Monday, February 18, 2019

Finding the best writing coach for you

Sunset over the water (Malta)

Have you been thinking about working with a writing coach? Here are some tips on finding the best one for you and your writing.

Sometimes folks giggle when I say this, but I think finding a good writing coach is like finding a good therapist. You need to find someone who challenges you and leads you to new discoveries. You should trust the person and, of course, like and respect them, too. A writing coach might be perfect for your friend and her work but a bad fit for you and your work. And that's ok.

I recommend starting off small if you have someone in mind. You might take a short workshop with the person and see if you like their approach. Or you might request a short phone or in-person consultation. I am happy to schedule a twenty minute phone call with a possible writing coach client before our first formal appointment, just to make sure we are a good fit.

If you aren't sure how to find someone, you might contact a local writer's center, bookstore or university to see if they can recommend someone. Writers who teach often also work privately with writers. A quick internet search will turn up some names, too. You can work with someone locally in-person or call/video conference with someone elsewhere.

When you meet with the person, don't hesitate to ask if the coach wouldn't mind sharing some names of folks they've worked with as references (the coach might need to check with the clients first, so give them some time.) Take some time to read the person's published work, too.

When you first talk, the coach will probably ask you a lot of questions about your work, experience, goals, favorite books and more. You should also ask the coach questions, mostly about the process and the coach's expectations. This is a period to learn more about each other and see if you can come up with a plan that works well for both of you.

Remember that the coach is also deciding if she will be a good fit for you. There have been times that I've met with writers who are working on projects that I don't fully understand because of the subject matter. In these cases, I might recommend another coach to the writer. This isn't a rejection, but rather an effort to help the writer find the best writing coach.

Trust yourself and your gut in this process. If you like someone and think you will benefit from working together, say so. If you don't feel like the person is a good fit, then keep looking for the right person.

If you think I can help you and your work as a writing coach, let's talk more. You can read more about my writing coach services and what happens during a writing coach appointment. Email me to set up your first consultation (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. I will have slots for a few new clients starting in mid-March.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Love & Outlining

Heart Amulet from Egypt (ca. 1295–1070 B.C.)

This is the month of love. Our kindergartner was asked to decorate a shoe box to receive Valentines and to bring a Valentine for each classmate. He was also asked to choose an African-American to present in class and he chose Michael Jordan. To add to the month's love, our child is excited to celebrate Michael Jordan on his birthday on Sunday, Feb. 17th, with "round like a basketball" food.

I'm quite taken by how basic assignments - exchange cards on the holiday! Choose someone to study and present! - can morph into discussions about friendship, history lessons and new interests. What do you love? What can you learn from your loves?

I challenge you to return to the books that you love this month. Choose 1 - 3 of your favorite books, essays or stories and outline them. Look for their bones and notice how the books are constructed. When are key plot points introduced? Who are the most important minor characters? Where is the book's central climax? What is the conflict that drives each chapter?

Study the resulting outline. You can use this as you think about structure for your own piece. Think about your pacing, character development and overall plot development. If you follow another structure, you aren't plagiarizing the book, but building on the craft that the writer used. You will write a different piece and likely make many adjustments along the way.

For more, read:
It's Alive! Your Outline
From Writer's Digest: The 4 Story Structures that Dominate Novels by Orson Scott Card and 5 Things to Consider When Structuring Your Memoir by Cheryl Suchors
From Ploughshares: How to Structure Your Memoir by Amy Jo Burns

Monday, February 4, 2019

Adults Starting the Writing Habit: Rely on the calendar

Our 5.5 year-old-child took this picture of the library stacks
at the Georgetown Neighborhood Library

I work with many adults who are returning to school to finish their undergraduate degree or starting (or returning to) a writing practice. These are busy people who are adding new deadlines to professional, familial and personal obligations.

It isn't easy, but it is possible to squeeze in something new to already full lives. I think the best way to do this is to rely heavily on a calendar.

I ask my writers to not only introduce themselves, but also to discuss time management. When and how will they complete their proposed projects? What has or has not worked for them in the past? Most of them remember having missed deadlines and are committed to avoiding that error again. But how?

Let's imagine that you are like these busy adults and you want to start something new. If, say, you want to submit a research paper or finish a draft of a short story, you might start by adding the deadline to the calendar. But that's not enough. The next step is to find time when you can work on that writing. You'll need time for editing, revising and maybe research, too. If you can block time off, then you are more likely to complete the assignment.

I recommend giving yourself enough time so that you can finish early, just in case you end up needing some extra wiggle room. Online classes or personal projects can be deceptively flexible. It seems like you have all the time in the world, but then suddenly you run out of time.

Think of these writing projects as in-person appointments. I suggest blocking off the time to work and treating that time as an appointment. If you miss the appointment, which will happen sometimes, then be sure to reschedule. But work hard to keep the appointments and complete the assignments.

It can take an average of 66 days to develop a new habit. I know, that sounds daunting. But instead, think of this new, desired habit as something that won't happen naturally. You will need to work at establishing the new pattern and making it happen.

I know that you can do it (with your calendar!)

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

Reading to Teach

Cover of the book hidden

Thanks to Facebook friends who posted the link, I read this article, "Holocaust Remembrance Day 40 Mighty Girl Books About the Holocaust" on the site A Mighty Girl. Thanks to the DC Library system, I was able to quickly request one of the books recommended for smaller kids, hidden: a child's story of the Holocaust written by Loïc Dauvillier, illustrated by Marc Lizano and colored by Greg Salsedo.

And I do mean to repeat my thanks to many people, because I have wondered for years how I would ever introduce our child to the Holocaust and the events surrounding it.

I was caught off guard on the anniversary of 9/11 when our child, walking home hand-in-hand with me, told me he knew about "the towers that fell" because his teacher had read him a book. We found the book they'd read, The Man Who Walked Between the Towers by Mordicai Gerstein, and read it together. I had wanted to tell him about the Towers and my memories, but I never knew how to start that conversation. Thanks to his teachers, the author and the availability of books, we could continue the conversation at home. Knowing I could talk about 9/11 with our child made me feel braver about continuing hard discussions with him.

I cried while reading hidden this morning with our five year-old. He sat close, his head on my shoulder, and was very attentive. We paused at times to discuss the text and images. Not everything was directly described, but some basic facts, fears and questions were addressed in the book. I practiced being quiet and giving him space to ask questions. He didn't, but I imagine he will one day and we can work to find answers (that is, where there are answers.)

Mr. Rogers says, "look for the helpers." hidden does just that from a child's perspective. But how do we explain the others who did even worse than not helping? I don't know and I'm not sure that there's a book that shares the answers, but I do know that we will keep reading and learning about how to best grow into a helper.

The luxury of choosing when and how to discuss these hard subjects is a great privilege. We didn't earn that privilege and we owe it to the world to keep learning and working to make each human as safe as possible.

My partner and I pledge to continue to educate our child as well as we can, no matter how hard it is for us. Thank you to the many authors, teachers, librarians and friends who make that possible.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Drafts & Feedback: Heartache and Progress

Writing Table (American,  1795 - 1805) The Metropolitan Museum of Art

You write something. You're excited about it. You decide to share it with friends. You have different friends who reliably offer a variety of encouraging feedback - one friend always writes back enthusiastically that she loves it. Another asks you to write more! because everything you write is so great! Another one corrects your commas and a few verbs before declaring it done!

But there are the other friends, teachers or classmates who offer feedback that stings at first. Someone suggests you change the point of view. Another person recommends changing the verb tense. Someone else suggests that the story really starts to emerge at the end, meaning that you need to cut a lot and probably write even more.

It stings. Your heart hurts. Your ego hurts. You thought you were close to done and now you are feeling all mixed up about what you meant to write, what you did write and what to write now. You start to think of excuses (You never really wanted to write this anyhow. What a stupid topic! Why put any more time that you don't even have into this piece that can't possibly go somewhere?)

Congratulations! You're now in the middle of the process. It is hard - so hard! - to get the gumption to write something and share it with friends. But you shared it with certain readers because you really, truly, definitely wanted their feedback because you want to make the writing as strong as possible.

I know, it is hard to swallow the feedback sometimes. Sometimes the feedback feels right and you follow the advice. Sometimes it doesn't feel right, but you realize you can't exactly stand behind what you wrote and you need to make some edits even if you're not sure which ones yet. Sometimes a draft really is a part of the overall writing practice and isn't something that needs to be edited, but you learned a lot during the process.

To use some friendly cliches, writing takes a very thin skin to create and a very thick skin to manage the editing process, feedback and submitting. I'm here to remind you that you can do this. You can stick with it - you already have for this long, right? - and keep trying.

Continue to write, share and consider the feedback. And write, revise, edit and write some more. Read a whole lot, too, and think about what you've read in terms of your own writing.

True and personal story: I fell in love with my husband when he gave me some honest feedback on a poem. He didn't know why something didn't work, but he noted which section of a poem fell flat for him. Sure, my ego and feelings were hurt, but I knew I could trust him to both be honest and honor my work by taking it seriously.

Keep sharing your writing and value all the readers - the ones who love you and your work unconditionally to encourage you to keep going and the ones who give you more concrete, sometimes difficult feedback that makes you a better writer. They are all a part of your tribe.

And keep writing!

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Writing in the New Year

Close up of a small tree's roots in the woods. The above-ground roots criss-cross
each other and there are leaves, moss and dirt around the roots.

Happy new year! I hope that you had a wonderful holiday season!

As we start a shiny new year, it is a good time to take stock of your goals and think about how you will work towards meeting them.

Overall, think about what you want to write and when you will make time to sit down and accomplish the task. Remember to give yourself time to research (including reading), draft, edit and, if you are interested in publishing, submit. If this first step feels daunting, you might take Dorothy Bendel's online class Balance Your Needs: Launch Your Project in the Time You Have through The Loft.

Maybe you want to read more in the new year. You might start by reading my posts Three Major Questions To Ask When You Read or Read Like a Writer. Andi Cumbo has written an insightful piece for this blog about her personal library.

I will be teaching a memoir writing workshop at Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., this March: Narrative Memoir Workshop (register directly through the bookstore.) I am also available to work with as a writing coach with a couple of new writers starting in early February. You can learn more about my writing coach services here.

For more, here are some earlier posts that you might find helpful as you work on your goals and concrete writing plans for 2019:
New Year & Improved Writing Goals
First Day of School and Patterns
Happy New Year! Ok, Now It Is Time to Write
Happy New Year! Setting Writing Goals

I have worked to collect resources for writers, locally and virtually, on this blog. If you are looking for something in particular or hoping to learn something new, you might start by scrolling down the right side of this blog for outside links to resources such as Selected DC Area Resources, Literary Journals Focused on Health.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Hope to see you on Dec. 17th: Readings on the Pike

I'm looking forward to reading with Caroline Bock, Lottie Joiner, Zach Powers, Norie Quintos, Melissa Scholes Young, Amy Freeman, Caron Martinez, Courtney LeBlanc, Hannah Grieco, and Venus Thrash on Monday, December 17th at Readings on the Pike. Thank you to Hannah Grieco for organizing this new series!

Details about the reading:

Monday, December 17, 2018 at 7:30 PM – 9 PM
(doors open at 7:30 and reading starts at 8:00)
Twisted Vines
2803 Columbia Pike, Arlington, Virginia 22204

I hope to see you there for the reading and book sale!