Archive for the 'Message from the Managing Editor' Category

Message From the Managing Editor: A Field of Dreams Platform

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The movie Field of Dreams gave me the wisdom, “Build it and they will come.” Our publisher Christina Katz introduced me to the platform-building toolbox gathering dust in the back of my writing closet, and articulated a blueprint for actualizing my potential into a publishing path. Discovering through a series of classes with Christina that I already had the requisite skills, publications and experience to qualify as a bona fide platform, I took the plunge and claimed it: Writing the Life Poetic.

With this stake in the sand, I quickly connected the dots among my many poetic passions and proclivities, and started taking myself seriously as a poet who knows a great deal and has much to share about writing and publishing poetry. I wrote and published articles, beefed up my creative writing web site, www.sagesaidso.com, and refined the focus of my blog, www.sagesaidso.typepad.com.

I pitched—and taught––a publishing workshop at a writing conference, and established my first online poetry class. Perhaps the greatest celebration was publishing my first collection of poetry, Like the Heart, the World.

Having a clear target gave me such a sense of purpose that somehow my writing and publishing efforts began to feel effortless. As if I were magnetized to them, opportunities just started unfolding for me. I was invited to bring the poetry reading series I host to Barnes & Noble, Lloyd Center. I was invited to host my book launch reading and celebration at Barnes & Noble, Vancouver. I was invited to judge a poetry contest for a writing conference. I was invited to sell Like the Heart, the World at Powell’s Books and Border’s.

Within a year of claiming my platform, I wrote and submitted a proposal to Writer’s Digest Books. Nine months and three Table-of-Contents versions later, this week I signed the contract for Writing the Life Poetic. A creative companion offering ideas and inspiration for people who want to cultivate a poetry practice, Writing the Life Poetic will be published in February 2009.

I share this story with you in the hopes that you will take a look at your own writing career and take stock of how much good work is already pointing you in the direction you want to go. Chances are, naming and claiming your platform will put the pedal to the metal of your publishing trajectory. I’d love to hear about your latest three platform-building successes in the comments below! Thanks for celebrating mine with me!

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 Cup of Comfort for Writers, Oregon Literary Review, 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 Writers on the Rise, Sage teaches Poetry for the People, an email poetry class.

Message from the Managing Editor: On Leaving the Nest

sage.gifBy Sage Cohen

This week, I signed my first book contract. While a lifetime of intentions and actions far too numerous to name have led me here, I’d like to share with you one particularly fortuitous experience that has accelerated my journey significantly in the past two years: mentorship.

As a co-collaborator with Christina Katz on this publication since 2006, I have had the privilege to witness up close and personal what can be possible when a talented, hard-working writer with vision and chutzpah dedicates herself to bringing her vision to life. Most importantly, I have seen someone I know and admire make the leap from successful freelance writer to successful author. As I observed Christina’s trajectory, I was able for the first time to visualize my own.

I feel particularly fortunate in my apprenticeship with Christina, because she is not only an inspiring role model, but also a motivating coach. Routinely, she challenges me to accomplish goals that have always felt out of reach. Over time, her faith in me bolstered my faith in me. And I stuck my neck out farther than has ever felt tolerable in the past.
Slowly, I began to mobilize a smattering of directionless potential into focused action, ultimately arriving at a polished book proposal––and then, in the end, a book deal.

Recently, I thanked Christina for pushing me out of the nest. She responded, “Oh, you had already leapt out of the nest. I was the one shouting, ‘Flap your wings! Flap your wings!’” What I wish for each and every one of you is some such person (or maybe the composite of a few different people) whose accomplishments inspire your own, whose faith restores your own, and whose cheering helps you transform that wobbly leap from the nest into a flight to remember.

How to connect with and learn from people you admire

• Take a class: This can be the most direct way to acquire the skills or knowledge you’re seeking from someone with expertise.
• Hire a coach: Writing and editing coaches can work with you to refine your goals and strategies as well as your writing––cultivating both confidence and career.
• Volunteer: Giving service is good for your community, good for the organization for which you volunteer and good for you. Often, you have the opportunity to work with and learn from people doing what you’d like to do someday. What a win-win way to rub shoulders with your role models!
• Do informational interviews: Take a writer you admire out for coffee. Bring a notebook. Ask juicy questions. Listen carefully.
• Go public: Attend readings, lectures, workshops and other literary events in your community. When you commit to participating in the communities that inspire and nourish you, the universe is far more likely to meet you halfway with interesting people and opportunities!

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 www.sagesaidso.com.

Message from the Managing Editor: Cultivating Community

sage.gifBy Sage Cohen

At the Willamette Writers Conference in early August, I spent three glorious days completely submerged in a critical mass of people who value their writing enough to dedicate three days to it. There’s a kind of alchemy that happens when we take ourselves seriously as writers—and do so in the company of other writers. We expect more of ourselves. We believe more in ourselves. We feel a part of something important…something far more energizing than the blank stare of the computer screen. I was reminded that no matter how much I love the privacy and silences of my writing life, community is the pilot light that keeps poetry burning in me.

Don’t know where to start building your very own writing community? Here are a few ideas for fueling your creative fires in the company of other writerly types.

Book Clubs
A great way to keep your literary head in the game is to participate in a book club. Meeting at regular intervals with a chosen group of peers can challenge you to engage with material you might not have chosen yourself, provide valuable insight, and make reading more fun—and frequent.

Public Readings
Bookstores, libraries, cafes, and writing collectives all great places to seek out—or create your own—readings. When I moved to Portland, Oregon, almost five years ago, there were plenty of literary events happening around town. But I knew that I was most likely to dive with both feet into the literary community by starting my own reading series. So I did. And so can you.

Writing Groups
When you want regular critical feedback about your work, a writing group can provide both great support and valuable structure. Having a deadline and feeling responsible to the group can keep you focused on your goals and committed to achieving them.

Publishing Groups
Why not meet with published and aspiring-to-be-published authors and writers to share ideas about agents, journals, presses, or markets. Strategize with other folks in the publishing trenches about where your work belongs in the world––and how to get it there.

Writing Dates
I meet with a group of women once a month on a friend’s farm. We each choose a special place in the house or out on the property and spend three hours writing on our own. For me, this designated time and place where I write in the company of friends is quite energizing and productive. Maybe it could work for you, too. Try meeting a friend at a café or park or library for a regular writing date. See what happens.

Whether you tap into an existing writing community or create one yourself, I encourage you to commit to at least one regular activity that engages you in the writing world beyond your desk and reminds you of your rightful place in it.

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 www.sagesaidso.com.

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 www.sagesaidso.com.

Tuning in to the Language of Life

sage.gifMessage from the Managing Editor
By Sage Cohen

“We got held up by a lost dog at a busy intersection.”

When I overheard this in the waiting room at my doctor’s office, spoken by the breathless older woman who was evidently late for her appointment, I pulled out an index card from my purse and wrote it down.

“The evidence is stacked in favor of my confession.”

Jon was telling me some innocent story about his childhood in which this sentence got warped into sounding like he was the hero in a thriller. I asked him to pause while I wrote it down exactly as he said it.

Walking through my neighborhood on a hot summer day, regretting a decision I’d made that had caused me pain, I stepped over a yellow piece of college-ruled notebook paper that was lying flat in the middle of the sidewalk and thought nothing of it. On the way back home, I stepped over the same piece of paper again. This time, I stopped and turned around to examine the paper more closely.

In bubble letters, written by possibly a middle-schooler, the page said: “Can’t take back the things that I did before.” I picked it up, flabbergasted, and carried it home. The first thing I did was pin that paper up on my bulletin board. The second thing I did was write a poem titled “Can’t take back the things that I did before.”

In poetry, there is a type of poem called the found poem. A found poem presents language that you’ve discovered in some other context, such as a matchbook, greeting card, horoscope or advertisement. It works like this: you see or hear something that interests you, and then you use it in a poem. Perhaps you have an entire poem composed of “found” language or ideas. Or maybe just a single thought, phrase or idea triggers an entire poem.

Whether you’re a poet, essayist or fiction writer, tuning in to what we are otherwise socially conditioned to tune out might just ignite an idea that takes your writing in an exciting new direction. Next time you’re in a café, pay attention to the couple at the table to your right. What are they confessing in murmurs over their Sunday paper? Who is the sturdy man in sweat pants walking past the window with his English Bull Dog? What was the barista thinking when she had the word “hardwired” tattooed across her lower back?

Yes, I am suggesting that you become a voyeur, a goal-oriented voyeur who politely witnesses the many wonders of human eccentricity to trigger your own musings of what might be possible in the world—and in your writing. When we wake up to everything happening around us in our immediate, day-to-day lives, we can find much material that could be a starting place for the characters, dialogue or scenes taking shape in our own work. So much of what we’re seeking is already around us; it’s often merely a matter of learning to pay attention.

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 www.sagesaidso.com.

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part Three

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Message from the Managing Editor
Making the Leap from Great Idea to Book Proposal—Part 3
By Sage Cohen

Are you ready to maximize every free minute and every stroke of genius to create a polished, powerful proposal faster than you can say, “I don’t know if I can do it”? Good! Let’s go.

(If you haven’t read Part 1 or Part 2 of this series, I recommend starting there, so you can approach your proposal-writing starting gate raring to go!)

Create a Writing Schedule
With commitment, focus and preparation, you can write a proposal in a month, in the margins of full-time work. Here are a few tips for making it happen:

  • Choose a month that is realistic for you to commit to making this happen. (How about June?) Set a “due by” deadline, and write it down in permanent marker somewhere where you’ll see it every day.
  • Create a schedule for the month that shows exactly what days and times belong to your proposal-writing process.
  • Vary your work time so you get built-in breaks. For example, you may want to work on your proposal on Monday, Wednesday and Friday nights from 7:00-9:00 p.m. You could dedicate two of the four weekends to writing; or you could work on one Saturday, the next Sunday, etc.
  • Plan which proposal section(s) you’ll be writing each week, so you can see the big picture of how it will all get done.
  • Post the schedule in your writing space or wherever you and your family will need to see (and honor) them.
  • Stick to that schedule like your future depends on it—because it does.
  • Ask someone important to you to check in on your progress at regular intervals and hold you to your deadlines. Feeling responsible to someone else can make it easier to honor our commitments to ourselves.

Lead with Your Strengths
A book such as “Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write” by Elizabeth Lyon will lead you through the book proposal research and writing process step by step. You can certainly follow the recommended flow, if it feels right for you. But I think the more important way to begin your book proposal is by writing the section that feels easiest––because the more confident you feel, the more successful you’re going to be. For example, I am experienced in marketing communications, so I started with the marketing plan section of my proposal.

With last month’s homework [link to Part 2] under your belt, you already have some great notes about how your book will be similar to and different from other books on your topic. Therefore, the “About the Competition” section may be one of the easier places for you to start. Or, if you feel that your established platform is your greatest strength, I recommend beginning with the “About the Author” section. With the easiest section accomplished first, the rest of the trudge uphill will seem significantly lighter.

Write Down the Bones
If you’ve read Natalie Goldberg’s books, “Writing Down the Bones” and “Wild Mind,” then you’re familiar with the advantages of free writing. If you haven’t, I’ll give you a quick primer. Free writing is basically unstructured writing, where you put your pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) and write without planning, thinking or stopping for a designated period of time. This can create a kind of writing momentum that allows you to witness your ideas before that big bad editor in your mind ties your hands behind your back with criticism.

Approaching the first draft of your book proposal as a free writing exercise can liberate your creativity by giving you a little distance from any fears or doubts that may limit your performance. Then, once you have your ideas safely captured in writing, you can don your editor cap, and craft it into a masterpiece.

Celebrate Your Success
Writing a proposal is a big deal. Once you’ve crossed the finish line, make sure you take time to reward yourself and your dream team. I got a massage for my typing-sore arms and sent flowers to my cheerleader/editor.

Write a comment here about your proposal-writing success story, and we’ll celebrate with you!

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 www.sagesaidso.com.

Fast and Fabulous Book Proposal Writing: Part Two

sage.gifMessage from the Managing Editor

Making the Leap from Great Idea to Book Proposal Part 2: Know Thy Competition
By Sage Cohen

Last month we laid the groundwork for your book proposal with the thinking, dreaming, reading and team-building that could take you to the starting gate. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have three key accomplishments under your belt:

  • You’re clear about your book concept: what it’s about, whom it’s for, why it matters today and why you’re the best person to share it with the world.
  • You have read a how-to-write-a-book-proposal book such as Nonfiction Book Proposals Anybody Can Write by Elizabeth Lyon.
  • You have created a dream team to support you in your proposal development process.

Great work! Now you’re ready to venture into the realm of competitive research.

Knowing how you measure up to what’s out there before you start writing your proposal is a critical step in clarifying your unique niche. This can also help ensure that you are not reinventing a wheel that’s already on the bookshelf! Before you even start thinking about putting pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard), I recommend spending some time in bookstores–in your community and online–to take a good, long look at what’s out there on your topic. Take detailed notes while you’re at it. This will inform the “About the Competition” section a little later.

Let’s say your topic is dog training. What do you have to offer that Cesar Milan hasn’t covered? How is your audience different than his? (Maybe you’re targeting single, urban women.) How is your approach different than his? (Maybe you’ve found that women exhibit pack leadership in a unique way that requires a different set of skills, which you’re teaching.) See where I’m going with this? When you know the range of books that exist on your topic already and how your idea is similar and different, you’ll be able to contextualize where your project might fit in today’s book market.

A note of warning: In my experience, it’s easy to get intimidated during this phase of the game. Looking at a published book on the shelf, you can jump to the conclusion that your topic has already been covered exhaustively by someone far more impressive than you are. However, chances are good that you offer an angle or approach that is uniquely your own. And the truth is that the author whose book you’re holding was once in your situation, most likely just as unsure as you are. I recommend that you suspend any disbelief about your own place in the hallowed halls of authorship and instead focus on letting all of your great ideas flow.

Once you’ve confirmed that you have a valid concept that offers something new to the conversation in your field of expertise, it’s time to write that book proposal! In the next installment, we’ll discuss how to maximize every free minute and every stroke of genius to create a polished, powerful proposal in just one month.

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 www.sagesaidso.com.



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  • This Blog Moving to ChristinaKatz.com as of December 30, 2009… December 27, 2009
    We’re moving! Writers on the Rise archives have been here for years. I hope that WordPress will let the archive live on for a good long time. However, it’s time to move on, bittersweet as change may be. Please come and find me at my new digs: http://christinakatz.com. And while we’re both thinking of it, […]
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