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How I Became a Productive Writer—And How You Can, Too: Guest Post by Author Sage Cohen
I recently heard Ira Glass advise an audience: If you really want to do something well, you have to be willing to do it really badly for a very long time. I think this is the key to the productive writing life; it has been for me. You have to love what you’re doing enough to keep on doing it, no matter what your results, no matter what anyone else says about the merit of what you are doing. From this foundation of commitment, anything is possible. I wrote poems for 10 years before sharing them with anyone. Eventually, it occurred to me that maybe I was a poet. From there, my writing life gathered a new momentum.
Once you have a secure foothold in your own writing craft and a confidence in your ability to show up to do the work, then it’s time to fine-tune your attitude. When I started sending out my work, I considered dropping the envelope in the mailbox to be my success, because that was what I could control. Getting up the gumption to try—and keep trying—was the real celebration. I knew that every writer is rejected exponentially more than she is ever accepted (if ever). My commitment was to simply keep trying. Getting published was the icing on the cake.
When we set our sights on a goal and don’t succeed, it’s easy to tell ourselves a story that keeps us chained to this so-called failure. “I’m not [fill in the blanks with your own favorite insult here] enough to accomplish that,” we may tell ourselves, then beat ourselves up with that story over and over and over, ensuring that we’ll never try again. But it is just as easy to tell ourselves a different story when we didn’t get what we wanted. And that story goes like this: “Well, that way didn’t lead me to what I want. I will try another way.”
These two sentences can be repeated for the next two days or two decades, however long it takes to find your way, that is, the way that takes you where you want to go. With this approach, there is no end point where we know for sure we can’t and won’t succeed. Instead, there is a spirit of practice and lighthearted fun. We are practicing getting somewhere and being creative about the ways and means of doing so. We are committed to the journey, and we are willing to keep moving in the direction we’re headed, no matter what. With this kind of spirit and fortitude, eventually we get there—with a smile on our face and the humility to enjoy and appreciate our results.
To help inform and inspire my writing life over the years, I’ve sought out classes, mentors and a community of peers. I’ve experimented with new techniques and approaches and listened carefully to people I respect. But most importantly, I learned to listen to myself and trust my own instincts. Along the way, my portfolio of publications slowly but surely expanded and my platform came into focus. Then, at age 37, I pitched a book, and it sold. The next year, I pitched another one and that book sold, too.
I am grateful to have been published along the way. But I’m no more grateful than I was those first ten years of writing poems for no audience other than me, because that was what I was called to do. As I see it, there is no greater blessing than knowing what you were put on earth to do – and then making the space in your life to do it. Productivity can help you become better and better at honoring the call to write.
Remember: Your job is not to be perfect. Your job is to find your way. As you try new approaches to writing and publishing, keep a log of what worked, what didn’t, and what you intend to try next, and you’ll always be moving toward where you want to go.