Surefire Success Strategies for Your Writing Life
by Sage Cohen
successful writing life depends as much on our attitudes, strategies
and systems as it does on great writing. Follow the steps below to
create your own productivity blueprint, and make 2011 your best
writing and publishing year yet.
Define what success means to you
Since we generally accomplish close to 25 percent of the goals we
set, I propose that we aim for Paradise x 4 in order to ultimately
arrive at Paradise in 2011. This gives us permission to dream bigger
than what seems realistic—then achieve more than we ever imagined.
Following are some questions to help you start painting your own
Paradise x 4 picture. Remember to aim wildly, embarrassingly high.
Don’t let your ideas of what’s possible limit you.
What are you striving to accomplish in terms of: publication,
income, awards, leadership opportunities, time and flexibility for
continued writing this year?
What is the ideal mix of time spent working (at a job), writing,
sleeping, playing, and enjoying friends and family?
What topic or genre do you want to be known and sought out for––to
teach, read, lecture, or mentor?
Keep in mind that your picture of Paradise x 4 will be continuously
evolving. Let your list be fluid as you clarify your vision along
Create targeted schedules that maximize available time and align
with key goals
No matter what type of writing you’re doing, whether there is an
external deadline or not, a schedule can help. Because writers need
to see––clear as a successful simile––where and how writing time is
going to fit into our lives. Let’s say you expect to have three
hours of writing time per day. You could break it down like this:
1 hour/day: write novel
1 hour/day: write magazine articles or essays
1 hour/day: query/proposal/submissions work
Or like this:
Mondays, 3 hours: write novel
Tuesdays, 3 hours: write magazine articles or essays
Wednesdays, 3 hours: query/proposal/submissions work
Thursdays, 3 hours: develop nonfiction book concept or content
Fridays, 3 hours: promotion/platform development/professional
I propose that you block off in your calendar the hours you expect
to spend on each task or deadline each day. Then refine as you learn
more about what works best for you. For example, I now know that
nonfiction writing flows best for me in the early mornings and
poetry works best after 8:00 p.m.; so I plan my time that way.
Perhaps the greatest value of this process is having hard proof that
there are actually enough hours available to accomplish what you
have set out to do.
Stay motivated, work with resistance and keep moving forward
Staying motivated with writing is a very personal process. That’s
why I’m going to invite you right now to name and claim the
carrots-on-sticks that work best to keep you moving forward toward
Various dimensions of your writing life may be devoted to different
carrots. The key is to be clear about why you’re in motion, and to
give yourself a good reason to keep moving forward.
Let’s say you craft poems for emotional release, you write and edit
corporate newsletters to support your family, you publish nonfiction
articles to build your platform and share wisdom, and you’re writing
a novel because you know this is your life’s work. Each type of
writing has a different motivation and reward. And the only person
to keep you accountable is you.
When you get frustrated that that corporate newsletter is taking
time that could be going toward your novel, remember that it paid
your daughter’s braces—as well as that weeklong writing intensive
you took with your favorite novelist. When the query to the magazine
of your dreams is rejected and you’re considering calling it quits,
remember your unique insight will be valuable to both your future
readers and your platform; then send that query off to the next
publication on your list.
In short, let the imagined reward drive every action you take. This
will keep you focused on and committed to future successes, rather
than derailed by temporary setbacks along the way.
Prioritize your projects using the 3
Ps of productivity
Your most successful projects will be the ones that passionately
engage you from start to finish. Try evaluating new opportunities,
or prioritizing existing ones, using the 3 Ps of productivity:
If you enjoy what you are doing, you’ll be far more likely to
continue doing it and eventually be successful at it.
If you are clear about the value of any process, project, or
opportunity––in other words, how it makes your goals, desires, and
dreams more possible––you are far more likely to stay on course,
even when the going gets rough.
Your writing projects should fill you up: with skills, confidence,
expertise, money, information, inspiration, recognition, or
authority. It’s not necessarily realistic to expect all of these,
all at once, but it’s important to recognize at least one or two key
ways that a project feels “prosperous” for you.
If you focus on all projects that give you 3 Ps first, the energy
and satisfaction you gain will do wonders for your long-term
momentum and endurance.
Celebrate like your writing depends on it––because it does
We all know the difference a little appreciation can make,
especially when we are busting our butts (and an occasional button)
to accomplish some very strenuous goals.
That’s why one of the most important jobs you have as a writer is to
celebrate yourself, your successes, your failures, your willingness
to take risks, your ability to follow through on your commitments,
your capacity to work through fear when it comes up—the whole
shebang. When you really start to authentically feel accountable to
and appreciated by yourself, you can transform from a person needing
validation to a deeply secure person who is confident about his or
her chosen work and path.
Measure, monitor, and modify as you go
Pay attention to what’s working well in your writing life, and do
more of it. The strategies and systems that get results should be
added to your arsenal. The attitudes that keep you focused, grateful
and solution-oriented should be invited to stay. The pieces that are
well loved by editors and readers may be the keys to larger projects
or themes yet to be unearthed.
The more you write and submit, the better you’ll know who you are,
how you work, what you have to say, and what makes your productivity
process tick. Keep moving toward the writing life of your dreams,
and you may be surprised how quickly it becomes reality.
Sage Cohen is
the author of The Productive Writer: Tips & Tools to Help You
Write More, Stress Less & Create Success (Writer’s Digest Books,
2010), Writing the Life Poetic: An Invitation to Read and Write
Poetry (Writer’s Digest Books, 2009) and the poetry collection Like
the Heart, the World. Visit Sage at