We re-open The Book Diner this week with a bang as I invite the American poet and writing expert, Sage Cohen, to discuss her latest work, Fierce on the Page. I am a huge fan of Sage’s previous book, The Productive Writer, and I have been fortunate enough to get to know her via the wacky world of social media. Sage has a poet’s sensitivity and perception, as well as offering really practical insights which I feel can help writers of all stripes, whether we are just starting out or are creative veterans. Sage has deeply inspired my work with my writing clients, as well how I approach my own writing practice, so I’d encourage you to buy her books if you are serious about finding out what makes you tick as an author and getting more out of your writing life.
Welcome to the Book Diner! Can we take your order – coffee, tea or soda? Eggs sunny side up or over easy? Home fries, French toast or biscuit?
Potatoes. Always potatoes! [My German granddad’s highest compliment to me was that I ate my potatoes – true story!]
When did you realise you were a writer?
When I was in 10th grade, I wrote a paper on The Once and Future King, an Arthurian fantasy novel by T. H. White, for my English class. As I was writing the conclusion, something happened. I stumbled into a discovery that seemed to write itself through me. Something I didn’t understand and hadn’t predicted before it appeared on the page. I wrote myself through to an insight that … It was almost alchemical. When I gave the paper to my father to read, I could see on his face that whatever happened at the end was happening to him, too.
He finished reading, placed the paper in his lap, and said,“My darling daughter, you are a writer.”
And I knew it was true.
Can you tell us about your latest project?
Sure! My book Fierce on the Page was released this August from Writer’s Digest Books. It’s an intimate essay collection that invites readers to inhabit their writing lives more authentically and effectively—so they can succeed on their own terms.
What inspired you to write it? Where do you generally draw your ideas from?
I work with writers as an instructor and coach. The most common difficulty that my clients and students seem to face is getting tangled up in strategies that don’t serve them—and then becoming discouraged about their capacity. I wanted to invited writers to use exactly the raw materials they have: their lives, skills, strengths, and wobbles, to craft the writing practices and results that serve them best.
I wanted to invited writers to use exactly the raw materials they have: their lives, skills, strengths, and wobbles, to craft the writing practices and results that serve them best.
What kind of writing process do you have? Are you very disciplined in terms of having a set work routine and doing a lot of planning, or are you more of a pantster? (You fly by the seat of them – Zinkologism.)
As in most areas of my life, I’d say I have one leg in each camp. I’d call myself an extremely disciplined pantser. I am relentlessly intentional in life and in work. And I am reliable to the promises I make to show up and get the work done. However, my generative process is always pantsing. I have to intuitively find my way in and around a piece of work, no matter what I originally planned.
Do you write longhand or on a computer or both? Do you believe that writing method makes a difference to style?
I wrote longhand in notebooks for years. Now I write only on computers, because I can type almost as fast as I think. Except for thank-you notes: those are always longhand, on letterpress cards.
How do you deal with autobiographical elements in your work? Do you worry about offending people or baring your soul too much?
I believe that the more viscerally accurate I am about my experience, the more acutely it may awaken you to your own truths. The paradox is that such specificity taps the vein of the universal.
What advice would you offer to writers just starting out?
Figure out what you love about writing, and keep your attention entirely there. Anything and everything else that is generated from that love is bonus. [I totally agree with this and tell my clients to keep writing and publishing as separate as possible.]
What would you say are the toughest things and the best things about being a writer?
For me, it’s all the best things about being a writer. Writing is my life practice. It is my love practice. It is my evolution practice. It is the channel though which I discover how I feel and what I believe. It is the way I digest experience and alchemize wisdom. It is my magic carpet ride though the terrible anguish of being a human toward the incredible grace of choosing the stories we tell about who we are becoming.
Writing is my life practice. It is my love practice. It is my evolution practice. It is the channel though which I discover how I feel and what I believe. It is the way I digest experience and alchemize wisdom. It is my magic carpet ride though the terrible anguish of being a human toward the incredible grace of choosing the stories we tell about who we are becoming.
I celebrate rejection. It’s an indicator that I had courage, I took a risk, and I am willing to withstand discomfort in pursuit of what I desire and value.
How do you deal with the Inner Critic who likes to tell us our work is worthless?
I thank the inner critic for working so hard to protect me. I listen fully to its objections. Sometimes, I even write down every negative thing it has to say to me, and this helps clear my field.
Where can people find out more about you and your work?
I’d love for folks to visit me at sagecohen.com.