Productivity Expert Sage Cohen

- by Dara Girard

Tell us a little about yourself.

My laugh is so loud that I have been asked to leave restaurants (yes, more than once) for irritating the other patrons with my hilarity. I am the author of three books: Writing the Life Poetic and The Productive Writer, both from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. My muse menagerie includes three cats, two dogs, one toddler and his imaginary friend named Locker, who lives under the sea.

Why did you decide to write The Productive Writer?

I wanted to empower writers of every stripe to transform possibilities into probabilities in their writing lives.

What common bad habits do you see get in the way of productivity?

Oh, gosh. You name it! Everyone has their own, unique rituals for creating interference for themselves. But I do think that more often than not, if any bad habit is examined closely, you will find fear at the root. Procrastination, perfectionism, social media interference and every other stripe of activity that is not moving us toward our goals is likely to be anchored in some old story about what we don’t know, can’t do, shouldn’t try or can’t have. This is why I’ve dedicated an entire chapter to working with fear in The Productive Writer. And, I also have an article about harnessing fear to fuel your writing coming out soon in the Big Ten issue of Writer’s Digest Magazine. As I have worked with my own fear over the years and taught writers to face theirs, I have come to believe that if we have a working relationship with fear, the circuitry of any bad habit can be rewired in service to what we most desire.

Your blog “The Path of Possibility in Writing and Life” seems to encompass both a literary and spiritual feel. Did you design it that way on purpose? If yes, why?

Yes. The beauty of blogging is that it’s an interactive forum where you can relate to readers and learn from their feedback about what you’re doing. I started blogging in 2006. Along the way, it became clear that while I considered myself a “literary” writer, many of my readers considered me a “spiritual” writer. And this was illuminating. As I have authored my first three books, this clarity of literary-meets-spiritual has come more clearly into focus. I’m not just interested in helping people write well. I’m also passionate helping them live well. I’m curious about how the life consciously lived spills over into a satisfying writing life, and vice versa. I don’t believe you can truly have one without the other, despite all of the literary lore that indicates otherwise.

What advice have you found most helpful to your career?

Feel the fear and do it anyway.

How do you balance being a teacher, poet and author?

It’s a moving target every day, week, month and year! You didn’t mention here my two, even more primary roles: as a full-time marketing consultant (my day job) and a single mother of a toddler (my around-the-clock job). Life is full. And I’m constantly refining and re-imagining my goals, then organizing how I spend my time to reflect this evolving vision for my life and my work. The seasons when I’m intensively writing and promoting books tend to have less space for teaching and poetry. And as authoring ebbs, some of my other cherished writing life activities flow. I am fortunate to work from home and for myself. This gives me a great deal of freedom in deciding how I will spend my time.

You mention “productive procrastination” in your book. Could you expand on how that can benefit a writer?

When we are resisting doing something, sometimes exaggerating this resistance just a bit can help move it out of our system quickly. On the other hand, if we try to struggle against the resistance, we’re likely to just lock it down hard and fast. So, I recommend in The Productive Writer all kinds of strategies for engaging procrastination in service to the bigger picture of our writing lives.

For example, if you just can’t get started on the article you’d planned, you may want to consider what tasks you could do instead that would be of service to your writing life? I recommend possibilities such as: researching publication opportunities and deadlines, strategic social media use, organizing goals and to-do lists, calling your mother—you know, all the things that always need doing sooner or later. Once you’ve let yourself off the hook for 10 minutes or so, you’re far more likely to be able to settle down to that task you were avoiding in the first place. And if not, try something else for 10 minutes. Then, repeat until you’ve moved from resistance to engagement.

Some days, the most productive thing you can do for yourself is to take a walk, a nap, or a bath—to simmer in being rather than force yourself into doing. You’ll learn to know and trust your rhythms over time, once you become unflinchingly acquainted with your resistance.

What is one question you wished people asked you and how would you respond?

Question: May I give you a million dollars to write your next book?

Answer: You betcha!

Anything else you’d like to share?

I’d like to invite folks to visit me online at pathofpossibility.com! When they sign up to receive email updates, they’ll receive the free, 10-week email series, “10 Ways to Boost Writing Productivity.” And, I’d like to thank you for this interview. It’s a pleasure and an honor to be with you and your readers.

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