The Productive Writer review

I was pleased to get the opportunity to review a pre-release copy of Sage Cohen’s latest book, The Productive Writer: Tips and Tools to Help You Write More, Stress Less & Create Success. Having read her two previous books (Like the Heart, the World and Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write Poetry), I was expecting to receive both practical advice, as well as inspiration for improving productivity as a writer, and I was not disappointed. More than simply a collection of time management tips, Sage’s book covers everything from defining one’s own ideal writing life, to practical considerations such as deciding where to submit one’s work, how to track submissions, and suggestions for preparing for a successful workshop presentation or reading event.

Sage’s writing style is extremely readable, and the book is well organized into 20 chapters. One of my favorite chapters was Chapter 1: “Harnessing Potential”, in which the reader is invited to describe their vision of the ideal writing life, and then to make it concrete by constructing a pie chart to quantitatively describe how much time the reader chooses to allocate to various writing (and non-writing) activities, such as sleep, family time, job responsibilities, writing, and personal time. The moment I created my own personal pie chart, I could immediately see what the difficulty with my aspirations were—my “ideal day” added up to far more than 24 hours worth of activities! This exercise forced me to prioritize my goals, and set more realistic expectations.

As a poet, a non-fiction author, and one who has a day job as a copywriter, Sage has a wealth of real-life experience from which her knowledge was gleaned, and I found that when she used examples from her own life to illustrate various points, it gave a high level of authenticity to the work—a decided feel that she practiced what she preached, and that these were indeed time-tested principles that worked for her. Sage is quick to point out that there is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to a writing life. There are many points in the book in which the reader is asked to personalize the lessons presented, and set writing goals, define what “productivity” means to them, and create their own strategies for success.

By not simply just reading this book, but by taking the time to answer the questions posed thoughtfully, and by completing the exercises, all writers, from novices to seasoned veterans can tailor the strategies presented to their own needs. The Productive Writer is a wonderful book for any writer to have in their arsenal of writing resources, whether they write poetry, fiction, or non-fiction. In fact, I found that many of the time management and goal setting techniques presented carry over into other endeavors in life, as well as writing.

The Productive Writer will be available from Writer’s Digest in December 2010.


Keeper of the Relics

Another week, another Big Tent Poetry prompt to respond to. Where does the time go? I suppose I might have written about something else altogether, if the need had not arisen for me to approach “the boxes” in search of an important paper. Funny how that works.

Keeper of the Relics

In my house is a storage room,
and in that storage room are boxes,
lots of boxes, the kind you can buy
at a moving and storage facility
or even an office supply store,
and in those boxes are relics,
old letters and postcards, the matching
skirts my father brought back one year
from Greece for my sisters and me,
my mother’s knitting needles and yarn,
left over from long abandoned projects—
things too baffling to keep, too precious
to throw away, things that defy
categorization, the detritus of a life,
two lives, well spent, now gone before.

Read other responses here.

Falling Back (Asleep)

This is the last Wednesday Poetic Asides prompt for awhile. Starting Monday, and for the whole month of November, every day will be prompt day! Join me here for the 2010 Poetic Asides November PAD Chapbook Challenge. Or better yet, participate too! The rules are here.

Falling Back (Asleep)

What I like about this time of year
is that when the alarm goes off at 5 a.m.
and I blink my bleary eyes trying
to read the friendly green numbers
off the face of my clock radio
to make sure this is no dream, and
I look though my curtained window
at darkness so complete I find myself
thinking that it could be the middle
of the night, or even the beginning
of the night, then I reach on over
and hit the snooze bar on my clock radio,
pull the covers up over my head, pretend
it is the middle of the night, roll over,
and go back to sleep, just like that.

In The Night

The Big Tent prompt this week was to write a scary poem. Scary really isn’t my thing, and I couldn’t think of anything to write about, until this really did happen last night. That’s about as eerie as I can deal with!


In the Night

It was a dark and stormy night…
(It really was a dark and stormy night.)
Suddenly, the lights flickered once, faded,
flickered again, and were extinguished,
engulfing the room in total darkness.
She couldn’t decide which was more frightening:
the sudden silence when all familiar
household noises ceased, or the thin wail of sirens
in the distance, one, two, three, four. Afterward,
there was only silence and darkness— darkness
so complete, it swallowed the moonlight.


Read other responses here.

An Autumn Renga

Well, this is the 7th and final day of the Big Tent Poetry gong, and I’m happy to say that thanks to Issa, Alan Summers, vivinfrance, ms pie, Julie Jordan Scott and Lisa Hills, the renga is complete. What a lot of fun! Here it is, in all its glory:

Autumn moon–                                        [Issa]
a small boat
drifting down the tide

memories of summer fading         [Cara Holman]
with the scent of lavender

from V to U                                             [Alan Summers]
a parliament of rooks
shift their flight

an old forgotten pail                              [Cara Holman]
the rustle of maple leaves

first fire of season                                    [vivinfrance]
cheers us at the start of chill
sparks fly in the stove

a six letter word for fate                       [Cara Holman]
she taps her pencil lightly

looking up                                                     [Cara Holman]
from her crossword
the front door slams shut

the crunch of fallen leaves                [ms pie]
a tangle of brown, gold and red

Ninety one degrees                                 [Julie Jordan Scott]
It’s autumn in Bakersfield
(Sunday will cool down)

searching the cloudless sky                 [Cara Holman]
another leaf spirals down

squirrels crisscrossing                         [Cara Holman]
the road
a cache of acorns

I see outlines of maple leaves            [Lisa Hills]
imprinted on the sidewalk

tranquility garden                                    [Cara Holman]
the scratch of a rake
across gravel

the blue sky, the hemlock soil          [Cara Holman]
and everything in between

Wet windy weather                                   [vivinfrance]
while we wonder what to wear
epitome of Autumn

drenching rains pour down on us   [Cara Holman]
the next minute, sunshine

Warmth of the autumn sun                [Lisa Hills]
hummingbirds suckle
at the red bird feeder

windfall apples on the lawn                 [Cara Holman]
the last rays of sunlight

Fall Back

I can’t resist Wordles, so I just had to have a go at the Big Tent Poetry weekly prompt, even though I’m in the middle of collaboratively writing a renga for the 7 day gong. The words I used from the Wordle (all but two) are listed below, in the comments section. Read other poems inspired by the Wordle prompt here.

Fall Back

Eggplants piled high at the farmers market stall,
their glossy purple sheen belying their bitter insides.
Enter autumn, as if on cue, colorful gourds arrayed
on the mantelpiece; yet autumn is also muddy leaf piles,
plucking green tomatoes from drooping vines,
extracting every last ray of sunlight
before the kiss of winter. Halfway up the staircase,
I hear the cries of wild geese, honking their way
across the sky, and forget what I came for.

Add to this Renga!

I’ve been immersing myself in reading haiku these days, my latest book being The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa, edited by Robert Hass, The Ecco Press, 1994.  So when I saw the announcement of the first poetry gong on Big Tent Poetry, I thought immediately of writing haiku in the style of a poet I am less familiar with, namely Issa. It’s not that I have never read his haiku before– rather, there is something about doing a concentrated study on a single poet at a time. I like his haiku! He was extremely prolific, and wrote about everything from fleas, earthworms and snails, to priests, death, and summer rain.

I originally planned to write a series of haiku for this poetry gong, in response to some of Issa’s haiku, but then I got an even better idea. Why not reprise the idea of writing a renga in community, like I did last August with delightful results. A Summer Renga was composed collaboratively  by vivinfrance, brenda w, 1sojournal, Linda Goin, Lisa Hills, pieceofpie, and of course, me. The original post, along with the rules can be found here. This time, I propose An Autumn Renga, starting with one of Issa’s autumn haiku, and adding on from there:

Autumn moon–
a small boat
drifting down the tide



memories of summer fading
with the scent of lavender

Please join in the fun, and add your haiku or couplet in the comments section (they alternate). I’ll keep this going all week, and then put it together at the end into a new post, crediting each contributing poet for their lines.