Thus beginneth a new feature, the Creative Cognoscente Interviews.
For the record, Cognoscente is pronounced kon-yuh-shen-tee, and it means: persons who have superior knowledge and understanding of a particular field...
Nobody better fits that definition than Tara Sophia Mohr, whose interview kicks off this new series. I'm not sure how I first stumbled on Tara's blog, Wise Living, but I know that once I did I stuck around for quite awhile to explore her many prose and poetry posts and to peruse her website.
Tara was gracious enough to agree to an interview and answer the many questions I threw her way. I think you'll find her answers incredibly inspiring and I'm anxious to get right to it, but first let me tell you a bit more about her (and I hope she forgives me but I snitched this info directly from her site):
Tara's work focuses on teaching personal growth through coaching, writing and group programs.
Her writing on personal growth has been featured in USA Today, Forbes, Ode Magazine and many other publications. She's a regular blogger for the Living section of the Huffington Post, and is currently at work on a book about living an authentic life.
Tara is a certified coach, trained by The Coaches Training Institute in an intensive, two-year program.
CRD: I'm really drawn to your poetry and judging by the comments on your poetry posts, I'm not the only one. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for, and the process of, writing them?
TSM: I truly feel the poetry has very little to do with me, but I feel very grateful to be the vehicle for it. Usually, I’ll start to hear a couple lines in my head and when that happens, I try to stop and take them down right away. I pull over on the road if I need to. I write on napkins in the bathroom if I need to.
That part is pretty much just being open to a voice that is coming through.
My role comes later – when I look at all that material and edit, filter, put in order, mine for the gems. This can be tricky because sometimes my conscious mind wants to edit out what is actually the best stuff – because my conscious mind doesn’t get it at first (or ever). So I’m learning to feel my way through that and be discerning.
My other role with my poetry is setting up the conditions in my life so that I can even hear that inspiration, so that I’m a good vessel for the poetry to come through. That’s the foundation for any poetry happening at all.
Those conditions include: making time for uninterrupted writing, staying in the habit of writing, reading other works that inspire me, processing my own negative emotions and icky energies so they move through me, being on my own inner path, and going to bed and waking up early – since the early morning is when I tend to be most able to really access something bigger than me in my writing.
CRD: Is your process for writing prose similar? Do you know setting out which you'll be writing?
TSM: My prose is more directed by me, by my left-brain. It’s more of a dance of equal partners between me and the muse (vs. poetry where the muse or whatever that other force is is definitely leading.) Prose is more informed by my personal experience, my knowledge my personality. With poetry, I’m learning from the poems as they come through.
CRD: You write for the Huffington Post—how did this come about? You also write for magazines such as Forbes, USA Today, and Ode Magazine (one of my favorites). I know many of my readers would love some advice for putting themselves out there and connecting with the big guys….
I started writing again about two and a half years ago, after a long hiatus that my inner critic helped me take.
I knew I wanted to write a book with a mainstream publisher. I started talking to publishing folks, who responded very positively to my writing, but said I needed a platform – an existing audience -- to get a book published. Some literally said, “We love your work! Call us back when you have 5000 people on your mailing list.” At that point I had 38 people reading my blog, so this was totally daunting.
It was a step by step process. I looked around for other personal growth blogs that hosted guest posts. I wrote the authors of those blogs with a full guest post submission attached – so that they could see that my work was quality. They ran my pieces.
As it turns out, more prestigious publications comb these blogs for quality content, and one of my posts got picked up by Forbes. Similarly, I posted a piece on Ode Magazine’s “Exchange” online forum, which is open to all, and it got picked up in their print magazine.
With clips like these, I had something to send to the Huffington Post team – and I did – just a cold email. That’s how I started blogging for them.
I’m not sure if that’s the only route, or if it’s replicable, but that’s what worked for me.
CRD: One of your popular posts is titled "Leaving the B+ Life." You've done this through your writing, coaching, and teaching. What's your top tip for getting out of the B+ rut?
TSM: Gosh, there are so many. It’s hard to choose. Here are a few simple things that I think can help us leave B+:
• Spend 15 minutes in silent meditation every day. If you do this, you will wake up to your life. Things will start to get really interesting.
• Trust and get curious about your discomfort. If you feel bored, dissatisfied, squelched in your life – that’s really important. We tend to avoid or try to numb those feelings. Lean into them and get curious about what is actually feeling off in your life.
• Listen to the nagging longings, the whispers, the creative ideas. See if you can trust them and welcome them – rather than jumping to judgment.
CRD: I loved reading your bio. You spent your childhood analyzing dreams with your family and then eventually got your MBA. Awesome! How do you balance these two different sides of yourself?
TSM: Oh lord! It wasn’t always easy. It’s been a struggle for me to really share my voice because often my perspective was so different from the mainstream one in whatever environment I was in. I’d be in personal-growth type circles thinking, “You guys need to a get a grip and use your logical brains here” – but I didn’t ever say that, because of course I also love harmony and fitting in. I’d be in the business school classroom thinking, “What we are learning right now is precisely what is responsible for the destruction of the earth” – but frankly, that wasn’t exactly a comment you could raise your hand and make in the middle of the lecture. Trust me. I tried it.
I feel I’m just coming into the integration of these different parts of myself now, and it’s all about learning it really is okay to bring my voice, my views, to the table. More and more now I am bringing a controversial view into the room, but doing it diplomatically, and finding it’s often welcome and appreciated.
CRD: Do you have a mission statement by which you live, or perhaps a favorite mantra?
TSM: Hmmm…not exactly, but if I had to pick one, I’d say this:
“Compassion is the natural expression of wisdom.” That’s what my lifework is about – teaching how this is the case, and hopefully, ultimately, changing our society in some key ways to reflect that understanding.
Compassion, compassion, compassion. I don’t believe there are evil, immoral people. I believe that there are sick people. I believe if a human being has the emotional capacity, they will do good. Otherwise they need some healing. When we get that, parents will parent differently, the prison system will look entirely different, the way we view terrorists will be different, what we fear and what we allocate our resources to will be very different.
CRD: How about some advice for writers?
TSM: To be careful about advice! Sometimes it feels easier to figure out what other people do and convince ourselves we need to do that –rather than look inward to see what fosters creativity for each of us.
Beyond that, what I think matters most is this: are you willing to allow something beyond your conscious thought take over in your writing process? And what helps you do that?
CRD: And finally, I'd love for you to share some information with my readers about your services and products.
I also have an exciting new program coming up for women leaders, artists, innovators, writers, entrepreneurs – anyone who has a message and mission they want to share with world. The program is for people who want to play bigger, make an impact, and realize a vision their world. It’s a combination of inner work - covering topics such as “Silencing Self-Doubt” and “Understanding Your Calling” as well as tactical trainings around publishing, public speaking, negotiation, etc. It is made up of the tools that have most helped me share my voice fully in the world. Click here for information about that program.
And since we are talking to writers, you can download a free short collection of my poetry here - but please do also sign up for the blog – because otherwise I won’t get to keep in touch with you too!
Also, for those of you in my hometown, Portland, Tara will soon be visiting Portland, speaking on the topic, "Unhooking from Praise and Criticism." Learn more here.
CRD: Thank you so much, Tara, you are a delight and an inspiration.