Writer Interview: Elizabeth Cohen, Whirling Dervish of Writing

Figuring out your writing process is like figuring out what you want to be when you grow up. The only way to figure out that you like to write in your parked car while rain drums the roof (been there), is through trial and error. That's why I like to hear what works for other writers. Where they write. Why they write. It goes a long way in the inspiration department. Twice a month, we'll meet a new writer—someone I admire who can teach us a thing or two about making writing strides. Subscribe to be the first to meet them.

With no further ado, Meet Elizabeth Cohen.

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I studied with Elizabeth at the University of Western Connecticut MFA program, where I quickly learned that she has a knack for understanding the writing process and the business of writing.

In one workshop, she helped each of us identify an angle for our book that would make it unique and salable but stay true to the story. I resisted. I could't envision my work as a finished book, and Elizabeth understood why before I did. She said, "I get it! You don't know your ending yet."


I was writing a memoir, and at that point I didn't know how my life was going to turn out, much less my book. Elizabeth understood, and it was a tremendous relief.

Elizabeth knows that writing intersects with life in tangible and personal ways, and she teaches in a way that's mindful of that. I learned quite a bit from this classy lady, so I'm thrilled to introduced her to you now:


wsforicon How did you know you wanted to be a writer?

Elizabeth: I knew I wanted to be a writer because everything I saw and heard about seemed to me to have value as a STORY. Every phrase and gesture and moment seemed to have value in a poetic sense.


wsforicon Did you ever question whether it was possible to be a writer, or did you always believe in the dream?

Elizabeth: I didn't wonder about being a writer so much because I felt very deeply, on something like the cellular level that I was one. What I did wonder about was whether I could be a writer and poet as a profession. And that I really struggled with in my twenties, and tried various other professions before deciding to give it a go and my all...which worked out. Thankfully.


wsforicon What's your writing process like? Are you a procrastinator or do you wake up ready to go?

Elizabeth: I am a procrastinator. I hate these writers who carve out two hours a day religiously. I resent their ability to be so steady and regular. I wait until I can no longer wait and it is bursting out or even making me ill. And then I dive in and write like a dervish. I whirl through projects. It isn't exactly healthy.


wsforicon Where do you do most of your writing?

Elizabeth: Dining room table. I have lots of very fine office spaces assigned to me and in my house, but there is nothing like a big ol' table to spread out on.

wsforicon What's the strangest place you've ever written?

Elizabeth: Strangest place I have ever written. Hmmm. I have been known to write poems on my hand from time to time when I cannot find paper. I pull over on the highway to write down snippets and ideas.


wsforicon Any words of advice on seeing a project through from start to finish?

Elizabeth: My advice on following through is all about choosing the right project. If you choose the right project then you WILL follow through, because you will want to.

And if it is really the right project, you will not be able to think of much else. You will become obsessed and every waking minute away from it will feel just bad.


Elizabeth has been a gas station attendant, a waitress, an editorial assistant, a fact checker, a journalist and is presently an English professor. She lives in Plattsburgh, New York with her Daughter Ava, their dog Samo and many delicious cats. She is the author of three books of poetry (soon to be four!); The Scalpel and the Silver Bear, a biography of the first Navajo woman surgeon; The Family on Beartown Road, a memoir, and forthcoming this August, The Hypothetical Girl, a book of short stories.

The Hypothetical Girl will be released on August 6 of this year:

51GB4h9fEsL._SY320_"Love meets technology with a dash of quirk in this collection of highly original short stories.

An aspiring actress meets an Icelandic Yak farmer on a matchmaking Web site. An online forum for cancer support turns into a love triangle for an English professor, a Canadian fisherman, and an elementary school teacher living in Japan. A deer and a polar bear flirt via Skype.

In The Hypothetical Girl a menagerie of characters graze and jockey, play and hook up in the online dating world with mixed and sometimes dark results. Flirting and communicating in chat rooms, through texts, e-mails, and IMs, they grope their way through a virtual maze of potential mates, falling in and out of what they think and hope may be true love."

You can pre-order from Other Press, Amazon, and Random House.