Monday, October 3, 2011

The Productive Writer

The winner of the drawing for The Productive Writer is Rick Barry. Congrats!!

This is a guest post by author Sage Cohen. In July I gave away a copy of her book, The Productive Writer (Tips & Tools to help you Write More, Stress Less & Create Success). Since the response was so positive, I am giving away another copy. So leave a comment to be in the drawing.


Practice Deliberately (And Hit Your Target)
A guest post by author Sage Cohen

“The best people in any field are those who devote the most hours to what the researchers call ‘deliberate practice.’ It’s activity that’s explicitly intended to improve performance, that reaches for objectives just beyond one’s level of competence, provides feedback on results and involves high levels of repetition.

For example: Simply hitting a bucket of balls is not deliberate practice, which is why most golfers don’t get better. Hitting an eight-iron three hundred times with a goal of leaving the ball within 20 feet of the pin 80 percent of the time, continually observing results and making appropriate adjustments, and doing that for hours every day—that’s deliberate practice.”—Geoffrey Colvin, senior editor-at-large, Fortune Magazine

Have you ever gotten halfway through a piece of writing and found yourself floundering about what you were actually trying to accomplish in the first place? This is where the concept of deliberate practice comes in. When you set your sights on specific goals for a piece of writing, then you’ll know exactly how close you come to achieving your goal.

Try writing out as many of these details at the top of your piece, or on a Post-It note that you attach to your computer screen or your working file folder. For example, I wrote this at the top of a recent piece I’d been contracted to write:

·        Target word count: 1,500
·        To appear in: Poet’s Market 2012
·        Audience: Aspiring poets with varying levels of publishing experience
·        Topic: Why Poets Need Platforms and How to Create One

I challenge you to name and claim the key objectives of every piece of writing, even a blog post, short story, essay, or poem, regardless of whether you’ve been hired to write it or if you ever intend to share it. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.  Choose a listener
When you know the audience you are writing for, you can start to imagine their needs, questions, objections, and level of interest. The simplest way to define this audience is by choosing a single person who is representative of this group, and write it “for them.” Maybe this person can even be available to read and give feedback about your work, to help you learn if it was received as you intended.

2.  Name the objective of what you are writing
If you are writing on assignment or for a client, this is where you’d articulate exactly what goals you’ve been hired to accomplish. If you are writing something for a themed contest or publication, define the topic or parameters within which you must perform. And if you are writing creative nonfiction, poetry, or fiction that is not driven by particular submission requirements, try setting your own standard for what you expect this piece to do/be/accomplish and then observe if this makes a difference in your writing and revising experience.

3.  Write! You know everything you need to know about this, already! [This is the sound of me shaking my pom-poms.]

4.  Revise! Anyone who’s ever spent years revising a single piece of writing knows all too well what hitting an eight-iron three hundred times might be like. Now, get out there and start swinging.

5.  Evaluate whether you have achieved your objective
When your piece feels finished, revisit the goals articulated in numbers one and two, and see how your writing measures up. If there are discrepancies, return to number four, and then repeat. If you didn’t hit the mark the first time, don’t worry. Remember, this is all practice. And the only way we improve is through repetition. Practice shapes us, so we can most effectively give shape to our writing.

[Excerpted from The Productive Writer]

About Sage Cohen
Sage Cohen is the author of The Productive Writer and Writing the Life Poetic, both from Writer’s Digest Books, and the poetry collection Like the Heart, the World. She blogs about all that is possible in the writing life at

Leave a comment to be in the drawing for The Productive Writer. The last day to leave a comment is Monday, October 10.


  1. I think I could use a kick in pants on this topic sign me up please!

  2. Timely for me right now.I'm trying to move up a level or six :) in my writing.

  3. I'm always ready for my wisdom regarding the art of word-smithing. Please toss my name into the hat for this book! :)

  4. I have so many (writing) irons in the fire right now. Sounds like it would be a worthwhile read to help me get focused. muschfarm(at)yahoo(dot)com

  5. Anything that helps me grow as a writer is always appreciated! Sounds like a great book! Do the pom poms come with it? Sometimes having someone cheer you on is the most important part! :-) silygoos at gmail dot com.

  6. Wow, I'd love to win a copy! Productivity is my downfall :( Thanks for this chance!

  7. Thank everyone for stopping by. One more day and we'll have a winner.

    Wouldn't poms poms be great, Susan!

  8. I am floundering at that point, and I do know what I need to write my book. This books sounds like it should be in my tool belt, ummm, on my shelf. Or better, I should be reading it!

  9. Sounds like a very helpful book (as were the points on this post--thank you!).


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