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!

Friday, December 7, 2018

Narrative Memoir Writing Workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore

I'm excited to be teaching my Narrative Memoir Writing Workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C., starting on March 12, 2019. If you're interested, register today through the bookstore (spaces usually fill up quickly!)

Here are the details from the listing:

Narrative Memoir Workshop (1941)

Five Tuesday: March 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 10 a.m. to noon.

$175 (10% off for Members)
Memoir, like all creative non-fiction, relies on literary craft tools such as scene and plot to mold a clear storyline and develop characters. 

This five-meeting workshop will help you to write your memories into scenes for essays or chapters of a full manuscript. Participants will respond to writing prompts and workshop one essay or manuscript excerpt (up to 750 words.) We will consider issues of editing, revising, organizing research and chapters, and publishing. Students will receive feedback from peers and the instructor during group workshop sessions throughout the last four classes.  

This class is open to all levels, from first-time memoirists to experienced writers.

In-class writing prompts will change every session; you are welcome to take this class more than once.

No homework is due for the first day of class. Please bring paper and a pen (or charged laptop) to every class. You will be writing in-class and at home starting with the first session.

We will rely on email for communication and distribution of student writing after the first week.

To participate fully in the class, it is necessary to have an email account that you check regularly.
Five Tuesday: March 12, 19, 26, April 2, 9, 10 a.m. to noon.

Recommended Reading:

The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. by Phillip Lopate

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoirby Beth Kephart

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Happy Holidays!

I wish everyone a happy, healthy and regenerative holiday season!

If you are looking for writing-related gifts for loved ones (or yourself!), you might consider a gift certificate for writing coaching. I have openings for new clients beginning in January.

Don't hesitate to email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com with any questions or to make your first appointment today.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Holidays For Writing Research

Setting sun between bare trees on a winter afternoon
with snow on the ground

If you are writing about your memories, the holidays can be a fertile time for (even passive) research. You can try to hunt down answers to questions, interview loved ones or work on being present in the moment.

Before you start wrapping presents or planning what you'll cook, take a few minutes to write down questions about your past. Maybe you want to remember how to prepare Aunt Sally's famous pie or what your favorite holiday decoration looks like. List these questions somewhere and keep them close over the holidays when you see folks or your memories are stirred by certain smells or sounds.

If you are hoping to interview, formally or informally, loved ones over the holiday, come prepared. You might start by watching StoryCorps' video, "Best Practices for Conducting an Interview" and reading their list of Great Questions. Overall, I think your goal should be to ask both open-ended questions and specific ones, if you have them. You should also double-up on your record keeping in case you encounter technical difficulties (for example, take notes by hand and use your phone to video the discussion.) 

Finally, keep a notebook close (or phone, my preferred method of jotting down quick notes these days). Be present and use your five senses to experience each moment. You never know when you might have a 'madeleine moment'. 

Good luck and I hope you'll let me know how it goes!

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

"Just Friends" at Hip Mama

Thanks to Hip Mama for publishing my essay Just Friends. I especially appreciated editor Kerry Joyce's suggestions.

And thank you to all of my friends from before mama-hood. I'm glad to have found good people I can be myself around.