Interview with Wellness Writer Suzanne Cope, PhD

Suzanne Cope is dope. She's the author of Small Batch: Pickles, Cheese, Chocolate, Spirits, and the Return of Artisinal Food.  She's also an educator, journalist, scholar, and content expert. Like any relationship, Susanne reminds us that our writing is a long-term commitment, which needs tending to every day in order for it to grow and strengthen. She admits that maintaining that relationship may also require a pinch of spice. 

1) What inspired your latest book?

My current book project is about stories of how food was used by a weapon in revolution from World War II to the present. After the election, I was drawn to stories of female revolutionaries. I met with my agent around that time and we came up with the idea of the ways that food has been, and can be, used to help create social and political change. I started to do more research into potential stories and got really excited about what I found! I’m now finishing my proposal to be sent to editors, hopefully within a few months.

2)  What are common traps for aspiring women writers?

Confidence. Not feeling like you’re “good enough”. Laboring over a sentence or paragraph or pitch for too long. I used to work in book publishing and have long thought of writing as a numbers game. You have to send it out enough times to get traction – and learn from your, inevitable, rejections. Rejection is part of the process. Writing is a process. Trust that process. If it isn’t flowing, take a break, cook something, go work out. Send out a pitch or essay that you don’t feel is totally *done*. Then go back and make it better a day or a week later. I think we need to get our work in the world more to have more opportunities for feedback – including both rejection and success. One thing is certain: if you don’t get your work out there, it won't be published or read by others.

3)  What is your writing kryptonite?

Getting out of practice. Writing is a habit. Once I stop for a week or more it’s hard to get back into the groove. Even 25 minutes a day (I practice the pomodoro method when I’m less inspired) keeps me sharp.

4)  Do you want each book to stand on its own or are you building a body of work with connections between each one?

For my shorter works – essays and articles – my connections are more general: the stories behind food, travel, culture. But I also write about education, feminism, and even art. But my agent really pushed my recent project toward a connection with food and culture to be more conscious about building upon my expertise. And I think that’s smart. I always find connections with research or stories from previous work as I delve deeply into a new project.

5)  If you could tell your younger writing self one thing what would it be?

To embrace research more to add to the personal story you want to write. To aim higher for the places I want to publish. To trust the process.

6)  How did publishing your first book change your process of writing?

I think it gave me more confidence in my ability to manage such a large amount of research and a sustained arc. Also, and I keep saying this, but to trust the process. There were moments when I was so in the middle of what felt like a mess that I didn’t know how I would be able to organize my research, thoughts, ideas. But I knew that if I kept writing, kept revising, the organization and solution would emerge. It did. Now on bigger projects, I don’t stress about that feeling of not knowing – I keep working through it and recognize it as part of the process.

7)  As a writer what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?

A great dane? I grew up with great danes and love how big and powerful they appear, but they are really sweet, calm animals. I do try to put myself out there in the world with a lot of confidence, but deep down I have as many insecurities as the next person. But I also know that I keep getting better at my craft, and insecurities are a part of becoming a better writer.

8)  Do you view writing as a kind of spiritual practice?

Sometimes, in a way. It is cognitively true that writing can help you understand your own thoughts better. So maybe writing can be seen as a way to get insight into your own goal. And those moments, that are unfortunately few and far between, when the ideas are flowing and there is that real fount of inspiration – that is what a writer lives for, I think. We always write hoping to capture that energy again.

9) What is your writing schedule like?

I teach 2 days a week on campus and am usually teaching at least 1 or 2 online classes at the same time. Plus I am often writing and pitching multiple pieces at once. On the days I don’t teach I try to put in as much of a day of doing the various tasks of writing as  I can. But it’s often hard to sustain one project for hours on end – I get diminishing returns. So I might come up with a schedule of 10 things to do for a half hour or hour at a time. That way if I’m getting frustrated I give myself the permission to move on to another task. This also “forces” me to do the tasks I like the least for at least 25 minutes, so I am always making some progress. I tryto remind myself that few people can really be productive with just straight up writing one project for many hours a day – mixing it up or giving myself a break makes me more productive in the long run.

10) How does your family support you in your writing or writing schedule?

My husband is a songwriter and musician and he is very supportive. If I have a deadline he’ll watch our 4 year old son to give me extra time on the weekend or days he’s not in daycare when I’m also working from home. Other days, like today, we “timeshare” watching him. For example I am writing this from a coffee shop up the street. My writing slot is 8 – 12 today. I’m heading home soon to switch roles with my husband – he’ll work in his basement studio for the afternoon while I hang out with our son and we’ll reconnect for dinner. It’s hard though. I certainly wish I had more time to work, even though I also love time with my family. And I don’t work well at night, so getting back to it after he goes to bed doesn’t often work for me. I prefer to go to bed early and wake up early. If I can get an hour in before he wakes up, I feel pretty great about starting the day.

Dr. Suzanne Cope has more than 15 years working in marketing, content creation, online and print publishing, and user experience, and more than a decade in higher education, curriculum development, online teaching, and professional development. Her journalist pursuits focus on longform storytelling, connecting innovators to a larger cultural significance, and articles on food, culture, and education, and her scholarly interests are focused on innovative writing pedagogy, online teaching, narrative theory, and adult learning. She teaches and/or performs course development for the University of Arkansas, Monticello Online MFA Program, St. John’s University, and Berklee College Online. She has experience in academic professional development for online teaching and curriculum development as well as writing across the curriculum with a focus on narrative. Suzanne is also available for consulting on user experience education and narrative and content building for start ups and rebranding. In these capacities she has worked with companies as diverse as the Chicago Humanities Festival, Raytheon, Boston Group, and A Curated World.

Follow her on Twitter @locavoreincity and on Facebook