There is an exercise I use with my students early on in the semester. It is a way for me to show them proof that they have a unique voice and that they look at things differently than everyone else around them. For this exercise, I use the blackout poetry form. I cut out an article from the newspaper and copy it. I hand out the exact same article to all the students in the class. I show them examples of blackout poetry, and then I ask them to create their own poem using the article I gave them. Afterward, I have each student read what they came up with. I have not had any students come up with the same poem. I use this as a concrete example of their own unique perspective and voice. They were all looking at the same set of words, but each of them saw those words differently. What spoke to one student did not speak to another. This is important when teaching them how to write a research paper because oftentimes they believe they have nothing to add to the conversation that already exists on their chosen topic. It is also an important reminder to them and to me that we are unique, each one of us, that we look at things from a unique perspective, and that is why we should never be fearful of voicing our perspective to others and listening to their perspective as well. We all see things differently and we should embrace that difference and let it motivate us to overcome our fear of sharing our voice with others.
I love the rain, its muffled sounds through the glass pane in the morning before the sun glows above the rooftops and spills into the room one slat space at a time. I love the practice of opening blinds each morning flooding life into empty rooms. Rain gives shape to the air, animates the motionless gray of the streets. It is the tiny cold tips of needles tapping my skin with a temporary chill, then sliding away as if it had never existed. Yet the sensation is still there – lingering – like the ghost of a discarded lover. It is the permission I need to let go as it washes away the to do to do to do, sweeping it away to rest in someone else’s yard, where they can pick it up and carry on.
I began this book, as a mother of a child with Asperger’s syndrome, not quite sure what to expect. However, I quickly fell in love with how Priscilla Gilman related so much of her experiences to her most beloved poetry. As a reader, you can literally feel the perception shift in Gilman as she comes to terms with the special needs of her son by the way her interpretations of poetry shift. I could relate so well to Gilman’s experiences with her son. I was shocked, though, when I came across the page where Gilman describes hyperlexia because she was describing my son perfectly. It was because she chose to share her story that I was finally able to identify a mysterious piece of my son’s early development and could provide information on hyperlexia to his therapists and doctors. Through sharing her experiences, Gilman provided me with a new understanding of my son and new ways to relate to him. She opens up the discussion on how we come to terms with having children that do not “fit” others’ and even possibly our own definition of “normal.” Gilman shows the power of love to not necessarily overcome adversity, but to accept it as it is, embrace it, and even welcome it. She shows us that through the shedding of who we thought we were supposed to be, who we thought our children were supposed to be, a new way of thinking, a new way of life, a new self emerges. What was once considered anti-romantic becomes most romantic and beautiful through the acceptance of what is and a fierce determination to no longer allow others to define who we are or who we should be. Gilman not only becomes an advocate for her son but also for herself. She grows alongside Benj and finds strength and courage through his experiences and uses them to ultimately find her true self.
I believe everyone should read and will learn so much from The Anti-Romantic Child. We are at a point where excavating our authentic self is more important than ever, and it may just be that the children we’ve labeled as “special” are indeed so, as they are emerging as our greatest and most powerful teachers yet.
Sage Cohen has perfect timing. When I was new to creative writing and was just beginning to learn about the mechanics of poetry, she published Writing the Life Poetic. It was exactly the guidance I needed. She provided the kind, gentle voice that calmed my fears about writing poetry so much so I ended up winning a poetry contest and recently had a poem published. As I progressed in my nonfiction writing, though, I developed new fears: Am I good enough? Who will want to read my work? AND fears about publishing: Why don’t I “get” what a platform is? How do I get started submitting my work and to whom? Then Cohen published The Productive Writer just as I was about to give up on writing altogether. I like to think that she is writing just for me, that she is my personal writing coach because of her impeccable timing when it comes to the stages of my writing life.
In all her writing, Cohen has a way of first allaying our fears so we can open our minds to the unlimited possibilities before us. But, she doesn’t stop there! She follows up with great, detailed advice; clear steps for us to take towards success; along with examples from her own writing life. In The Productive Writer, she adds a new dimension with printable worksheets and checklists she’s made available on the web to serve as companions to The Productive Writer. One such worksheet is “Your Platform at a Glance.” After reading through her example, I finally understood what a platform entails. I’ve read so much about platform and how important it is to my writing success, but never have I seen it broken down into the simple steps Cohen presents in this book. I was able to follow the worksheet and develop my platform which gave me a whole new outlook on my writing.
What made the biggest impact on me was Cohen sharing her perfectionist tendencies and how it was hindering her success as a writer. Her solution: Do the best that you can and then send out your work. Let others decide if your writing is worthy of publication. Don’t sabotage yourself by requiring that everything you write be absolutely perfect before you release it to the world. Like what has happened to me, your writing will go nowhere. It will collect dust among the computer archives. Cohen doesn’t just say “Do the best that you can,” she tells you how. She provides editing advice, organizational tips, and suggestions on how to find time to write. She has an entire chapter devoted to “Publishing and Landing Gigs!”
Through her writing, Cohen encourages us to find our own writing rhythm. She tells us that it isn’t absolutely necessary to write first thing in the morning as is often suggested. It is important for us to find our own writing rhythm. Through debunking some of the common myths about writing, she gives us the freedom to become our own unique writer selves. Even as she offers suggestions, tips, and personal experiences, she tells us: “Find what works for you!”
The Productive Writer is structured in short chapters, usually about ten pages in length. The structure helps you find what you’re looking for easily and also makes it a great book to bring with you while waiting at the doctors, or at your kids’ soccer games, or wherever you have a little free time. This is another aspect of the book I love. It shows Cohen’s attention to detail and consideration for today’s busy writer.
Cohen provides information for writers of all levels. The Productive Writer will become your permanent writing companion. If you’re a beginner, Cohen provides the inspiration and knowledge you need to begin your journey as a writer. It is a book that will grow with you and you will return to again and again as you progress. If you are experienced, Cohen provides excellent suggestions on topics such as organization, social media, and the collection and storage of your random thoughts as well as the edited out portions of your writing so you can easily find and use them later. The information and inspiration she provides will be the fresh perspective you need to take your writing to the next level.
As I continue with my writing, I am looking forward to what Cohen will write for me next…oh, and for you too!
You can find Sage Cohen on Facebook at The Path of Possibility and Twitter @sagecohen and I highly recommend subscribing to her website The Path of Possibilty as she regularly posts fantastic articles about writing, poetry, and most importantly how they intersect with our everyday lives.
What you choose to do, to believe;
who you choose to love, to marry;
are not to be judged but celebrated –
one human being to another
alive and free.
*Day 14 April 2011 Poem a Day Challenge. Prompt: Ain’t none of my business.
Evenly spaced rows of long ago,
pages filled with promises of forever
friendships and confessions of love
too young to see the jagged paths
*Day 13 April 2011 PAD Challenge. Prompt: Old Relationship
These words flow onto the page
in their own special way and my mind
is weakened by the idea of shaping,
paring, and fleshing them out into your
structure, into what you think is right,
when I’d much rather just let them be
*Day 12 of April 2011 PAD Challenge. Prompt: Write an anti-form poem.