jordanrosenfeld

Posts Tagged ‘writing’

Un-Doing Days

In Classes, Craft, General, Musings on July 12, 2011 at 4:54 am

It wasn’t long ago that I purposely set my alarm clock for5:30 a.m.every morning, slipped out of bed before the sun rose, and sank my toes into the slightly scratchy carpet of our then-apartment with a cup of coffee and readiness to write. The darkness, the slither of silence, the burnt chicory smell of good java—these things were my company as I took special time for myself before my “real work” several hours into daylight later.

Those were my “doing days” as I’m thinking of them now. I wrote so early because once my colleagues and clients awoke there’d be emails to exchange and the mounting pressure of “must-get-it-all-done” riding hard on my spine. In my doing days I was so proud of how much I did—writing freelance articles, a book, a novel, editing manuscripts, recording book reviews–in such quantities that I’d sometimes look at my “to-do” board with a feeling of terror, wonder at how I would get it all done, and if working for myself was folly or fortune. The higher and tighter my shoulders by the end of the day, the greater the sign that I’d somehow measured up, that I was capable of carrying a load so heavy without fail.

Once I became pregnant I was amused and annoyed by the most ethereal sense of distraction that came over me—my mind flitted wherever it pleased and could barely be reined in, a flying creature with barely any mass. I was tired, so so tired all the time, and could not roll out of bed so early, and if I did, I’d sit staring at the blank page wondering what I thought I had to say. At the time it was infuriating, but now I look back and see my body beginning to help me make a shift that would change the shape of my days forever. For a spacy mind was the least of the changes having my son would bring.

 Three years into my son’s life, the map of my working life looks like a seismograph. From doing almost nothing for the first three months of his life, to rallying back around to writing a novel in his nap hours, to putting him in nearly-full time daycare only to feel the familiar pains of a body that is doing too much…I have begun to circle around to this new place and time. These are un-doing days.

Today, I sat at the top of a man-made rainforest, where blue butterflies the size of my palm circulated with what looked like a brash certainty in their freedom. If I stood still long enough, they skimmed the top of my head, grazed a cheek, teased my eyelashes. The heat of the building, the chatter of tourists–none of it bothered me. I was completely enchanted by their flight. I realized, I could sit here for hours and do nothing but watch them fly. And in that seemed the crux of the lesson I am beginning to learn, and which I hope my readers will take to heart too: there is value in stillness, in rest, in observation.

I am undoing old habits of working too hard and too long. I am taking more time off, and spending more moments relishing my son’s short-lived youth. There are fewer achievements, shiny and hot with effort, to hold up on a platter over my head, and yet, there are deeper seams to tap now, both creatively and in my work, roads that I have refused to take out of fear of letting go, stopping.

And how does this play out here? Everything is going to change now. You’ll see a new website very soon, with this blog integrated in it.  I’m going to be teaching more–stay tuned for some new twists on my classes that will allow for more interaction–and doing less of other things. In a nutshell, my new goal and direction is to write, and to thus bring to all of you the lessons and experimentation and thoughts on craft that I, myself, am continually integrating into my own work.

 Come, un-do with me.

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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 pathofpossibility.com, 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.

Giving Yourself Purpose

In Musings on August 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm

Some days I wake up, log on and feel instantly overwhelmed at all the information that comes streaming in to me. The future of the publishing world rises and falls before I’ve had my morning black tea (alas, coffee and I had to break up after it continued sending acid shivers into my stomach). All the lean and telling snippets of my friends lives flash at me from Facebook, making me want to pick up the phone 600 times, and the news of deaths and disasters tries to shoulder in beneath it all.

These mornings are the ones where I slip away from my computer (when I can), take my notebook to the cafe, or go to exercise class where I am in contact with both my body and my imagination (I get lots of good ideas in zumba class). And because I’ve had the kind of week where–finally–I can take a break from a schedule that has been murdering me slowly, I’ve had a lot more time to do just that.

It’s led me back to a very important idea. A reminder. That there are dreams, goals, and jobs we all have to do, and then there is also purpose. You know that feeling you get when you are doing something that feels aligned with your highest self? It makes you feel proud, connected, involved, passionate, stimulated, and so on. I want a lot of things that other working writers I know also want: to have a fantastic publishing career; to have a dedicated and loyal audience; to get to spend most of my time composing the fiction that thrills me. But above all of that I want to feel that vivid pulse of purpose in my life.

But, strangely, what makes me feel purposeful, I’m discovering, is actually something different.

What makes me feel purposeful is connecting with other writers–talking about books, helping others to find publishing avenues, walking with people into the heart of their dreams. That is to say, so long as I am engaging with the real world of writers at the same time as I’m pursuing all my personal writing goals, I feel purposeful. And you know what? That purpose carries me over the painful hump of rejection, fear, doubt and all the other crippling feelings of pursuing a craft with an uncertain outcome. 

What makes you feel purposeful? And how can you give it to yourself so as to ride out the otherwise potentially crippling storms of being a writer in a very strange time?