they teach me and entertain me. I read voraciously and widely (some might even say indiscriminately)and am always learning something about my own craft as I go.

What does a typical day look like for you?

Despite the fact that I left a “day job” more than three years ago to work for myself as a freelance writer, I still rise as early as possible and end up sitting at a desk most of the day. The desk just happens to be in my home, and nobody notices if I’m late, but for anyone who doubts my work ethic, I’m butt-in-chair all day every day.

I do a lot of editing (of others’ manuscripts) and article writing. But I learned a long time ago that if I want to write fiction, I must do it first before anything else. So I either start with fiction, or if I’m not writing fiction at the time, I make myself do a “journal dump”—to get all the myriad anxieties I normally carry with me off my mind—then move on to whichever project is highest on my priority list, and then the second highest (I tend to work on 2-3 projects at a time). I do have the luxury of taking breaks—to eat, visit with friends, etc—and yet I probably take fewer breaks as a self-employed person than I did when working in a workplace because my home office is an environment completely in my control (except for the neighbor’s propensity to play incredibly loud Opera).

Though all of this is about to change in some unimaginable way I’m sure, as I’m expecting my first child.

If you could change one thing about publishing, what would it be?

Smaller advances, higher marketing budgets for authors, which might then make it possible for more really good books to be bought as well as properly marketed.

But what I hear from my clients is that they wish agents and editors were not so inundated so they could get feedback on why their work was rejected.

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

In every way. I decided I was ready to freelance full time nearly 4 years ago, and started stockpiling my on-the-side freelance income until I had a six months “net.” Then I leapt, terrifying as that was. My most significant successes have all come about in that time—I’ve published two books, built a steady income writing articles and editing manuscripts, and been able to do more teaching. Since my book Make a Scene was published, I’ve had the opportunity to present at conferences and to various writing groups and have gained more clients. Quitting that last job was the best thing I ever did (though in all fairness, I am married to a man with a very stable job!)

Do you have any advice for new writers on fostering a strong author/editor relationship?

It’s easy to assume that since an editor likes your work, they’re instantly your “friend.” It’s wise to treat these relationships as professional vs. friendly (which is not to say be mean or terse!) because your editor undoubtedly has many other clients and it’s to both your advantage to keep your contact as professional and to the point as possible.

On the other hand, I will say that when it’s clear an editor likes your work and is open to working with you further, try to maintain that relationship by pitching new ideas as frequently as the publication or publisher allows.

What do you see as your biggest publishing accomplishment?

Taking my writing seriously enough to make a career out of it. I’ve had many, many jobs that run the gamut from vitamin buyer to spa director, and every time I stifled the writer in me, I grew miserable (ask my husband). I learned quickly that you don’t have to quit a good job to write—there is absolutely enough time to do it if you make it a priority. You can’t be published if you don’t write.

Any final thoughts?

I’ve always been someone who ignored the “don’ts” and “can’ts” that are slung at you in this industry. This doesn’t come from some defiant streak in me, but from a place of deep curiosity. I have to find out for myself if I can or can’t. And in doing so, I’ve found out more times than not that don’t and can’t are expressions of other people’s fears or anxieties. If you think you can and you put your energy into doing whatever that is the right way (with enthusiasm and purpose), you most likely WILL.

When should characters think, act or speak?

In Business of Writing, Classes, Craft, Musings on June 22, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Lately, rather than imposing an order on my blog posts, I’m simply blogging about the issues that come up for students and clients.

When writers struggle with a scene, I’m finding the most common reason is that they don’t know how to balance the elements. And by “elements,” more often than setting and sensory details, I find it comes down to this:

When should my character think, speak, or act?

The best scenes have a little bit of all three.

In every scene, a character should set out with an intention that is thwarted or met with conflict (and sometimes achieved).

Dialogue and action are the best ways to convey most things: plot info, character personality, as well as character’s feelings and opinions.

But: When there is something your character can’t/won’t say, that can’t be acted out (unless s/he is a mime!), thought (interior dialogue/internal reflection/contemplation) is required.

And remember to SAVE dialogue for hot topics–the kinds of conversations you’d like to eavesdrop on; for tense and conflictual exchanges; for subtle but necessary plot details.

As for action–it runs from the smallest physical tic to the biggest global catastrophes. Action creates a sense of “real time”–which is crucial to bringing people into your world.

When you’re trying to find the balance in a scene, start by asking: Should my characters: think/act/or speak more or less here? And what would be the most active way to demonstrate my scene goals? (Hint: internal reflection is not the most active).

If you’d like to learn more strategies, I’m teaching Revise for Publication, 6 weeks, beginning August 16. .

When is Done, Done?

In Business of Writing, Craft on May 17, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I’m an editor; I should be able to tell you when something is done, right? But admit it, you find things in published books you would change, sentences you want to tweak, character notes you’d like to flesh out. As I make my way through my revision, I’ve stopped numbering my drafts, because it’s become a process of such constant change that there is no single, complete pass through. It’s more like a dance number. The hokey-pokey. I put my right foot in and put my right foot out…and, well, you know how the song goes.

Most of the time when a client comes to me I say, “No, you’re not done. You have (at least) another draft in you. There isn’t a book out there that can’t stand another pass, if only for pesky adverbs or streamlining of sentences.

So yes, I’m with the masses: I want to call my finished book “done.” I want to send it off into the world. But I recommend, before you do the same, that you give it one more pass.

And if you want to take my 6 week class, Revise for Publication, beginning June 7-July 16 ($169), I’ll extend the early registration discount through the 31st of this month. Register at: