Monday, January 15, 2018

You're the (Writing) Superhero

Father and son walking ahead on Halloween.
Our four-year-old is wearing a red cape with an "S" for Superman.

Our four-year-old likes to pretend that one of us is a superhero and the other is the villain. There villain usually "steals the baby to put him in jail," but that's another short story.

Happily, when we think about writing, there's no villain (or jailed baby.) When you hire a writing coach, the superhero is you. You don't have to wear a bright red cape, but you can definitely accept all of the praise for your final product.

The writing coach will nudge your work in the direction it wants to go with questions, reading suggestions and encouragement. She has the necessary distance to look at the piece objectively. You, however, know exactly what instinct or feeling started your piece and where you hope it will go. In the end, you will be the one who does all of the hard work with each word.

When I work with writers, I help them to develop and strengthen their voice. I encourage them to discover something by writing, writing, editing, writing some more and reading, reading and reading some more.

For more on my writing coach services, read this. The page has been recently updated with sample writing coach packages. Remember that you can always personalize our sessions and any package. You might also be interested in reading what happens during a writing coach session. Before our first session, please consider this list of questions

To book your first appointment or schedule a phone appointment to determine if writing coaching is right for you, email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Year & Improved Writing Goals

Ancient sculpture of a seated woman from the National Museum of Archeology in Malta
If ancient Neolithic people could 
you can write a chapter this month. 

I love the fresh start of a new year. This is a natural time to assess your progress and set goals for yourself.

It is also a natural time to drive yourself crazy rather than actually set and accomplish goals. Let's avoid the crazy to try a more practical approach this year.

Writing Goals & Plan
First, ask yourself some questions: What are your writing goals for the new year? What do you think you can actually accomplish and when will you do the necessary work? Set your goals down (maybe even in a Bullet Journal) and schedule time to meet those goals daily, weekly and monthly. Give yourself time to brainstorm, write, edit, submit and read widely.

Writing To-Do List
Break your large project into small pieces (for example: research a particular question, write this scene, etc.) In fact, keep a to-do list of the small steps necessary to complete the full project. If you add, "finish my manuscript" in your to-do list, you're less likely to ever cross that item off your list than if you had written, "write backstory for X character." I encourage you to schedule blocks of time in your calendar to complete these particular tasks.

Write Everyday? No
I've heard the mantra to write everyday since I started reading about writers' approaches. As a teacher, parent and human with unscheduled things popping up daily, that's never been a goal I can meet.

Cal Newport writes in "Write Every Day" is Bad Advice: Hacking the Psychology of Big Projects,  "Hard scheduling rules — write every day! work on research for one hour each morning! exercise 10 hours a week! — deployed in isolation will lead to procrastination as soon as you start to violate them, which you almost certainly will do. At this point, the bigger goal the rules support will suffer from this same motivation drop. To leverage the psychology of your brain, you need to instead choose clear goals that you clearly know how to accomplish, and then approach scheduling with flexibility. Be aggressive, but remain grounded in the reality of your schedule. If your mind thinks you have a good goal and sees your short terms plans are working, it will keep you motivated toward completion."

Be Happy, Too
The first book I read this year was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which a kind friend brought me from the States. I like Rubin's practical approach to meeting goals while being gentle to herself. My favorite resource is her 13 Suggestions for Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions.  She includes the possibility of giving up a resolution and asking for help. This is a general approach I can follow, rather than faltering one day and feeling frustrated enough to give up. You can be happy while achieving your goals. Why would you continue to work towards your goal if that work makes you miserable?

More Resources
There are many more fabulous voices adding ways to meet your goals in the new year. Here are some of my recent favorites:
Writing While Parenting by Sara Burnett
Don't Waste Your Time with Bad Resolutions by Tim Herrera

For more from me, I've written previously about Trusting Your Calendar and Setting Writing Goals

If you need help with your writing to-do list and setting a schedule for yourself, as well as individualized writing coaching, I'm available to work with you. You can read about my services here and email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. 

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays! I hope that you have a lovely time this season celebrating, resting, spending time with loved ones and perhaps revisiting some memories.

I particularly love choosing gifts for writers. For books, shop at independent bookstores (online and in-person.) You might support a literary magazine by sending a loved one a subscription. Consider donating to a nonprofit in someone's name (PEN InternationalSingapore Unbound or Split this Rock are great choices.) If your loved one is in the D.C. area, they might enjoy a gift certificate to the Folger Shakespeare Library.

If your loved one is interested in writing coaching, I offer gift certificates.

See you back here in 2018!

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Poems, Books, Collaboration and Family

My mother, Melabee M. Miller, is an artist who has always inspired and encouraged me. When she asked to create a book from a poem in my current manuscript, I was very excited to see how she would interpret the poem.

Scroll down to see photographs of her lovely creation and where to see this book and others by members of the Book Arts Roundtable:

The Stone Wall & Moving Pages

An exhibition by members of the Book Arts Roundtable 
Pierro Gallery at The Baird Center, 5 Mead Street, South Orange, NJ 07079
December 7 - December 19, 2017

Gallery Hours: Monday-Thursday: 10:00-4:00 / Friday: 10:00-3:00 / Saturday: 10:00-4:00

• The theme Stone Wall was inspired by the current political discussion about immigration restrictions. Roundtable members were invited to create blocks of stone that open to tell a story, deliver a message, or provoke a thought.

• The theme Moving Pages challenged the artists to work with multiple book openings and layouts that move across folds or gutters. The artists use pre-treated, crumpled, textured, or decorative paper, and muted or pastel colors. The content incorporates symbols, diagrams and charts. Low-tech typewriting, stencils, hand-lettering, solvent transfers and rubber stamps tell the story.

Mothers: Poem by Chloe Yelena Miller and Visual Art by Melabee M. Miller: 

Please email me if you'd like to read the poem: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com

Thursday, December 7, 2017

Light & Looking

I have been thinking a lot about light. As I write poems on this subject this past year or so, I've been adding the poems to a manuscript most tentatively titled, "Light: A memoir in poems." Meanwhile, our child has been taking pictures of art here in Florence, Italy, and it seems that he is also noticing the light.

Last weekend we visited the Bargello Museum. The four year old asked for my phone and took pictures of what he noticed. I loved seeing what caught his eye and how he framed the images, which sometimes took a few tries. 

The connections between visual art and writing are well documented. Each creator is carefully looking, focusing in on something and illuminating it with our own light - a camera, pen or something else. This post is a reminder to be attentive to everything all around us - from what is placed on a pedestal for us to look at to the floor and to the air itself.

Here are some of our child's photographs from the Bargello:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Lifelong Learning With Thor

Avengers comic book
"What's that mean, Mommy?"

I'm reading our four-year-old an Avengers superhero comic book that we bought at a newsstand in Florence. It is in Italian. The text is small. When I stumble on a word, I have to figure out first if the word is an Italian one or a superhero-specific one that I don't know. I don't know a lot about superheroes.

I could write a dictionary of words I've learned from the four-year-old's children books. To think I once called myself, "almost fluent;" his books have set me straight.

"Look it up, Mommy!"

This year, we rely heavily on Google Translate and are learning new words together. A hammer is a martello. Thor's hammer, however, is called, Mjolnir.

When I teach college composition writing classes online, most of my students are busy adults going back to school while raising a family and working full-time. I always love their stories of doing homework at the kitchen table while their kids do their homework. The kids see that the parents value education and everyone studies together. What role modeling! (If you're going back to school with younger kids who need more attention, here's some helpful advice about keeping them busy while working to balance everyone's needs.)

None of this is easy. Sometimes I want to "lose" these harder books that I have trouble following in Italian (and probably would in English, too.) I'm tired at the end of the day and don't always have the energy to "work" through a kid's book.

It is scary to say, "I don't know," especially to your kids. This year I'm trying really hard to encourage our child, who is slowly learning a new language, to keep asking questions. That it is fun to learn something new and enter into new worlds, with or without Thor. 

Hopefully these lessons, along with a big one about patience, will sink in. (Yes, for both of us.)

As the Italians say, "Forza!" (strength!) to each of us as we encounter new things we might not have chosen for ourselves. I admit that I'm starting to find the superheros' powers intriguing, as well as the imaginary worlds. I wonder if or how these images might show up in a poem or two... 

Monday, November 20, 2017

Holidays & Writing Schedules

Four year old child sitting on the floor
 reading in a bookstore in Florence, Italy
Our four year old has been known to knock on the butcher's glass window in the evening just to wave an enthusiastic, "Buona Sera!" He loves meat and has developed a friendship with the butcher near our home in Florence, Italy. The other day I stopped in to buy something while our child was in daycare. The butcher looked at me kindly and reassured me, "Don't worry, Signora. Your child will be home for the holidays soon and you'll have something to do again."

His response startled me.

I just smiled and nodded instead of expressing my anxiety about how to keep up with work (as an online instructor, my adult students take classes over the holidays and study more when they are home from their jobs), writing and family time over the holidays. With a non-stop child who wakes up at six am on a good day and has given up the afternoon nap, it isn't easy to balance everything.

Maybe the goal isn't to balance everything, but rather to choose to do some things one day and other things another day. As the holidays start in the U.S. this week with Thanksgiving, I hope that you can shift your attention easily and focus on your current activity. That might mean a self-imposed writing residency while you have time off from work or it might mean putting your writing on hold until little ones are back at school again. Whatever works for you, try to do it with self-awareness, purposefulness and openness to whatever changes inevitably happen.

For more on writing over the holidays, click through if you're thinking about gathering family stories or keeping notes during the busiest times.