Interview: Genna Cockerham

One of the reasons I am happy to have worked at Suite101 is the networking. I have met so many wonderful writers, and Genna Cockerham is definitely one of them. I enjoy her articles immensely, and encourage you to check them out as well.

I liked what Genna had to say about jotting ideas down on pieces of paper. I do that myself, and think a lot of writers probably do. I love the fact that a writer’s mind is always working, don’t you?

Enjoy this interview.


Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from and how long have you been writing?

I’m a stay-at-home mom to three children. I live in Virginia. I have been writing for Suite 101 since November 2008.

What types of writing do you do?

I write almost exclusively for Suite 101. I am the Marriage Feature Writer. I also have a small blog but it is sadly neglected. When I am keeping up with it, I use it for inbound links to my Suite articles and as a place to offer a couple other Suite writers a place to have inbound links to their blogs as well.

What’s the best thing about writing?

The best part about writing is that I love to try to help people. If any of my articles help people, I have done my job. Whether it is improving someone’s marriage or helping them find a great recipe, I simply love to be helpful.

Share some of your writing goals.

One of the challenges I face is that I don’t have writing goals. This is in part due to the fact that my family and home have to come first. I do take my Suite 101 contract very seriously, so I do write the minimum of four articles per month.

Is there a specific time of day you like to write?

I love to write in the morning when my mind is fresh but I do most of my writing between 8 p.m. and midnight. My days start between 6 and 7 a.m. If I could sit and write for a two hour block I would be in heaven. However, my kids are early risers like their father. I would have to get up at 4 in the morning to write unmolested! I find on the days I try to get up before the kids, they follow my lead.

What’s the most interesting book you’ve ever read?

The most interesting book I’ve ever read was Roanoke: Solving the Mystery of the Lost Colony by Lee Miller. The author has searched for primary documents relating to the Lost Colony’s disappearance. Miller treats it like a murder case and tracks down the evidence. She actually seems to prove that there was a deliberate conspiracy in England against the colony’s leader. It is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time. Most people think the colonists disappeared without a trace but there were several sightings and reports of Europeans after the disappearance. (It got really bad reviews due to her writing style.)

When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?

I’m not sure when I first realized I wanted to be a writer. I’ve always loved to write and to read. It’s such a part of me that I can’t pinpoint any type of epiphany where I suddenly knew, “This is what I want to do.” I had written for the International Studies newsletter in college as part of my work study. When I graduated and got married I was looking for a job and I applied at an engineering firm to be a secretary. In the interview the woman was asking general experience questions and I kept referring to my writing in college. At some point, she stopped me and asked, “If you love writing so much, why aren’t you going to do that?” It was at that moment when I knew that was what I was going to do.

Favorite authors?

I love all of Dale Carnegie’s books. I could read anything of his over and over again. I also really love Sharon Jaynes’ writing. She is such a godly woman but she is also very real in admitting the challenges that women face.

Book you’re currently reading.

I won’t name it, but I am currently reading a very poor book about marital finances. It is like pulling teeth to read it. The worst part is that the advice may be good but the writing is incredibly boring. I feel like it’s my duty to read it and pull out the useful parts. I’ve been working on it since before Father’s Day!

I also primarily read magazines. I subscribe to more than 20 magazines and they fit my lifestyle right now.

Any type of writing ritual you have?

I have a few. I keep scrap paper with me all the time for keeping track of inspiration as it hits me.

I have a format I use to keep all the technical details with my articles. Staring at a blank screen can make it harder to get started so I start every article the exact same way, where it will be published on Suite, what articles I intend to use for internal and external links and a couple proposed pictures.

I outline as I write articles on the computer. I’ll write several subheads before I get going to keep myself on track, adding a couple explanatory phrases for what I want to include. This helps to make sure I don’t forget something important.

Do you believe in writer’s block? If so, how did you get past it? If not, why not?

I do believe in writer’s block but I very rarely experience it as my writing time is so limited. When I have a point where I don’t know where to start I just say to myself, “Begin.” I will just start in the middle of an article instead of at the beginning and just get it out there. Usually after a paragraph or two I am adjusting placement and learning where the article is going. Then I can go back and write a headline, intro, etc. Not all writing has to begin with a title.

What’s the measure of a successful writer?

I don’t think it is right to create a single measure of what makes a successful writer. Some people have a goal of wanting to be on the bestseller lists, others write primarily to share their life experiences with family and friends. Some write exclusively for love and some write primarily for money. If I had to name a measure of the successful writer it would be someone who feels like their writing makes them happy. Whether they are happy because they are writing flaming political commentary or storybooks for their grandchildren, if their writing fulfills something within them, then they are a successful writer. It might seem odd that many truly terrible writers would fall under the category of successful writers using this criteria but writing is such an individual experience.

Advice for other writers?

Network! Meet people online and join communities with the writers where you are writing. There is so much valuable advice to be learned from others. Most people want to help and want to share their personal experience with others.

Don’t measure your success by others’ success. Most people who are successful put in time and perseverance to get where they are. Only a lucky few got a big break. Set your own goals and work toward them and define success for yourself.

Where can we learn more about you?

I have a profile page on Suite 101 and a blog there, but I am a very private person.

Anything else you’d like to add?

A big turning point for me was reading No More Mondays by Dan Miller. I listen to Dave Ramsey all the time on the radio and he recommends all of Dan Miller’s books. The library didn’t have 48 Days to the Work You Love, which probably would have been a better fit for me since I was not working a job I hated. They did have No More Mondays. The premise of the book is that people who are unhappy in their jobs or who lose their jobs don’t have to suffer with the minimum or status quo. They can target their skill set to get the best job for them. In many ways it’s a strong voice for entrepreneurs to open their own businesses. But that is not the only way to have the best and most fulfilling jobs. This book has everything to do with how I came to be writing for Suite 101. I think it should be required reading for everyone.

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