I love meeting writers. I love meeting them anyway I can, so when Bryan Cohen wrote me about his new book, I thought I’d take a chance to get to know him a bit better . . . and give you the same opportunity.* So without further ado, Bryan Cohen, everyone.
1. Tell me about your latest project.
My new book is called, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More. The book is a sequel to my first book, which became an Amazon best-seller and sold over 20,000 copies. The book helps writers to knock out writers block with writing prompts based on introspective questions and hypothetical situations. The book is perfect for teachers, students, songwriters, poets, homeschool instructors and more!
2. What role, if any, did books, writing, and reading play in your childhood?
I loved reading. My parents instilled it in me at a very young age. When other kids heard Dr. Seuss when they went to bed, my mom read me the Narnia Chronicles from start to finish. In elementary school, I remember winning a summer reading contest by reading nearly twice as many books as the runner-up. I’m certain all that reading contributed to my current writing career.
3. What is your writing practice, your writing routine?
The first half of my day is devoted to writing freelance blog posts. The second half of the day is geared toward book writing and marketing. I make sure to get a short workout in halfway through my freelance and I write the last set of my blog posts while using a FitDesk, a laptop bicycle, so that I can stationary bike and write at the same time.
I can only take being at home so much, so I often escape to my favorite, quiet coffee shop in the afternoon. I use a Neo 2, an electronic keyboard that keeps me from being distracted, for most of my afternoon writing. My word count goal varies depending on what I’m working on. During the preparation for this blog tour, my goal was to write two blog tour posts a day, approximately 1,000 to 1,500 words in total.
4. Who are you reading now?
I’ve been reading a lot of Seth Godin and Malcolm Gladwell lately. Godin’s The Icarus Deception is helping to encourage me to create unique art instead of going back to the same tricks over and over again. A great lesson to learn for any writer. Gladwell’s David and Goliath has made me realize that underdog tales are rarely as surprising as they appear to be from the outside. It’s an inspiring work that likewise encourages using unconventional means in marketing and art.
5. What are three of your all-time favorite books? Why do you love those?
I’ve always loved The Princess Bride by William Goldman. I read the book after seeing the movie and was astounded by the book being better than one of my top five favorite movies. I should’ve known :). It rendered some of the best movie characters of all time as even more three-dimensional and lovable.
While I may have more history with The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, my heart belongs to another fantasy series starter, The Eye of the World by Robert Jordan. While I didn’t finish The Wheel of Time series (technically Jordan didn’t either), it was the first book to teach me how engrossing a world can be when the characters and setting are so detailed.
I’m a big lover of self-help books. I needed a lot of motivation to start my writing career. The one I’ve read over and over again is called 50 Success Classics by Tom Butler-Bowden. Reading summaries of “the good parts” of 50 classic works about success, including sales manuals, biographies and personal development books, fired me up to make myself a success. Hey, whatever works, right?
6. How do you balance “building a writing platform” and the actual writing to set on that platform?
Ah, the perpetual challenge for the self-made writer. For me it all started with my blog Build Creative Writing Ideas in 2008. Having a blog as a base of operations is key. You can make connections through the blog and find out what it is people are actually searching for. From there, it’s much easier to write something your followers actually want to read.
Now, balancing that writer platform with the actual writing time is always going to be tough. As writers, most of us would rather spend all our time writing and hire out the marketing stuff to others. I think the key is to do a little bit of writing platform work every day and set some goals for extending your reach to new readers. Marketing and outreach tends to distract me from writing and I outsource it whenever I can.
7. What is a typical day like for you?
I described most of this earlier, but let me describe it psychologically. It can be lonely being a writer. I’m a pretty personable guy and not seeing people as often as a 9-to-5 desk jockey does can be demoralizing. I make sure to go out every afternoon to a place I’ll see people. Feeling the energy of others and seeing everyone else living their lives gives me motivation to write when I’m out of the house. When I come back, I’m a kitchen nut and love making food for my wife. We relax and laugh together and I start back the next day, refreshed and ready to put another few thousand words to paper or screen.
8. Describe your dream writing space?
I don’t believe in a dream writing space. Sometimes, I think my office is all I need. Other times, I need to get out and be around people. Every so often, I need to skip town and feel a different kind of energy. If I was stuck in one place, even if it was my “dream space,” I’d probably get bored of it and have to write somewhere far away from it a few times a week.
That being said, high ceilings and natural light are nice.
9. What is the hardest writing critique you ever received? How did you respond?
I’ve had multiple plays harshly reviewed in newspapers. One of them was called “a lemon of a script.” It was upsetting. You work hard on something and all you want to do is make people happy. I don’t remember quite how I reacted to the “lemon” comment. I feel like I mostly tried to fake laugh it off until it actually became a joke.
Since then, I’ve learned that more often than not, a harsh critique means the reader/viewer had no idea what you were trying to accomplish. If I’ve put my heart and soul into something and it’s well edited, a critical review typically has more to say about the reviewer than it does about my work.
10. What is the best wisdom you have to share with other writers?
Do what makes you happy. Now, that’s not the same as what makes you content. Seeing a paycheck or watching an NBC sitcom may make you feel satisfied. What makes me happy is to create something from my gut that people respond to. Over the years that’s ranged from improv comedy shows to one-act plays to self-published books. Creating art is hard. Living life without ever being truly happy is easy. Get out of your rut. Figure out what gets you fired up. Do it as often as you can. Accept no substitutes.
Bryan Cohen is an author, a creativity coach and an actor. His new book, 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, Volume 2: More Ideas for Blogs, Scripts, Stories and More is now available on Amazon in digital and paperback format. His other books include 1,000 Creative Writing Prompts, The Post-College Guide to Happiness, and Ted Saves the World. He has published over 30 books, which have sold more than 20,000 copies in total. Connect with him on his website, Build Creative Writing Ideas, on Facebook or on Twitter.
In honor of his new book, Cohen is hosting the “1,000 Prompts, 1,000 Dollars” Writing Contest on his website. Click the link to find out how to enter! Click the next link to check out the rest of Cohen’s blog tour!