Surefire Success Strategies for Your Writing Life

by Sage Cohen

Creating a 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, and 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 the way.

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 per day: write novel
  • 1 hour per day: write magazine articles or essays
  • 1 hour per 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 development


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 your goals.


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 that you craft poems for emotional release, you write and edit corporate newsletters to support your family, you publish non-fiction 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 for 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:


1.      Pleasure. If you enjoy what you are doing, you’ll be far more likely to continue doing it, and eventually be successful at it.

2.      Possibility. 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.

3.      Prosperity. 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 the 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 what a 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, and 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 key to larger projects or themes that have been 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 by 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




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