Faith Doesn’t Dig Ditches

sage.gifMessage from the Managing Editor
By Sage Cohen

I confess. I’ve been in a rut. My writing to-do list is like a mismatched sock. It does not seem to be pairing well with the little pockets of time and energy I have in the margins of my full-time work. This is not entirely unusual, of course. Meeting my own expectations for writing quality and quantity is a never-ending dance; sometimes I lead, sometimes I follow, and sometimes I just lag dreadfully behind. This is one of those times.

As is often the case, I stumbled upon the divining rod that I needed this week. While waiting for my acupuncture appointment, I found this quote from novelist Alice Sebold in the May issue of O Magazine:

“A difficult lesson, which I fought at every turn, is that what often must substitute for faith is discipline. Faith has a lovely ease about it, an ethereal ring. Discipline is the rod, the staff, your insecurities internalized and sprouting rules and limits on your life. Why can’t I just have faith that books will be completed? Why isn’t faith alone enough? I hear my Southern roots respond. Faith doesn’t dig ditches, they say; faith doesn’t scrape the burn from the bottom of the pot. Ultimately, faith gives freedom, and discipline, its sister, makes sure the job gets done.”

Reading this, I realized that I’ve lately been burdening my faith in my writing career with a sluggish-at-best discipline, and wondering why I feel rudderless. With Sebold’s clear delineation of the interdependence and authority of each, I took a deep breath and squared my pot-scrubbing shoulders. Right then and there, I recommitted to invigorating my tepid discipline in service to that little pilot light of faith.

What about you? How is your discipline (or lack thereof) affecting your writing motivation and output? What might you do to fuel your faith with a little elbow grease? How can we keep ourselves moving forward, even when it’s not easy or natural?

I propose that we spend five minutes right now brainstorming how to cross three items off of our writing to-do lists in the next week––and then dive into making it happen. Are you with me, folks? Into the ditches we go!
Sage Cohen is the author of Writing the Life Poetic, a creative companion for poets forthcoming from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. Her poetry and essays appear in journals and anthologies including Oregon Literary Review, Cup of Comfort for Writers, Greater Good and VoiceCatcher. In 2006, she won first prize in the Ghost Road Press annual poetry contest. Sage holds an MA in creative writing from New York University where she was awarded a New York Times Foundation fellowship. For organizations including Writers on the Rise and Willamette Writers, Sage teaches poetry writing and publishing workshops. Visit Sage at

2 Responses to “Faith Doesn’t Dig Ditches”

  1. 1 Tamara July 31, 2007 at 12:34 am

    Interestingly, I’ve been struggling with this very question lately.

    It’s not that I don’t have faith in my work, because I do, as much as one can have faith in their own work. It gets finished, it gets published.

    And I can be plenty productive, and generate lots of material all the time. In the last 2 weeks I’ve written 4 new short stories, 1 new prose poem and 1 essay, and I’ve revised two other pieces besides. I also write periodically for 4 blogs (not daily).

    However, what I want to know is this: how do people deal with those things that happen outside ourselves, over which we have no control? I write, I submit, I publish, but there are so many moving way ahead of me into that place where I want to be (with a book in hand!), and sometimes, I confess, I don’t understand why my work isn’t good enough for the same treatment.

    I can only contemplate that I don’t have some necessary connection out there or some other golden ticket into the ball. That I’m some sort of Outsider.

    One hint, perhaps: I write interstitial work and have retuned my focus to those publications, editors, writers and books that feature this sort of writing, and that has helped my morale some. Interstitial/cross-genre/hybrid/experimental writing is getting more attention, for which I am abundantly grateful!

    But I still wonder if the very oddness of what I write (which really chooses me rather than vice versa) is what keeps me out of the palace? Or is it simply that it’s not my time? And the, of course, the question lingers, will there ever be a time?

    Any thoughts?

  2. 2 Sage August 17, 2007 at 8:05 pm

    Hi Tamara,

    Sounds like you’re digging some great ditches, and wondering where faith comes into the mix. If you’re writing and submitting and publishing actively and regularly, which it sounds like you are, I’d say that you’re well on your way to realizing your highest publishing aspirations. Everyone’s timing is unique when it comes to the highly subjective and variable realm of publishing. Christina Katz teaches a great class on building a platform, which is important for any writer who desires to publish a book. Maybe that would be a helpful next step for you?

    Wishing you all the best! (And please keep me posted about your publishing successes!) Sage

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