Friday, December 17, 2010

Happy Holidays!

I’m looking forward to celebrating the holidays with family and friends before attending the Key West Literary Seminar. The theme this year is food (something I love) and I will be in a poetry workshop led by poet Jane Hirshfield. As you can imagine, I can’t wait to focus on writing for ten full, sunny days. I’ll be sure to share some of what I’ve learned when I return.

As you continue your holiday shopping, you might browse through my Amazon store with literary and how-to book suggestions or consider buying a gift certificate for your favorite writer to work with me as a writing coach or to take an online class this spring semester.

Read, write and edit well over the holidays! If you’d like to guest blog here in January about something related to writing, let me know. I welcome your words.

While I won’t be blogging until I return to the office on January 19th, I will be updating the Facebook group page and answering emails (Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com). I look forward to hearing from you!

See you back here on January 19th!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

What Happens During a Writing Coach Appointment?

If you are interested in starting or polishing a writing project, you might find it helpful to work one-on-one with me as your writing coach.

If you’ve never worked with a writing coach before, here is an overview of what might happen during the appointment. Remember that this is a general guide, since every appointment is customized for the writer. The most successful appointments are those that are led by the client with specific questions and concerns.

As a writing coach, I am very much just that: A coach. By looking closely at the writing samples that you supply, I will pose questions and offer writing and even reading suggestions that will help you to develop your own voice and style in your writing. As I always say, if you finish our time together simply mimicking me, then I know that I haven’t done my job. This is about you.

What if you’ve never written a word before and don’t have writing samples? I’m happy to offer you prompts, resources and suggestions to help get those creative juices flowing onto the page. We can brainstorm together and then meet again to review the work you produced in response to the prompts. Of course, writing prompts can be slightly artificial ways to begin to write. You should always feel free to stray from the prompt. If the prompt brought you somewhere else, then it was a successful prompt. From the written responses, we’ll underline key words and ideas and work on ways to develop them further.

I book writing coach appointments by the hour. I spend the first part of the hour preparing for our meeting. I will read through the work that you’ve emailed to me and take notes. I prefer to receive the material 1-3 days ahead of our appointment so that I can read it more than once with some time in between. Depending on the density and level of your writing, I can usually read and make short notes on 1-10 pages in about 15-20 minutes total.

Then, we will meet (in-person, on the phone or via Skype) to discuss the material. This usually takes about 40 – 45 minutes. (If you prefer that I email you my responses, then it will take longer to type out my thoughts. I will ask for you to read through my comments and respond with questions, so that we can have a dialogue.)

During our conversation, I will first address what was done well before considering the piece as a whole and then move through the piece slowly, line by line in sections, to address both larger and smaller concerns. You are always encouraged to ask questions.

As a coach I will pose questions and comment upon sections that could be expanded or whittled down while considering the larger themes of the piece as a whole. If there are mechanical or craft issues, I will note patterns of difficulty and offer you resources to help you with your skills. I’m happy to offer you mini-lessons on various issues and suggest exercises that we can review the next time.

There is not much that I love more than writing (maybe food) and I enjoy sharing my enthusiasm and knowledge with my writing clients. I look forward to working together!

For more information, please see my Writing Coach page. Not ready for a one-on-one session? You might be more interested in a small, online writing class.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Give the Gift of Writing

Looking for the perfect gift for the writer in your life? Give a gift certificate that can be used towards private writing coach sessions or an online writing class.

Gift certificates are available in $20.00, $50.00 and $100.00 denominations. You can pay by check or, for an added $4.00 fee, via Paypal. A personalized certificate will be emailed or mailed to you immediately.

Gift certificates expire after one year from the date of purchase.

To order your gift certificate today, email me: ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Online Writing Classes

Registration is now open for the spring semester’s online writing classes. To save your virtual seat today, email me: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Full course descriptions can be found here.

Creative Non-Fiction Revision
Monday, February 14 to Friday, February 25 (2 weeks)

Getting Started With Creative Writing
Monday, March 7 to Friday, March 11 (1 week)

Poetry Revision
Monday, April 11 to Friday, April 22 (2 weeks)

Don’t see what you were looking for? You might be interested in working with me on your project as your private writing coach. I am accepting new clients to start in January, 2011.

I look forward to working together!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Resources for Young Writers

Did you know that New Pages has a wonderful list of publications and contests open to young writers?

If you aren't already familiar with New Pages, I strongly encourage you to look around. There are great resources for writers, from submission opportunities to book reviews to literary magazine reviews and more.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ethical Problems

"You got an ethical problem with writin' my paper? You can't handle it?"

This was a question from a potential writing client. He needed "help" with papers for his masters program at a prestigious university.

I'm sure you can guess my answer.

Please, please, please!, understand that as a professional writing coach, I will help you to develop your voice and writing skills. I will point out patterns of errors in your paper, offer you resources, examples, and more, but I won’t actually write your paper for you.

Do you really want someone to write your paper for you?

The Chronicle for Higher Education recently published The Shadow Scholar about a man who writes student papers for a living. It is both fascinating and horrifying all at once. If a student has the money and wants to hire someone to write a paper, there are writers who are willing to take the job. But what will that student do later when she has memos or emails that she must write while holding a paid position? Will she continue to pay someone to do her work? How will she get promoted, or perhaps find a job in the first place, without knowing how to formulate a clear idea and share it with others?

As a writing coach, I work to put myself out of business. If I can help writers to develop the tools to write on their own, then I know that they will be able to succeed on their own. They shouldn’t write like me, but they should know the rules and even how to break them, consciously.

If you are looking to work with a writing coach to help you to develop your (own) writing skills, I look forward to hearing from you: ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Writing Prompt: Sit Still. I Dare You.

Kojo Nnamdi, from the local NPR affiliate WAMU, recently interviewed New York Times reporter Matt Richtel about the effect of using computers and other devices regularly.

The show, which I listened in the background while driving and navigating highways the other day, discussed our ability to multi-task and think. I was struck by the importance of boredom to allow our brains to create something new and, perhaps most importantly, to truly learn and retain something that we recently heard.

It is difficult for us to be still in our age of doing too many things at once. I encourage you, as a sort of pre-writing prompt, to sit and think today for at least a few minutes. Don’t check your email while you are doing it; wait to Tweet about it after you finish. Keep your body still. Don’t wander around the house putting things away or start cutting up vegetables for dinner. Just sit somewhere comfortable and let your mind wander.

You aren’t being lazy or procrastinating by sitting still. Rather, you are taking care of yourself and your mind. Perhaps, you are even pre-writing. Give yourself permission to be still.

Afterwards, you might feel refreshed and ready to start a new project. Perhaps you have the beginning of a new poem or a line that would help an older poem to come back to life. Now you are ready to go back to your day and write.

Here is the brief description of the show, which you can listen to here:

Every day Americans navigate a torrent of data. We field a barrage of work and personal emails. We update our status and check on our friends. We surf across dozens of websites. Most of us are now expert multitaskers, but some worry we're creating a generation unable to focus on specific tasks. We speak with a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, who is exploring whether technology is rewiring our brains.

For more, you’ll enjoy this series of New York Times articles, “Your Brain on Computers.”
I welcome your comments below.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Guest Blog?

Are you interested in writing a guest post for this blog? Perhaps you'd like to share a writing tip, writing experience, book review, interview with an author, or something else related to writing or teaching?

If you are interested in proposing a topic, please write to me directly (Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.)

Looking forward to reading your work!

Monday, November 29, 2010

Writing Prompt: 5 Senses


I don't know about you, but I'm still full from Thanksgiving dinner and all of the leftover pies... and I love it.

For today's writing prompt, think about what you've been eating and describe it according to the five senses. This close attention to detail will help you to describe the food for the reader in such a way that she can taste it, too. Write non-stop for five to ten minutes and then go back and underline the key lines/ideas/images that emerge. Yes, of course you can warm up a piece of pie to help start the writing process.

I'd love to read your piece or responses to the exercise below in the Comments section.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

Phew, it is already Thanksgiving week? It promises to be a busy time not only because of the holiday, but also because these few non-teaching-days are a good time to catch up on classes (i.e. grading), writing, and reading.

Have a wonderful holiday with your family and enjoying the days off to catch up and relax, too. I look forward to seeing you again on Monday, November 29th.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Thinking About Copyright Issues Today

The Copyright Alliance Education Foundation recently sent out a link to a post about copyright issues on the How Publishing Really Works blog. The post ends with a request to blog about copyright today.

With this in mind, I’d like to turn our attention to copyright/plagiarism issues. It is impossible to write or teach without thinking about these issues a considerable amount. From both perspectives, an amazing resource is the Copyright Alliance. You can find helpful information for educators and writers.

When I was preparing a fall syllabus this summer, I blogged about plagiarism. There, I include some links that I find helpful and suggestions about class exercises that dissuade plagiarism.

On a related note, educators might be interested in a recent case chronicled by Inside Higher Ed about cheating in a classroom at the University of Central Florida.

I look forward to reading not only today’s post on How Publishing Works, but the links to other posts in the Comments section. While you are visiting the site, I encourage you to click around and read the many posts. There are some particularly great lists of publishing links there.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Need Quick Help with College Application Essays?

Don't let applying to college stress you out. Let me help you to brainstorm and organize your ideas, as well as edit, revise and proofread your essays. We can work on the Common App essay, essay questions particular to schools and short response questions.

Remember: Your job is to display your writing skills and your critical thinking skills. The admissions counselors want to learn more about you, too. We can make sure that your skills, experiences and interests are fully represented in your application as a whole.

We'll work around your schedule. I am available to meet with at convenient times in person, online or on the phone.

Email me {Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com} to sign up today.

*Free 20 minute consultation if you mention this blog post.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Poet Mark Strand: Interview in the Paris Review

Mark Strand was one of the first poets I read as a girl. His stark, matter-of-fact and philosophical lines made me want to be a poet. I have heard him read many times and am always mesmerized by his direct words. Because of this, he seemed like a good choice to share with my students in an Introduction to Literature class populated mainly by non-English majors.

I assigned his Pulitzer Prize winning collection Blizzard of One. Together, we read aloud the long poem The Delirium Waltz and looked at two de Chirico poems that inspired one of the poems. I heard him read The Delirium Waltz at the 92 Street Y a few years ago and the sound of the music, heard best read aloud, came into our 7:30 am class to offer us new insight into the words on the page.

While we were discussing the poet and poetry, we looked at some sections of this Paris Review interview with Mark Strand. I think you’ll enjoy reading through Strand’s responses to questions about how he reads, why we read poetry and more. Here is one of my favorite answers: “You don’t read poetry for the kind of truth that passes for truth in the workaday world. You don’t read a poem to find out how you get to Twenty-fourth Street.”

Friday, November 12, 2010

Writing Prompt: Reflections

My mother, Photographer Melabee Miller, recently blogged about reflections. She offers readers three images of known objects reflected on water. The light and water’s surface shifts the original object into something new. Writing about reflections, or even writing as a reflection, can do the same for the reader.

For today’s writing prompt, consider the word “reflection.” An object, person or maybe even an idea, can be reflected on many surfaces: water, mirror, glass, spoon, and more. Choose one reflection, real or imagined, and focus in on the details. What do you see? What does it remind you of? How did it happen?

There are so many reflections to choose from. There are the beautiful reflections, like the buildings and clouds on the Potomac River when I drive over the Key Bridge at 6:30 am, and the stranger reflections, like my early morning face in the foggy bathroom mirror after a shower. What reflections catch you off guard?

Write for ten minutes without stopping and see if there are lines, words, or ideas that you can expand upon later.

You are welcome to share your writing in the Comments section below.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Poet Beth Bachmann’s Book Temper

Beth Bachmann’s poems in Temper will give you pause. And the pause is what Bachmann writes. In an audio transcript about reading her work aloud as she is writing, she says that she is listening for silence as she revises. Silence is “an incomprehensible experience,” which is a part of the craft of poetry.

Temper is dedicated to and about Bachmann’s sister who was murdered at age 18 when Bachmann was 15. The collection is both memoir and elegy. In this audio transcript about the form of her poem Heaven, Bachmann says that in order to offer a documentary of what happened, she shifts away the usual elegiac attention on the “you” or the “I,” a focus which usually offers commemoration of the life lost or consolation to those remaining. Her technique brings the reader closer to what happened; that is, the event itself. Of course, what happened might not always be clear. In this interview (which begins here) Bachmann notes that the form of poetry allows us, readers and writers, “to remain in a state of interrogation” with respect to what happened.

Have you read Temper or other poems by Beth Bachmann? I welcome your thoughts below in the Comments sections.

Monday, November 8, 2010

What Are Your Favorite Memoirs?

The Online Memoir Writing Workshop begins today! (If you email me today, I can squeeze you in.)

I have some favorite memoirs listed in my Amazon Store and would love to add more. What are your favorites? Please share in the Comments Section below.

One of my recent favorites is Natasha Trethewey’s Beyond Katrina, a collection of poetry and prose which I recently blogged about.

To access the Store, click the link and then choose the category on the right that interests you. You might start with “Creative Non-Fiction / Memoir Collections” or for writing suggestions, “On Creative Non-Fiction / Memoir Writing.”

Friday, November 5, 2010

Online Memoir Writing Workshop Starts Monday

There are still spaces available in the upcoming Online Memoir Writing Workshop. To save your space today, email me {ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com}.

Still undecided? Here is a quick preview of one day's activities. Each day there is a short reading assignment with directed questions and writing prompt. The class is asynchronous on a private Google Group. You can respond any time throughout the day, depending on your own schedule. (You can even work ahead or catch up, if necessary.)

Sample day’s work:

Reading: “To Dorothy” by Marvin Bell

Discussion: Reading and word choice. What words did you notice that Bell chose? How would you describe the vocabulary and the diction? Be sure to read the poem aloud to yourself to fully understand its sounds.

Writing prompt: Write for 5-10 minutes nonstop on a memory you have with a loved one. You may decide to write something directly to them, as Bell did. Simply free-write. Don’t let your pen leave the paper or don’t stop typing. Don’t censor yourself for meaning, sentence structure or even grammar. After you’ve written nonstop, look back at what you produced. Underline the key words or ideas that you intend to explore for the final piece. Respond to at least one other author’s piece.

I look forward to working together!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Natasha Trethewey & "Beyond Katrina" at the National Book Festival

I was so happy to hear poet Natasha Trethewey at the National Book Festival, where I also heard Orhan Pamuk and Elizabeth Alexander. (Yes, it took me too long to finally share my thoughts with you.)

I’ve been reading Trethewey’s new book Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, which she read part of at the Festival. This memoir combines prose, poetry and photographs as a means to tell both a personal and regional story from the Mississippi Gulf Coast.

Creative writing, like other art forms, allows the reader into a historical moment. If I were to pair Beyond Katrina with other books to offer the story of Hurricane Katrina, I would recommend Patricia Smith’s poetry collection Blood Dazzler and Dave Egger’s Zeitoun. Through poetry and prose, the reader can learn certain human truths about survival and conflict, as well as gain an understanding about the storm.

In Beyond Katrina, Trethewey gives voice to her family and land. She said at the Festival about her multi-genre piece, “I didn’t think my poems could hold something so large.” She added that she has great kinship to Irish poets because of a “similar sense of exile.” The enormity of the storm can only be understood in its moments and details. She opens the book with a quote by Flannery O’Connor, “Where you came from is gone. Where you thought you were going to was never there. And where you is no good unless you can get away from it.”

When I teach and write memoir, in either poetry or prose, there is always the question of the importance of the personal story. There is a possible danger in unearthing intimate or local stories. After recently finishing Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy, I asked my students to write a paper arguing for (or against) the value of memoir. Many of them agreed that an important aspect is the life lesson – a certain kernel of truth – that can be gained from not only a personal story, but the author’s insightful analysis of a moment in life. Trethewey quotes Phil Levine in her book when she writes, “’I write what is given to me to write,’ Phil Levine has said. I’ve been given to thinking that it’s my national duty, my native duty, to keep the memory of my Gulf Coast as talisman against the uncertain future.”

If you are interested in learning more about Natasha Trethewey, you’ll enjoy listening to this NPR interview with her as much as I did. She offers more about her family history, including her mother’s murder by her stepfather (this is the subject of an earlier book, Native Guard, which "represents the idea that I am a native guardian to the memory of my mother’s life" (from this NYT article.) You can watch and hear her reading poems in this Youtube video.

If you are interested in working on your memoir, in small pieces, you might be interested in an upcoming, online memoir writing class that I will be leading.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Post-Halloween-Sugar-Rush-Special: Online Memoir Writing Workshop Starts in One Week!

There are still virtual seats available for the Online Memoir Writing Workshop which begins next week. Since it is online, you’ll learn to integrate a regular writing routine into your life.

Too busy? Instead of thinking of it as something else to add to that long to-do list, remember that writing is already on your list. This class will help you to accomplish your writing goals.

To make it even easier for you, today we are offering a Post-Halloween-Sugar-Rush-Special. If you sign up for the workshop by midnight tonight, you’ll receive one free hour of writing coaching on the project of your choice.

To save your space today, email me {ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com}.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Sarah Lawrence MFA Alum Poets to Read from Recently Published Tomes

 
As exciting as Washington, D.C. is, I’m sorry to miss the chance to see Sarah Lawrence College poets read from their recently published books. Four alums of our MFA writing program, Ron Egatz, Rachel Eliza Griffiths, Jee Leong Koh and Jean Hartig, will be reading at Slonim House at SLC on Wednesday, November 3rd at 7:00 PM.

Next best thing to going? Hearing from you how it went! If you are close to Bronxville, N.Y., I hope you will consider attending the reading and sharing your thoughts below.

Quick bios on the readers:

Ron Egatz ('93) is winner of the Glimmer Train Poetry Award and the Greenburgh Poetry Award. Beneath Stars Long Extinct, was published by Red Hen Press. In 2010. A poet widely published in literary reviews and anthologies, Egatz also runs Camber Press, Inc., an independent literary press. He teaches privately and lives in a loft on the Hudson while missing Paris.

Rachel Eliza Griffiths ('06) is a poet and a photographer. Her visual and literary work has been widely published including Callaloo, The NY Times, Indiana Review, RATTLE, Crab Orchard Review and others. She is the author of Miracle Arrhythmia (Willow Books). A Cave Canem Fellow, she lives in Brooklyn.

Jee Leong Koh ('05) is the author of two books of poems Payday Loans and Equal to the Earth. His new book Seven Studies for a Self-Portrait will be released in March 2011. Born in Singapore, he lives in NYC and blogs at Song of a Reformed Headhunter.

Jean Hartig ('07) is the author of the chapbook Ave, Materia and associate editor of Poets & Writers Magazine. She grew up in Baltimore and now lives in Brooklyn.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Applying to MFA Programs

This is the time of year when prospective graduate students consider creative writing programs (MFA, MA or PhD.)

I worked towards my MFA at Sarah Lawrence College from 2003 – 2005. I always say that it was a gift to spend two years immersed in poetry. After working abroad in Florence, Italy, I was happy to come home to the New York City metropolitan area. Being surrounded by other writers, as both inspiring and challenging as that was, and having the time to write, I was able to read widely, practice and improve my craft skills and participate in the poetry scene in New York City.

Of course, nothing is perfect. It would have been easier with more funding. Being close to my family after having lived abroad, it is possible that I was distracted from my writing more than I would have been elsewhere.

Studying at a small liberal arts college means close attention from the faculty, especially at SLC, but it also means that there aren’t teaching opportunities on campus. The program helps to set up teaching opportunities in the surrounding areas and perhaps a lighter (or non) teaching load means that the students can focus on their own writing more fully. I picked up a class at a nearby community college during my final semester with the thought that I might enjoy it and want to pursue that route. The experience helped me to eventually land a full time teaching position at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

So how do you make your own decision about what kind of degree to pursue and where to pursue it? You could start with Poets & Writers 2011 MFA rankings (a controversial list for sure, considering that part of the information was gathered from perspective students, rather than current students or alums). The magazine offers some additional information about full-time and low-residency programs.

AWP, the Association of Writers and Writing Programs offers a guide to MFA programs. New Pages includes a list of MFA, MA and PhD programs in creative writing.

Of course, there is also Anis Shivani’s fiesty article, “MFA System Corrupt And Undemocratic?” published
recently in the Huffington Post. You’ll want to follow it up with the lively response, including the comments section, on the MFA Blog.

For more useful sites to help you in your research, see Erika Dreifus’ list of links.

When you are looking into various programs, I recommend asking the following questions:
What kind of funding is available? Will it continue every year that I’m enrolled?
How many subject classes (vs. workshops) will I be taking?
Are there opportunities to teach?
Are there internship programs or on campus jobs available?
Is there a literary journal I can work on in order to gain publishing experience?
How available will the faculty be to work with me?
How many faculty will I study closely with (thesis, independent study, etc.)?
How many courses are required?
How large are the classes?
Can I take language classes and/or translate work into English?
How strong is the alum network?
How expensive is the area?
Will there be job/social opportunities outside of the school?

Feel free to ask additional questions or share advice below in the Comments Section.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Reading Stories & Writing Prompt

Thank you to everyone who participated in the recent children’s book giveaway by sharing stories of being read to or reading to a child. I hope you will read through the short pieces shared in the Comments section. Below please find two that were particularly moving and insightful.

For today’s writing prompt, consider the importance of reading. Reading allows us, at any age, to travel to a world created by an author. (I remember poet Thom Lux at Sarah Lawrence College always reminding us that writers are the “little gods” of the words we create. That statement gave us the freedom to take chances in our work.) Think about what makes that almost magical transformation into living with the characters on the page happen. How does the world around us fade away as we go somewhere else through the words on the page?

Perhaps you will share your writing below?

Select comments from book give-away:

Amy said…
My son was born into a family of bookworms, surrounded by people who love to read.

He was also born with multiple health issues and spent the first 18 days of his life in intensive care. The NICU had a cart of books provided by the March of Dimes, and we read as we held him in the rocking chair next to his crib. We read to him among the cords and tubes, amidst the beeping of monitors and alarms, above the crying of infants and the weeping of parents.

After he came home we read to him during his tube feedings. An hour at a time, every three hours. We read children's books — the bouncing rhymes of Sandra Boynton, the old classics like "Goodnight Moon." I also read favorites from my childhood, like "Anne of Green Gables," finding comfort in the familiar stories I'd read when life seemed much easier.

When our son was diagnosed with hearing loss and fitted with hearing aids, we were told to expose him to as much language as possible. So we talked and sang and read all day, every day.
Today, my son is two years old and books are his favorite things. He loves when we read to him and loves to sit and look at books by himself. He is fascinated with pictures, letters, words. Not bad for a child with significant hearing loss. Not bad for a child we were told might never see well enough to read.

My son was born into a family of bookworms, and I think that will serve him very, very well.


Susan Topper said…
I enjoy reading aloud to others as well as being read to.

I remember being read to as a child by my mother, also by my 4th grade teacher - Miss Kennedy, who read from a series called The Little Colonel. Strangely enough she also read to us from the Bible, and yes, it was public school! These days I sometimes read to my husband as we are driving in the car, and lately he will read a special article to me from the NYTimes at dinner.

Another special reading experience I share is with my son.....a devout Christian, he reads to me from the Bible in the early morning when he is visiting. I have never been able to make much sense of Bible passages myself, but he will read a passage and then explain in common language and I find the entire experience very meaningful. My husband and I love reading to the 3 year old twins that we take care of weekly....they love it and so do we. I love books. Books in general are amazing - I enjoy making them as well, as each can present such an intimate experience in and of itself.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin Reading at the Library of Congress

I’m still a little star-struck by living in Washington, D.C. Sure, there are the politicians, but there is also the Library of Congress and its poetry programs. Last night I heard W. S. Merwin read for the first time as U.S. Poet Laureate.

Merwin’s attention to nature and life in all forms causes listeners to slow down to his voice’s pace. Merwin opened with, “Poetry represents something in this country not often represented. There is an essential relationship between poetry and the world, that is source and sustenance.” A long-time poetry translator, he is moved by the possibility of language in many languages. English language poetry wouldn’t be what it is today without translation.

While most of Merwin’s poems could be called “nature poems,” he quoted Lichtenstein who said, “the only real theme of all poets throughout life is ‘homecoming.’” Merwin’s attention to human ability to speak, reason and act illuminates not only our humanity, but our possibility as humans.

The reading was following by a wine and cheese reception in the Great Hall. Paintings, mosaics, stained glass windows and views of the Capital building reminded me of visiting European palaces. I encourage you to see the space for yourselves. There are two Library of Congress buildings and the Thomas Jefferson Building is particularly ornate. Here you can take your own virtual tours of the Great Hall, and the amazing Main Reading Room.

I look forward to taking an actual tour and writing in the ornate, wood-paneled Main Reading Room.When you walk up to the building, don’t miss the view of the Capital building behind you. The Library of Congress offers poetry resources, reading series, webcasts and more.

For more on last night’s reading, read Andilit’s rumination on Merwin’s softness in his poems. Read his bio along with sample poems, translation and prose on the Academy of American Poet’s website.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Book Giveaway Winner Announced!

Congratulations to Elaine Bloom for winning a copy of Emma’s Poem. {Elaine: To receive your copy, please email me your address: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.}

Thank you to everyone who shared a beautiful reading memory! If you didn’t win, I encourage you to pick up your own copy of the book to share with the young ones in your life.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Children’s Book About Poet Emma Lazarus: Interview with author Linda Glaser & book giveaway

Growing up in the suburbs of New York City, the Statue of Liberty was a mythical figure on the horizon. I remember looking up at her crown from her base, perhaps my first lesson in perspective, imagining her history and voice. As a child, I would have loved a book about Lady Liberty to bring her home with me.

Children’s book author Linda Glaser offers readers the story of Emma Lazarus in her book Emma’s Poem. Emma Lazarus is the author of The New Colossus, the poem engraved at the base of the statue. This beautifully written and illustrated book offers insight, history and hope to its readers.

Enjoy reading our recent interview with author Linda Glaser below. She shares some tips about writing children’s books and her memories of being read to as a child.

You can win a copy of this lovely book by sharing your own story of reading to a child or being read to as a child in the Comment’s section below. Post your Comment by Sunday, October 24th. A winner will be drawn at random from the submissions and announced on Monday’s blog post.


***
Interview:

What was your favorite book when you were a child?
As a child, I loved being read to. (Actually I still love being read to.) My mother read us many books. One of our most beloved authors was Eleanor Estes. Her books are classics: The Moffats, Rufus M., The Middle Moffat, The Hundred Dresses. They gave me a sense of what my mother’s childhood was like during the Depression. When she read them to us, sometimes she’d get teary and other times she’d burst out laughing. It was a window into her sensibilities and her soul. Those books are still some of my favorites. But by now I have many, many other favorites as well.

What is your editing/revising process? Most people would not believe how much time goes into writing a simple children’s book! I love doing it. But it’s also a lot of work. My stories go through many, many revisions before an editor ever sees them. I revise on the computer and also on hard copies—over and over and over. I keep my latest version by my bedside and work on it before I go to sleep. As soon as I wake up, I work on it some more. I call that revising but some people might call it an obsession. Before I submit my stories, I share them with my writing group and they offer suggestions. That means more revision. Then, of course, if an editor takes a story, there is even more revision. For me, it’s all very entertaining. Some people do Sudoku. I revise.

What is the biggest piece of advice you'd offer someone who is considering writing children's stories? It is truly amazing how many people fantasize about writing a children’s book but haven’t actually read one since they were a child! A lot has changed since then. So I suggest that anyone interested should read lots of contemporary children’s books—good ones. Ask librarians, booksellers, parents and kids for their favorites. Then, write what you care about. If your heart is in it, it will show.

***

For more, you might be interested in this interview Linda Glaser conducted by the Children’s Literature. If you are a teacher considering adopting this text, you might enjoy the Teacher’s Guide.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

National Day on Writing


Today is the National Day on Writing!

Here are some highlights about the event and galleries from the websites:

Established by the National Council of Teacher’s of English, the National Gallery and the National Day

• highlight the remarkable variety of writing we engage in today;
• provide a collection for research on whether writing today has risen to new highs or sunk to new lows; and
• help us help others to write better.

In the Gallery of Writing, you can read published work, submit your own writing or even start your own gallery of writing. The National Gallery of Writing is a virtual space—a website—where people who perhaps have never thought of themselves as writers—mothers, bus drivers, fathers, veterans, nurses, firefighters, sanitation workers, stockbrokers—select and post writing that is important to them. The Gallery accommodates any composition format—from word processing to photography, audio/video recording to text messages—and all types of writing—from letters to lists, memoirs to memos.

The National Gallery of Writing includes three types of display spaces where writing can be found:

1. The Gallery of the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) represents a broad cross-section of writing hosted by the National Council of Teachers of English.

2. National Partner Galleries include writing that corresponds to a theme or purpose identified by National Partners participating in this initiative.

3. Local Partner Galleries include works from writers in a classroom, school, club, workplace, city, or other local entity.

Monday, October 18, 2010

November Memoir Writing Workshop

Have you been thinking about writing a memoir? Start with short essays or poems in next month’s upcoming Memoir Writing Workshop.

There are still virtual seats available in next month’s two week, online Memoir Writing Workshop II that starts on Monday, November 8. Register by emailing me {ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com}.

By writing and sharing your work online, you can integrate writing into your regular schedule. There will be short reading, writing and editing assignments each weekday. The weekend is reserved for catching up. You only need an internet connection and a word processing program; there are no books to buy.

Please let me know if you have any questions. The full course description is below.

Memoir Writing Workshop II (Prose & Poetry)
In this creative writing workshop, we will discuss memoir writing in both prose and poetic forms. You will write and workshop your original work with published writing teacher Chloe Miller for two weeks. She will present writing prompts and exercises, links to short online readings and lead discussions around your work. You will receive longer individual feedback from her on your two final assignments. Through group peer editing sessions, you will hone your editing abilities and receive additional feedback on your work.

Short assignments will be posted every day. Your longer assignments will be due each Friday. It is suggested that you spend 30 – 60 minutes per day on the class. No assignments will be given over the weekend, although the lively discussion and writing will continue.

All levels welcome; beginners encouraged. In the two week Memoir Writing Workshop I last spring, we spent some time defining memoir, creative non-fiction and approaches to writing, editing and revising pieces. This conversation will continue in Memoir Writing Workshop II, with new readings and questions. It is not required to have taken Memoir Writing Workshop 1 to take the second level. The only requirement is that you’ve completed some brief creative writing and considered the genre.
The class will be held for two weeks from Monday, November 8 – Friday, November 19. Class enrollment is limited to ten adult students. It will be held in a private Google group that will be available 24/7. With a free Gmail account, you will be ready to start.

The cost is $200.00 payable by check due Monday, November 1. For an added $4.00 fee, you may also pay via PayPal. Chlo√©’s current and previous private writing students receive a 10% discount. To register, email Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

(This is the second time this class is running.)

Friday, October 15, 2010

Writer Couples

Writers often admire writer-couples (poets Donald Hall and Jane Kenyon always come to my mind first) and imagine the couple sitting at a long wooden desk working simultaneously on their writing and periodically reading something aloud.

Perhaps because I’m an only child, but I always thought that scenario - where each writer worked in the same genre - would include a little jealousy and some arguments over word-choice and, optimistically, fame.

My husband Hans Noel is a writer, although not a creative writer. He started as a journalist and after receiving a Ph.D. in political science at UCLA, he teaches at Georgetown University. I imagine that my circle might categorize his writing as “non-fiction,” but of course it is more academic than the phrase suggests. He is a scientist who researches and shares his results in academic journals with clear, precise and interesting writing.

Do we write together? Yes, in a sense. We work in separate offices, but we share most of our work with each other and ask for feedback. We are both each other’s greatest fans, but we also value the work and offer the helpful criticism that we can. We are not experts in each other’s fields, but there are usually reasons why an outsider’s view is helpful. For example, as a poet, I don’t want my poems to only be read by other poets. I hope that they are accessible to a larger audience.

I can read through my husband’s work, although I will admit that I don’t understand all of the nuances. (He is a much better reader of poetry than I am of political science.) His recent article, however, is one geared towards a larger audience. “Ten Things Political Scientists Know that You Don’t” shares and explains surprising details about the news and what journalists, and eventually voters, should know.

My favorite section is, “Most People Do Not Have Strong Political Opinions.” No, it isn’t my favorite section just because when I read the New York Times or listen to NPR I nod my head in agreement. It is because Hans is right, even if we don’t like to admit it for fear of sounding ill-informed. We, the general consumers of news and voters who rely on our parties to lead our government, don’t need to know every detail about politics. Of course we should have some awareness, but we should also remember that a successful society divides the labor that it takes to run our land, from politics to art to everything else.

The article is in The Forum, published by Berkeley Electronic Press. You’ll probably have to login for free as a guest to read it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Guest Blog Posts

Do you have a great book that you're reading and would like to share? A writing question you recently answered? A great writing resource to share? I'd love to have guest bloggers share their writing, revising, reading and teaching expertise. Send me an email at chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com with your ideas.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Writing Prompt: Weather

We are all affected by the weather. The other day when it was grey and rainy, my mood shifted a bit and shadowed the sky. Of course, there is beauty in all types of weather. I photographed these ginkgo leaves outside our apartment and was moved by the rainwater gathered on them. A poem didn’t quite grow out of that observation, but the lines I wrote might turn into something more complete later.

For today’s prompt, I suggest that you notice not only the effect of weather on your mood, but also on other animate and inanimate things. You might start by looking closely at how the light shifts at different times of day or how different it is this season from last.

Write for ten minutes without stopping and see if there are lines, words, or ideas that you can expand upon later.

You are welcome to share your writing in the Comments section below.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Three Great Questions for Reading, Editing and Peer-Editing

Fellow writer, teacher and artist Shasta Grant  asks her writing students to answer three questions following reading and editing an essay:

What surprised you?



What intrigued you?



What disturbed you?



What great, open-ended questions! These are useful for reading comprehension, peer editing and self-editing an essay.

Shasta developed this assignment from the textbook Fieldworking, which she uses in composition writing classes.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Best Writing Advice?

What’s the best piece of writing advice that you ever received? Maybe it came from a professor, workshop leader, peer or even friend who rarely reads creative writing (except for yours.)


I often wonder if I should include a particularly strong detail, emotion or moment in a poem. My husband, always supportive, will simply ask, “Why not?” I never have a good reason.

I hope you will share your thoughts below in the Comments section.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Personal Libraries: Physical & Virtual

Thank you to Andi Cumbo, a writer and writing teacher, for today’s great post. I know you will learn as much as I did. Be sure to read her regular posts on writing and reading at Andilit.


In about a month, I’m moving. For me, the bulk of moving involves the purging, the cleaning, and the packing of books – lots of books. This move, though, I decided I would try to trim down my collection. I simply own too many books.

Yet, a personal library is really important, at least it is to me. There are authors I keep – Chaim Potok, Anne Lamott, Marilynne Robinson; these are the books I consider touchstones, ones which I turn to when I need insight, a good quote, or just a reminder that there are places where I can hide in words.

I keep track of my library through Goodreads. On this website, I can record books I’ve read and ones I want to read. I can becomes friends with people and see their libraries as well as read as their reviews of books they’ve finished. It’s a great site (and if you join, please find me under “andilit”) and you’ll find great books and keep up with what you’ve read. (Plus, if you run a blog, you can post book covers to your website directly on your blog through the Goodreads widget.)

In the current configuration of my library, there are authors I love but whose books I do not need to own – Sherman Alexie, Toni Morrison, Frederick Buechner; these are the books I love to read but which I probably won’t return to later. Finally, there are all the other books, the ones I don’t necessary treasure or even read. For years, I went around and picked up used copies of any book that I thought I “should” read, but now, well, I’m to a point in my life where I really want to read what I “want” to read. No more obligation to the ideal of the English major.

When I have books to give away, I may try to sell them (Independent bookseller Powell’s will buy used books for cash or store credit), but I typically give them away through Bookmooch. This great site helps book-lovers share titles with other book lovers. Simply list your book on your Bookmooch page, and if someone has that book on their “wishlist,” they’ll get an email saying the book has become available. You can also put titles you want on your “wishlist” and get the same kind of emails. When someone mooches from you, you simply ship the book media mail, and you get a point that you can use to mooch a book from someone else. For far less than the cost of a new book, you get to “recycle” titles that need a good home.

So as I pack this time, I’m cleaning out titles and carefully packing away my beloved ones. Thanks to Goodreads and Bookmooch I can connect with other readers and be sure my “paper babies” end up in the good homes that book lovers call our libraries.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Elizabeth Alexander & Writing Prompt

It was a gift to hear Elizabeth Alexander read poetry and answer questions at the National Book Festival in Washington, D.C. She did read the famous inaugural poem Praise Song for the Day, as well as new poems. Some of her new poems include Ars Poeticas, which are traditionally poems written about the process of writing and poetry. In effect, an Ars Poetica is almost a love or praise song for writing. Alexander changed the form a bit, and read a few that were written to other ideas, like that of living. Perhaps the ideas are more similar than we'd originally guess?

When answering a question about how to fit writing into a busy life, Alexander said that she “walks around with a bubble for poetry.” She reminded the audience that we can always attend to our writing practice, even when we are working on something else (or many other things.) She spoke of of Lucille Clifton who said to “listen for poetry. The life around you is the stuff of poetry.”

For today’s writing prompt, let’s write a love poem. Of course, perhaps other than writing something humorous, there is nothing harder than writing a sincere, not overly sentimental, vision of love. I encourage you to re-read Alexander’s inaugural poem, with its many images of human intimacy and tenderness, and offer the reader an image of love. It doesn’t have to include how love makes you feel, perhaps that will be clear enough in the image, but rather show the reader love. Is it that keychain someone gave to you? Is it the way your child’s hand curls when she sleeps? Is it the wind brushing past the trees that have already lost their leaves? Focus on the images.

Will you share your writing in the Comments section below?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Poem in the Fall Issue of Narrative

Thanks to Narrative Magazine for publishing my poem Cuban Customs Attempts to Confiscate her Mangoes in their fall issue. Scroll down to my name under “Poetry.”

Click here to read the four poems that they’ve published over the last few months.

While you’re there, be sure to read the other great poetry, fiction, graphic stories, interviews and more that they publish. I’m really honored to be in such a great company.

Orhan Pamuk @ The National Book Festival

During the session before Orhan Pamuk’s live interview and talk at the The National Book Festival last weekend, he entered into the tent where another reader was answering questionson. Even though the earlier speaker had been holding everyone’s attention, there was a sudden silence and then whispered chatter from the audience in more than one language. Two young girls sitting on the grass next to me started to point and talk excitedly in Turkish.

Marie Arana, writer at large for the Washington Post, introduced Pamuk and interviewed him. The questions ranged from a focus on his life’s trajectory to his many published books and writing habits. While I have only had the pleasure of reading Snow, I do hope to read more of his books in the future.

Pamuk’s answers focused on the fact that “writing is a craft like any other.” He reminded the audience that the “craft” side, the “work” of writing, is often forgotten. Writers are praised for their creativity and art, but most of their work revolves around “turning around sentences and writing.” Renaissance painters were artists, but they were also craftsmen, almost like plumbers. There is work that has to be done and the craftsmen do it in order to create art.

When discussing his family life growing up and his daily writing habits, he brought up his Nobel acceptance speech, “My Father’s Suitcase “ (you can read the entire piece here, which I encourage you to do for the insight into the writing life, as well as Pamuk’s childhood.) The “need” and “weight” of literature, set quite literally in his father’s suitcase, are eloquently described. Here is a telling line from this essay, “The writer's secret is not inspiration – for it is never clear where it comes from – it is his stubbornness, his patience.”

Pamuk asserted that it is possible to learn how to write, but a writer must learn not only the craft from literature, but also learn from life. The “university of life,” he added, “includes some good books. But, just like everything else, you need luck, vigor and more.”

The audience members posed questions and one asked him about his books available in translation. Of course, he noted, “something is lost and something is gained” in a good translation. His emphasis, though, was on the many layers that a book offers that indeed can be translated.

The most entertaining comment came from a psychologist who said that he prescribed Pamuk’s newest book, Museum of Innocence, to a local janitor. He said that he often prescribes literature as a part of his therapy. Pamuk joked that perhaps this recommendation should be on the front cover of the book.

Have you read Orhan Pamuk’s work? I hope you will share your thoughts below in the Comments section.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Banned Books Week

There are still Americans relying on fear as motivation to protect readers, even in this era of information and open access.

Banned Books Week runs this year from Sept. 25 – Oct. 2. To celebrate, I encourage you to read, read, and read some more. Read anything that can teach you something, make you question something, affirm your beliefs or make you smile when you consider its beauty. Look here for more ways to celebrate reading – and therefore writing – freedom this week and afterwards.

What is your favorite banned book? Don’t worry, you’ll have plenty to choose from. The American Library Association offers lists of books here.

Catcher in the Rye remains a controversial book this year. Regardless of its current popularity, I honestly don’t know who I would be without having thought about the “phonies” when I was an adolescent. I felt less lonely and more alive reading that book. If I’d disagreed with the ideas presented at that age, then after reading the book I would have better understood what I disagreed with instead of being told what to believe by someone else who had the opportunity to read the book.

The American Library Association reminds us of this week’s history: Celebrating the Freedom to Read is observed during the last week of September each year. Observed since 1982, the annual event reminds Americans not to take this precious democratic freedom for granted.

Banned Books Week is sponsored by the American Booksellers Association, the American Library Association(ALA), the Association of American Publishers, the American Society of Journalists and Authors and the National Association of College Stores. The Library of Congress Center for the Book endorses it.

I welcome your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Friday, September 24, 2010

My Guest Blog Post “Write From a Good Place” up @ Andi lit

Thanks to Andilit for publishing my guest blog post, “Write From a Good Place.” Author Andrea Cumbo and I teach writing at George Mason University. It is so lovely to start at a new school and immediately find like-minded colleagues who share and challenge my ideas.

While you are visiting Andilit, I hope you’ll look around and return often. The recent review of Anne Lamott’s Imperfect Birds and the Literary Blogroll should keep you both inspired and busy.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Ann Patchett




She read from a new manuscript, yet unpublished. Themes of sacrifice, fertility, culture and ownership were all present in her clear and enthusiastic reading. The scene, with a giant anaconda, was dramatic and intriguing. The suspense in the plot reminded me that perhaps, even with all the discussions about gender inequality in writing awards, men and women are truly on equal terms to write about any subject in any way today. (Of course, we know the answer to the question about whether the end result achieves equal attention after the book is read.)

Patchett’s new manuscript features a student/teacher relationship. The two come together years after being in the classroom and the teacher doesn’t entirely remember the student. Patchett noted that she had a similar real-life experience and wasn’t bothered that the teacher didn’t remember her. She noted that a student “needs to know a teacher like a religious leader. You don’t need them to know you.” (Another GMU professor who blogs at Andilit.com shared some more insight into this discussion.)

This reminds me of my relationship with writers whose work I love. While, or sometimes after, reading, I am reminded that a good piece of literature is a teacher in itself. The clear prose, the careful consideration of ideas and the organization of each piece that creates the whole is something from which a writer can learn. A poet in one of my classes recently told me that she didn’t like to find out too much about her favorite writers because the gritty truth often let her down. While this is sometimes true, being in the presence of Ann Patchett was like listening to a favorite instructor or knowledgeable friend. I only want to know more.

When Patchett described her writing process, she noted that she writes about what she wants to know, not just what she already knows. Like with the subject of opera in Bel Canto, she immerses herself into the research and becomes a bit of an expert.

Her books, with their many characters, enter into a dialogue with her. She said that she doesn’t take notes on her characters just as she doesn’t come home from an evening out with friends and scribble down notes. Sometimes she has to ask questions of the characters to remind herself of something, just as she would with friends, and the characters themselves become friends.

Patchett is a writer who not only shares, but also asks for the reader’s contribution to the subjects she addresses. An audience member asked Patchett what her message was behind her newly published book Run. She said that ideally she would open a conversation with the readers and generally pose questions about the responsibilities every reader holds as citizens of a country and the world.

I taught Ann Patchett’s lovely novel Bel Canto to students in an introduction to literature class this semester. They seemed to enjoy it and be excited for the possibility to hear her live. (It is always disheartening to realize something I’m excited about, like a reading, is believed to be a boring assignment for students. Perhaps some of them thought that, but they didn’t let on.) I encourage you to attend any of her future events. You’ll learn something, be inspired and forget about boring assignments.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Monday, September 20, 2010

Fall for the Book Festival


The Fall for the Book Festival, held primarily on George Mason University’s campus, started yesterday. I hope you’ll be able to attend some of the many exciting events scheduled between now through Friday. (Can you tell I’m excited to be working for such a great university that celebrates literature so publically?)
In my introduction to literature class, we just finished reading Ann Patchett’s novel Bel Canto and I’m looking forward to attending the event featuring her tonight. I’ve read this book a number of times and everytime I re-read it, I’m still surprised by some of the descriptive language and plot. This will be my first time hearing her live.

On Friday afternoon, I will be introducing cookbook authors Lisa Jervis and Tracye McQuirter. In an Advanced Composition class, we spent some time reading their blogs and discussing what constitutes a well-written and designed blog. (If you are interested in food writing, you might enjoy my food blog, Fare La Scarpetta.)

I hope to see you there! (You might be interested in an earlier blog post on the Festival.)

Friday, September 17, 2010

Keep a Journal

I have friends who are starting adventures living abroad in China, Egypt and Italy. I encourage them to keep a regular journal and write down impressions of their new culture. Later, when the culture is familiar, it will be harder to notice the details in a new way.

The writer’s ultimate job is to pay close attention to the surrounding world, physical and not, and share those observations with readers in a meaningful way. When you, the writer, finds yourself in an unfamiliar land, it is easier to notice the similarities and surprising differences between this new place and home.

So how can a writer both navigate the new culture and keep a journal? I remember being exhausted, completely exhausted, when I first moved to Florence, Italy, in 1996 as a study abroad student. Little things, like ordering a coffee and then running an errand to buy hangers, took every ounce of energy I had because it was work simply to ask basic questions and understand the answers, let alone figure out the bus system to return home again. When I finally found myself back in my apartment, the last thing I wanted to do was pick up a pen and jot down notes on my recent adventure. In fact, I felt embarrassed that ordering a cappuccino had turned into an adventure in a country whose language I supposedly knew.

I eventually did write, although not as regularly as I should have, and kept notes on what I saw, did, thought and felt. There were so many questions and thoughts running through my mind that it was hard to avoid writing.

The key to keeping a journal is to write about and ruminate on subjects that interest you. If you give yourself the task of writing down every little thing that you did that day, you’ll slowly bore yourself and stop. Instead, choose something baffling, inspiring or funny to share. Allow yourself to focus in on that architectural detail you noticed and the pastry you had for breakfast, but also respond to a news article a friend posted on Facebook. With the freedom to explore whatever you’re thinking about, you’re more likely to craft something new and surprise yourself, which is the key to eventually surprising your reader, too.

Being in a foreign culture makes it easier to notice the world around you, partly because you pay more attention and perhaps because you are a bit isolated and have more space to think, but it isn’t required to leave the familiar. Wherever you are, take some time everyday to record your thoughts. You never know what might turn into the seeds for a more polished piece of writing.

You might write regularly in a physical journal, on your computer, in letters or email or even in blog posts. Whatever form your journaling takes, the regular practice will help to improve your knowledge and skill of the craft of writing and the development of your ideas.

I invite you to share your thoughts on journaling in the Comments Section below.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Poetry Bestsellers

Yes, there are poetry bestsellers. And the Poetry Foundation gathers that information together for you. Enjoy browsing through the list.

I was especially happy to see that not only are favorites like Sylvia Plath and Mary Oliver in the top 30, but also my Sarah Lawrence College MFA poetry advisor, Kurt Brown. I look forward to reading his new book.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Quick Blogging Tips

Raise your hand if you’ve recently read a poorly written blog. That’s what I thought. Here are a few quick tips to ensure that your blog never falls into that category.

Have a focus to your content.


Finish your thought. Lots of folks will start a thought and then leave it hanging. Delve deeper.

Maybe your entry is starting to meander. Perhaps you should break the entry into two, or even three, entries?


Outline and organize your thoughts.


Properly link to outside sources and give credit to others.


Know your audience. How much background information do they need?


Revise, revise, revise.

Edit, edit, edit.

Is that so different from essay writing? No, of course not. The only difference is that instead of writing a formal, academic essay, you can be less formal.

When you are blogging, keep a schedule and let readers know when your blog post is up (social media, emails, etc.) That will help keep your readers actively clicking on your blog. Some blogs, like Practicing Writer, has a theme every day so readers know what to expect.

Overwhelmed with ideas on some days but can’t remember them another day? Why not keep notes for the future and remember what you want to blog about in the future? If you are stuck, you can always follow up on earlier posts, respond to other writing or pose questions to your readers.

Think blogging won't work for your business? Dianne Jacob’s blog post How Blogging Got My Book Reviewed on Epicurious will prove you wrong.

What suggestions would you add?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Writing Prompt: Look up

My mother, a photographer, taught me to always look up and behind me. There is so much to see that isn’t right in front of you.

For today’s prompt, I suggest that you do just that. Wherever you are, look up. What’s there? Maybe there are cobwebs, the sky, interesting molding or the top of your bookcase.

Consider what might be even further up, especially if you live in an apartment building. I like to look at the building next door and think about what our roof might look like if we were to walk out there (which I don’t advise, of course.)

Write for ten minutes without stopping and see if there are lines, words, or ideas that you can expand upon later.

You are welcome to share your writing in the Comments section below.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Online Poetry Workshop Begins Wednesday

There's still room in the Online Poetry Writing Workshop that begins on Wednesday. Won't you join our group of beginning poets to write, read, revise and discuss poetry?

We are all busy adults, perhaps even too busy to write poetry. But if writing poetry is what you want to do, you can find the time. We all can. By taking an online writing class, you’ll learn how to integrate writing into your everyday schedule. I know you can do it.

We can start small. How about by eating a poem? Here’s a favorite from Mark Strand to help get those juices flowing.

Email me to save your seat today {Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com}.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Defining the Literary

In one of my classes, I'm asking the students to consider what makes a piece of writing literary as opposed to non-literary, like a manual, propaganda or guidebook (all of which, perhaps, could be literary in some way.)

There are dictionary definitions of literature and many possible aspects that make a piece of writing literary. Issues like tone, character, setting, theme, message and audience could be considered. The form that the words take on the page could be considered. The authors themselves, perhaps, are the element that transforms the words into the modules that create a piece of literature.

I’ll leave you with this question to consider over the weekend: What makes writing literary? I hope you’ll share your thoughts below in the Comments section.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Online Poetry Writing Workshop

Tomorrow is the deadline to register for the upcoming Online Poetry Writing Workshop. The class begins Wednesday and will run for five days online. There are still virtual seats available! Integrate writing prompts, short reading assignments, poetry readings and poetry discussions into your life.

To register, email me {chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com} and I'll send you information about payment. You can either mail a check or pay through Paypal for a small, added fee.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

{Guest Blog} My Writing-Space Makeover: A New Year's Resolution Accomplished

Thank you to poet Hila Ratzabi for today’s guest blog post about her writing space. As someone who has moved often and lives in a small, city apartment, I am inspired by the thought of a more comfortable writing space. I’m sure you’ll enjoy her piece as much as I did.

I have a confession to make: for the past three years since graduating from the MFA program in Writing at Sarah Lawrence College, I have been a writer without a desk and chair. Going back in time even further, throughout my seven-year post-college career in which I moved a total of four times (twice in Manhattan, twice in Brooklyn), I have owned exactly two desks and two chairs. The first desk in my first Manhattan apartment was a nondescript and awkwardly screwed together IKEA cliché. All I can remember is that it was briefly functional and it boasted a nauseatingly neutral fake-wood glow. By the time I left that apartment, the desk had all but fallen apart as a result of my own faulty DIY craftsmen skills. The chair was a gray suede roller from Staples that I eventually gave away when it seemed useless and a bit sad without a desk to go with it. I vowed to find the perfect replacement desk, perhaps even made of real wood, with a matching chair to go with it, but my search for perfection eventually led to stagnancy as no desk that fit my standards simultaneously fit my price range.

In my first Brooklyn apartment, an old desk and chair (mismatched to each other and clearly found on the street) had been left in the living room by a former roommate, and I decided the price was right. However, the chair didn't fit properly beneath the desk, making it impossible to tuck one's thighs under the desk comfortably. I promised myself to resume the search for the perfect desk and chair, but unsurprisingly the holy grail of authentic woodenness and sleek comfort failed to materialize. I finally threw up my hands and ordered a cheap desk (made of real wood) online from Gothic Cabinet, not realizing that the desk's cheapness went hand-in-hand with its size, designed for--at most--a ten-year-old child. Separately I had bought a chair on sale at a local furniture store that was going out of business, and when the child-desk was delivered, it became instantly clear that the chair was by far too large to fit the desk. Yet again, my legs didn't fit under the desk (unless uncomfortably squeezed), and I was left in a state of dejection from one more failure to set up a proper space for my post-MFA writing life.

This is not to say that I stopped writing completely due to lack of a basically functional adult-sized desk and chair. As I always had, I continued jotting down drafts of poems and essays in miniature notebooks that I carried in my purse, writing on subways or in parks, and typing and editing on my laptop on the sofa or in coffee shops. I had also joined a fairly regular informal monthly poetry workshop with fellow MFA alumni, thereby establishing a source of discipline and inspiration for generating new work.

But the long sought-after desk and chair remained unfound. Finally in my second (and last) Brooklyn apartment, which I moved into with my boyfriend eight months ago, I brought along my miniscule child-desk, fresh with hope that in our new (and much larger) living space I would be motivated to find the perfect chair to fit the tiny desk, or the perfect desk to fit my oversized chair. But again I put it off, instead focusing on filling the space with a luscious new sectional sofa, thick and soft, in deep red, found on sale at a Macy's furniture outlet. I indulged in playing adult by decorating the apartment with framed poetry broadsides and a combination of mine and my boyfriend's art work. I had hoped to set up a nice writing space in the large bedroom, the location of most the apartment's natural light and the peaceful view of a neighbor's backyard. My boyfriend's desk was set up in the living room, where there was less light, and he didn't mind. My ill-fitting desk and chair remained in the bedroom, awkwardly taking up space, practically frowning at me as I turned my attention to other areas of the apartment. The desk and chair search fell by the wayside.

Thankfully a few weeks ago my writing-space fate would change when the lovely and talented Chloe Yelena Miller posted an exhortation on her blog to perform a writing self-evaluation. I dutifully accepted the challenge, considering it was the month before Rosh Hashanah, a time for self-reflection and making the commitment to change and improve one's life as the New Year approaches. I decided, as the rabbis say, "if not now, when?" I immediately went onto staples.com and then target.com, comparing desks and chairs by size and price. When I was able to calculate that a particular desk was much larger than the baby-desk that sat at home, with lavish amounts of leg room, and a particular chair was the precise right height, shaped ergonomically and with an inviting and professional burgundy faux-leather exterior, I was sold. I purchased the desk and chair and they arrived exactly one week later.

After almost breaking part of the desk trying to put it together myself (I would love to get a side job writing clear and easy-to-understand furniture-assembly instruction manuals), in most un-feminist fashion I let my boyfriend take over, leaving him to figure it all out while I typed away quietly on my laptop on the living room sofa. An hour or so later he emerged and announced that the desk and chair were ready. I helped him position the desk right by the window with the optimum light and view, sliding the chair in place to the sweet, pure sound of plastic wheels rolling on a hard-wood floor. The transformation was complete. Now all that was left was to try it out. I slowly sat in the chair, adjusted the height, and rolled myself in to the desk, like a first kiss. As I type right now, a cool end-of-summer evening breeze puffs and deflates the curtains in a slow, easy rhythm. A new year is just days away, and I am writing, and this is as close to perfect as it gets.