Friday, January 29, 2010

Memoir Writing Workshop (Prose & Poetry)

I will be offering an online creative writing workshop this May. Hope you will be able to join us! Here are the details:

Memoir Writing Workshop (Prose & Poetry)

In this workshop we will discuss the meaning of memoir, how to choose a moment in your history when your life shifted in some way and how to best present it in an essay or poem.

You will write and workshop your original work with published writing teacher Chloé 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 individual feedback from her on your two longer 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.

The class will be held for two weeks from Monday, May 17 – Friday, May 28. 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. Chloé’s current and previous private writing students receive a 10% discount. To register, email Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

For daily writing tips, please continue to visit this writing blog:
If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

For more information on Chloé:

Chloé Yelena Miller has an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a BA in Italian language and literature from Smith College.

She has taught writing at a number of places, such as Fairleigh Dickinson University, NJ; Northampton Community College, PA; Hudson County Community College, NJ; Maplewood South Orange Adult School, NJ; Recreation and Education, MI and presented at a number of writing conferences, such as The Association of Writers and Writing Programs; Sarah Lawrence College’s Conference Women’s Stories, Women’s Lives; Rochester Writers’ Conference in Michigan; Ann Arbor Book Festival’s Writer’s Conference; Writer’s Center of Indiana’s Conference; and Winter Wheat: The Mid-American Review Festival of Writing.

Her work has been published or is forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Narrative Magazine, Alimentum, Sink Review, Storyscape and Lumina, among others. She currently reads poetry for The Literary Review and was previously an editor for Portal Del Sol and Lumina.

Her writing was a finalist for the Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Contest and the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. She has been a resident at the Vermont Studio Center, A Room of Her Own’s Retreat in New Mexico and Summer Literary Seminar’s program in Prague.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Poets House, NYC

I was first brought to the Poets House, national poetry library and literary center, by the poet Indran Amirthanayagam in 1993 when I took his summer writing class at the New School in New York City. I remember being awed by the sheer number of poetry books.

That was back when the Poets House was in a loft on Spring Street in SoHo. I returned a number of times to read as much as possible. I never went often enough, though. I do remember settling in one day before starting graduate school to try to catch up on some of the harder-to-find-books by the poets I would be working with at Sarah Lawrence.

The Poets House has a new home. Last summer, it moved to 10 River Terrace in Battery Park City. They were amazingly fortunate to be designated by the Battery Park City Authority as a rent-free tenant in a new building on the banks of the Hudson River. Rent-free! That’s the value of poetry in our world.

Their space is a gift to all writers and readers of poetry. I briefly visited the space this winter. The shelves upon shelves of poetry books and literary magazines, poetry recordings, displays of poetry broadsides, large windows, open spaces, and comfortable chairs are welcoming and inspiring.

The Poets House holds classes, readings and exhibitions. I look forward to attending and arriving early to read, read, and read.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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I look forward to sharing future posts with you! Now you won't miss a word.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Writer’s Block: Reviewing Discarded Lines/Pieces

You can’t procrastinate from writing forever. The editing, submissions and publishing research is all important, but you must continue writing. A good way to start writing again is to look back at discarded work or fragments as a writing prompt. There was something about the material that worked for you at one point and it might help you to get starting on similar or even different work.

One of the beautiful aspects of being a writer is that you can save all of your drafts. Unlike, say oil painting, you can’t do any damage to your earlier work. With a careful filing system, you can save your drafts, old lines, discarded paragraphs, etc.

I save my drafts according to a title (usually the original title) and a number. With each draft, I renumber the piece. I have chosen not to use the date it was written, although a lot of people do that.

It is up to you to develop a system that works for you. I heard Rita Dove recently talk about how she saves drafts and she said she relies on colors. Each draft, subject matter or piece feels like a certain color and she files it in a folder of that color. I’m not sure that would work for me, but there are endless options.

If you write in journals instead of on the computer, you might want to use post it notes on the pages with pieces you’d like to return to. If you do use the computer, you might find it easier to print out your work instead of storing it on the computer. (Always remember to back up your work!)

When you are ready to start writing again, look through your discarded work. This may consist of lists of words, full stories or just paragraphs. Whatever it is, read through your work with fresh eyes. You will probably find that you are ready to continue the original work or start something new.

The important thing is to start writing again.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Writer’s Block: Submitting Polished Work to Agents and Book Publishers

While you are in a period of non-writing, continue your publishing research. Once you have a complete manuscript, you will be thankful that some of this work is done.
Fiction and non-fiction authors usually have more luck procuring agents than poets publishing their first books. As I’ve written in earlier posts, it is important to publish a number of shorter pieces (poems, short stories, articles, etc.) before submitting your full manuscript to an agent or publisher.

Here are some resources to help you start researching the best outlets for your full manuscript:

Council of Literary Magazines and Presses

Poets & Writer’s Magazine’s list of Small Presses

The Writer’s Market series is a wonderful one for guides on agents, publishing opportunities and more. There is a Guide to Literary Agents, Poet’s Market, etc. You can search for them on Amazon.

Poets often publish their first book through book publishing contests. Like literary magazine contests, these contests often come with a fee (up to $35.00.) Beware of contests that cost more or require you to pay to have your work published. Research the contests and publishers before sending in your check.

Some presses have open reading periods. This is when they will read your manuscript or sections of your manuscript without a fee.

As you complete this research, keep clear notes for yourself. List the presses that look interesting (perhaps they have an open submissions period or have published authors that you identify with) and make a calendar of submission periods. Include the websites on your list, join mailing lists and read books that the various presses have published.

Good luck and please share other resources that you've found helpful.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Writer’s Block: Submitting Polished Work to Literary Magazines

In yesterday’s post, part of a series about what to do when you experience writer’s block, I recommended that you keep track of authors, publishing houses, agents, and editors that you like in order to prepare yourself to submit to have your book published.

The first step is to submit to literary magazines, publish and build your list of publications. I recommend starting at an independent bookstore. This will help you to find the local and major literary magazines.

Here are some additional online and print outlets that will help you to better find and research literary magazines. I can’t stress enough the importance of reading a copy of the magazine (online or in print) before submitting. You’ll have a better sense of what the publication is looking for and whether or not you’d like your words to appear there. A good time to focus on this task is when you are feeling a dip in your creativity, writer's block.

Start with New Pages. This online portal reviews literary magazines, lists calls for submissions and more.

Duotrope’s Digest is a search engine that allows you to search for publication outlets by genre, payment, submission type (online or print) and more.

When you find a literary magazine that you like, read through the entire website. Click on the links to other magazines that they recommend. This will help to broaden your knowledge of the options.

Poets & Writer’s Magazine is the trade magazine that I recommend you read regularly. Their website also has a very complete list of literary magazines.

The Writer’s Chronicle, produced by AWP, also offers publishing opportunities. This magazine focuses more on the craft of writing than the business of writing.

As I described recently, The Yahoo Creative Writer’s Opportunities List will email you regular calls for submissions.

Be aware of publishing opportunities that charge you to publish. Research each opportunity fully. It is common, for example, for first poetry book publishing contests to charge a fee. In this case, you will often receive a year’s subscription to the magazine or a copy of the issue with the winners. You should beware of paying a fee to automatically have your pieces or manuscripts published. I will blog more about this in the next few weeks.

Good luck! These websites are just a few places to start. There are many, many other possibilities. What are your favorite sites for submission opportunities?

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Writer’s Block: Reading Published Books & Literary Journals

This is the third post in a series on Writer’s Block. One of the most important things that a writer can do is read, read and read some more.

Sometimes beginning writers will say, “I don’t read because I don’t want to be influenced.” This is wrong because you *do* want to be influenced. By writing, you are joining into a conversation that reaches beyond eras, cultures and even languages. You want to not only be influenced, but to respond to the content and style of writing by working to create something new yourself.

Read as a writer. It is important to read and pay attention to how a book was crafted. For example, if you are reading fiction, notice where and how the chapters end. If you are reading poetry, notice how the poems are ordered. If you are considering publishing, notice the author, editor, publisher and agent. This will be useful information in the long run.

Poets often publish their first book by entering into a contest for first books. It is a good idea to read the first books that a press has published to get a sense of what interests them.

If you are working on getting your first book published, read the first books that authors you admire published. It is helpful to compare and contrast the writing style to the later books and notice how the author has developed with subsequent books.

You should also be reading and buying literary magazines. I don’t often encourage you to spend money, but literary magazines and small presses are often mostly run by volunteers. They need and depend on the income. Start at your local bookstore and read through the literary magazines they offer. Often, smaller literary magazines won’t be found in bookstores. I recommend that you look up your favorite literary magazines and see what other magazines they link to. It is a large community and they work hard to support each other. I’ll offer more information on how to find literary magazines in the next post on submitting your work for publication.

Read widely. For example, poets should be reading nonfiction and fiction authors should read biographies. Ask friends with different recommendations and take risks in your reading. Yes, you should read the classics and the authors you admire. You should also stretch your imagination and knowledge of the world. Writers don’t only need to know how to write. They also need to know their subject.

Tomorrow, I’ll blog about some places where you can find publishing opportunities. The research and knowledge that you will have from reading widely will help you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Writer’s Block: Editing & Revising

In yesterday’s post, I mention that there is more to writing than simply writing every day. There are times when you won’t have fresh ideas to help you start a new piece or even continue an older one.

Instead of worrying about writer’s block, one recommendation is to turn to editing and revising. This is one of the most important, and perhaps most challenging, aspect of writing. The first step to editing and revising is to let some time pass between drafts. Give your mind some time off from the piece at hand so you can approach it with fresh eyes. For example, if you write a paper in one night, you may read, reread and read the paper yet again and decide it is perfect. In the morning, you’ll notice errors and inconsistencies. If you are experiencing writer’s block, then you probably haven’t been working on the piece at hand and are ready to start editing and revising.

Not sure how to “re-enter” the piece to start the editing and revision process? I highly recommend using outlines for your writing. This will help you to remember the various turns the piece takes and notice if something no longer fits. You’ll also notice if you need to expand upon a certain area. The outline works as a legal cheat-sheet; you can keep the outline by your side as you edit and revise. Remember to revise your outline as your piece shifts form.

You might be surprised to learn that an outline works well for not only longer pieces, but also short pieces. For example, narrative poems often have shifts in the narrative. Something surprises the reader (and hopefully the author) in the poem. If you are writing a short, more image-driven poem, your poem moves through the various images. While this movement isn’t a plot-driven narrative, you can still outline the poem’s path.

Sometimes your work might become too long and wander through too many ideas. Here is a good trick: Put it away and then take out a piece of paper. Write down the main points you remember. It is likely that the parts you left out aren’t necessary. Then, go back to the original piece and notice what you didn’t remember. Those are the sections you might want to consider deleting.

Regarding mechanical errors in your paper, you will often catch them if you read your work aloud. I always recommend this to my students. If you are reading your work aloud (slowly and carefully so you really read each word on the page instead of skimming through what you think it says), and you stumble on something, you should give that stumble another look. It is probably a hint that your sentence structure or word choice needs to be edited.

For more information on editing and revising, please see my recent post on the subject.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Writer’s Block: Real or imaginary?

Writer’s Block is real. The good news is that there are ways to use it to your advantage.

Questions about Writer’s Block often arise with private writing students. They describe lofty goals in the beginning and are later daunted by a dip in creativity and enthusiasm. Even widely published authors experience periods when they feel convinced that they will never have another original piece to share with the world. I recommend the same thing to all writers: accept the natural ebb and flow of your creativity and use your time wisely.

Working on your writing everyday doesn’t necessarily mean actually writing every day. There are other activities involved in writing. When I feel completely empty of new ideas, I turn my attention to the following:

1. Editing & Revising

2. Reading Published Books & Literary Journals

3. Submitting Polished Work

4. Reviewing Discarded Lines/Pieces and Starting with Writing Prompts

When you aren’t feeling up to crafting something new, direct your energies towards the other four duties listed above. Following this will keep you productive, up to date and help you move towards your goals of publishing.

In the next few posts, I will offer more specific advice on how to better tackle these four tasks.

What do you do when you feel less inspired?

Monday, January 18, 2010

Poem "The View" published on

Thank you to for publishing my poem The View.

I started this poem in graduate school at Sarah Lawrence College. It is about my mother, a professional photographer, who used to ask me to help her on photography shoots. I loved looking through the camera and seeing the world the way she did.

Growing up, my mother always encouraged me to look at my surroundings and really see them. When we were somewhere new, she’d remind me to look up and even turn around to see the view from that angle. We used to go to see exhibits in New York City and stand in front of modern art paintings and discuss what we saw.

It was an amazing education. Thank you, Mom, for the poem and the experiences.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Guest Poet: Dottie Ward-Wimmer

In addition to teaching writing on the college level, I work privately with poetry, fiction and trade publication authors.

I have been working with Dottie Ward-Wimmer for the last few months. She is a beginning poet with great wisdom and attention to detail. I was struck by the precise image of hope in the following poem. Here, hope is both held and created by an individual human. Dottie was kind enough to allow me to share this poem with you. I expect that this is her first of many future publications.


Gentle cup
     made of hands,
holds hope
     while rage sifts through…

About the Author:

Dottie Ward-Wimmer is an ordinary woman: mother, grandmother, nurse, play therapist and now, poet. She was born in New Jersey and raised her children there. Later, she moved to the DC area to work with children who had experienced trauma. In 2004 Chambersburg, PA, beckoned, so she settled there and still works with kids part time. Although degrees on the wall are from Georgian Court College and New York University, nature and the people in her life are her real teachers.

Interested in a private writing coach? Here is how it works:  You email me a few pages of writing a day before our phone appointment, which is when we discuss the work in detail. Our conversations are led by your needs. Some authors are more interested in the overall organization of a larger piece, other people want to focus on particular images or the craft of writing. I suggest outside reading, writing exercises and other resources as need and requested. If you are interested in working with me, please email me for more details: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Staying up-to-date: Creative Writers Opportunities List

We all know that there are a billion websites, blogs (ahem…), and other resources for writers. How can we simplify our lives and focus on the most important ones?

One way is to rely on only a few select resources. I highly recommend the Yahoo Creative Writers Opportunities List. You’ll need a Yahoo account in order to sign up for emails from this Yahoo Group. If you don’t usually use a Yahoo email address, you can have the emails forwarded to another account.

The “CRWROPPS-B” Group, as its known, sends out daily calls for submissions and contest information for writers of poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. There are also occasional job announcements.

Here is a sample of the daily announcements from yesterday’s digest. The email version would follow with the details.

1. call for flash nonfiction: shady side review

2. split this rock poetry contest: deadline extended

3a. poetry book contest: American Poetry Journal

4. prize for poetry and prose books published in 2009: Devil's Kitchen

5. for CT residents: Poet Laureate sought

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Online Classes: Ask questions

I ask my students to fill out questionnaires in the very beginning of the semester. This helps me to get to know them and their writing level. They are invited to ask me any questions that they might have.
Here is a recent question and answer:

Is there an aspect of teaching online that you dislike? If so, what is it?

When I teach in person, I can watch the class and notice if someone has a confused expression after I’ve said something. Then, I can easily re-explain the idea in a new way and work to make myself clearer. It can be challenging to teach an online class when the students don’t always ask questions and I can’t read their facial expressions. Therefore, I really rely on everyone to ask questions (either on Blackboard or privately in an email) and let me know how things are going.

I encourage all students to feel comfortable asking questions. The online student, however, has a particular responsibility to ask questions. When students ask me private questions in an email, I will often share the answer (without the student’s name, of course) on Blackboard. As my professors always said, “if you have a question, someone else probably does, too.”

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Why You Should Learn a Foreign Language To Help Improve Your English Grammar Skills

I always ask writing students on the first day of class if they speak, read and write a second language. This offers me some insight into their knowledge of grammar.

As far as I can tell, American students are not taught grammar rules the way they used to be taught. There is less diagramming of sentences and less focus on verb tenses. This cannot be avoided in a world language course.

I took Intensive Italian at Smith College and heard the words “subjunctive” and “past participle” for the very first time. They had never been mentioned in English classes. I quickly discovered that the class was not only going to teach me a foreign language, but also grammar in general.

By learning a foreign language, you learn to look very closely at your sentence structure. The attentive student will actively consider what the adjective or adverb is modifying. Verb tense, person and address will be in the forefront of your mind. In fact, it can’t be avoided.

From the creative point of view, you’ll also learn new ways to comprehend the world. For example, in Italian, the phrase “I miss you” is literally translated, “You are missing to me.” The subject who completes the action “to miss” is different from English. This offers a culture lesson in both your native language and the newly learned language.

This approach will not only help you write more coherently in English, but also widen your understanding of the world.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Writing Your Memoir: You can never be too young

It is never too early to write your memoir. A memoir, unlike an autobiography, focuses on a particular time period or theme from your life. In this creative non-fiction genre, you have the freedom to focus on the craft of your writing. For example, you can offer the reader a non-linear narrative like Nick Flynn does in Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Or, you could write a lyric essay as Deborah Tall does in A Family of Strangers.

Anyone can write a memoir. Remember the classic movie A Christmas Story? It was based on a book. Unlike an autobiography that is usually told by a public figure, a memoir is a more intimate story of a life that can be of interest to the reader for a myriad of reasons. For more information on the difference between the two, I recommend that you look at the definition in the trade magazine Writers Digest.

I have decided to write a memoir. Often writers won’t share their current project with you, but within the context of this blog, I wanted to share it. Here, where I focus on how writers write and helpful tips from a writing teacher, I will periodically share issues that arise as I work on this large project. I have written and published creative-nonfiction essays before, but I mostly write poetry. This will be the first long-form project that I’ve tackled.

The project began last month when I started a series of essays on being Italian-American. After watching the MTV show Jersey Shore (can you imagine all of the ideas and new pieces of writing it has prompted?) I’ve been thinking about my identity as an Italian-American. The Italian-American presses and organizations have been railing against how the show stereotypes and discriminates against Italian-Americans. I do not feel as though I’ve ever been discriminated against as an Italian-American. Older relatives have, but not me.

My identity as an Italian-American stregthened later in life, when I studied abroad and mastered the language. I would like to take this idea further in my memoir and focus on this in-between space: American, Italian-American. I hope to learn more about myself in the process and share a universal experience through my particular experience.

I encourage you to take up your pen or start typing notes on your own life. There is the saying that you should write what you know. I would argue that you write to learn. You never know what you’ll uncover. Finally, you’ll have the stories written down for future generations.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Computer, Pen, Audio Recorder: Shake it up a little when you write

For the first time in years, I didn’t take my laptop with me over the holiday visit to the in-laws’ house across the country. My classes were over and I knew I could sneak onto my husband’s laptop if there was anything urgent to attend to. I packed a few books and two blank journals. I was ready for a holiday.

I’m more practical than superstitious about the tools I use when I write. At readings, participants will often ask published writers about their writing schedule. What kind of pen do they use? A particular paper? Computer program? Desk? Time of day to write? Sometimes they seem desperate to buy the magical tool that will bring them the same muse.

Of course, it doesn’t work that way.

Writing in different environments with a variety of tools helps to shake things up a little. For example, I usually write on my laptop in my office. If I’m out, I can rely on the small pad and pen that I keep in my purse for notes. I make sure to look back at them often when I’m back at my desk. The re-writing of the notes helps me to understand them differently. I can either take them further or save them for later.

When we visited to the Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon, I slowly and quietly walked around the garden with this notebook. I took notes on the ideas that came to mind and the details that my eye noticed. An exercise like this works particularly well in an environment built for meditation. (Of course, a gaggle of tourists interrupted me while I was writing and asked me to take their picture. One woman said, “You look nice.” I took their picture, but lost a train of thought. See, we can all find excuses for not writing anywhere!)

For most of the visit with my in-laws, I used my larger journal. It is lined and has a binding that allows it to open flat. I like to work both sides at once. When I write a draft a poem on the left side, I rewrite it with edits on the right side after marking up the first draft. To me, there is an unfinished look about a handwritten poem. It urgently demands editing and revising more than a typed version, which can look too polished too early.

I wrote almost every day. I thought about writing and peeked back at the previous day’s notes before heading out. I kept the words in my mind and considered them before returning to edit or write.

So far, I’ve edited two of the poems that I started on that trip. Their current forms don’t resemble the original form. Typing them into the laptop, I see their true spacing on the page and have re-crafted their form a bit. I also polished the vocabulary and order of the words.

I recommend that you use different mediums as a method to stretch your creative mind. You can send yourself text messages, voice mails, emails or write notes on a cocktail napkin. You can even take something you’ve written on the computer and rewrite it by hand. You might learn something as you essentially translate the work into a new form.

The great creative-nonfiction author Joan Didion has a beautiful essay on the subject, On Keeping a Notebook.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Read as a Writer

Writers do not write in a vacuum. They read and write in response to their worlds which are physical, written and even virtual.

You cannot improve as a writer if you don’t regularly read and read as a writer.

Reading as a writer means paying attention to the sentence structure, vocabulary, voice and everything that you would consider as you are writing your own essay. Notice how the author constructed the piece. Was there a catchy title? Do the paragraphs have quotes? Does the author rely on a conversational tone or a more formal one?

If you enjoy reading an essay, look back over the piece to determine what you liked. Your goal is to better understand what drew you in (was it the opening line? The subject? The argument that you wish you could have verbalized last night over dinner?) Then, you have to think about how you can recreate what it was about the essay that impressed you. By identifying what you like about the essay, it will be easier to write in that fashion.

Is that plagiarism? No. Writers are always being influenced by other writers’ style, voice and subject matter. If you copy the lines or ideas that the writer used, be sure to give that author credit. Writers enter into a conversation when they publish their ideas. They expect others to respond to them.

What if you hated what you read? Well, you can learn from that too. What was it that made you dislike the piece? Identify the parts of the writing that turned you off (voice, structure, subject, audience, etc.) and keep track of those aspects. Then, avoid them like the plague!

Sometimes creative writing students have told me that they’ve stopped writing for fear of being influenced by someone else. This is a grave mistake. Of course you can be loosely influenced, but a good writing will develop his or her voice. Living in a bubble will not allow your ideas to be challenged and fully developed on the page.

I hope that you will read as much as possible – and read widely. Pick up a new author or a book on a subject that is new to you. Read as a writer and learn not only about a new subject, but also a new approach to writing.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Be Argumentative In Your Thesis: don’t worry, its polite if you write well

I blogged recently about having a point in your essay. I argued that your thesis will lead you to write a very strong and succinct essay.

I cannot emphasize enough the importance of a strong argument. Without it, your paper will fall apart. How can you strengthen your argument?

Most of us have been taught to be polite and accept other people’s opinions. I’ve heard students say countless times, “Sure, he can write that. He has the right to his own opinion.” Of course he does. And you have the right to yours.

I encourage you to develop a strong and confident voice in your writing. Choose an argument and support it with facts. Write your paper in the third person and write with definitive language. By avoiding phrases like, “I think that” or “I believe that” and simply stating the fact directly (without “I” and instead in the third person), your paper’s voice will immediately become stronger. The reader knows that it is “your” opinion; you wrote the paper.

We all know how to convince someone of something small or even something big. You know how to support your argument with facts. Consider the age-old conversation between a teenagers and parents. You want to stay out later than your parents will allow. You immediately come up with reasons why you should be able to stay out later (you’ve never missed curfew, you finished your homework, you are responsible, etc.) You anticipate your parents saying “no” and therefore you strengthen your argument.

Considering the opposing argument is the trick to strengthening your argument. Anticipate what someone who would disagree with you would say in response to your claims. Prove them wrong before they have a chance to do it first. A secret is that this will not only strengthen your argument, but it will likely lengthen your paper, too.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Composition Writing Classes: As good as you make them

You think you already know how to write an essay. You’ve suffered through English classes and think you should have been able to test out of this dreaded, required class that seems like wasted time away from your major.

You are wrong. Composition writing classes offer you not only the skills necessary for future academic papers, but the writing skills you’ll need throughout your life. No matter what career you choose, you’ll need to read with a critical eye, communicate effectively and comprehend important information.

Composition writing classes give you the gift of time to focus on your writing skills. Voice, mechanics, research, precision of language, audience will all be issues in your writing if you don’t learn how to naturally integrate them into your work. A simple memo or email without careful editing can turn into a PR disaster or, if nothing else, embarrassment.

You are usually given the freedom to choose topics – or at least an angle – that interests you. Choose wisely. A bored writer is never a good writer. We are taught to write what we know, but really, writing is a process of discovery. Choose to write about something that piques your interest. A good paper topic will allow you to be naturally interested in your subject so that you can more easily focus on the mechanics of writing.

Whether you can recycle your composition essays into publishable pieces or graduate school applications or not, you will have learned how to write well after you finish your school’s required courses. (Remember that most schools prohibit you from turning in papers from one class to another. You must write new papers for each assignment. The reason is that if you simply wrote one paper and continued handing it in to different professors, what would you have learned? That would be a waste of time for everyone involved.)

Your professor will do all that she can do to teach you good writing hygiene. It is up to you to participate, ask questions and take advantage of this opportunity.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Guest Blog Post: Holiday Reading by Rich Cover

Welcome back and Happy 2010!

I blogged in late December about what I planned to read over the holidays. Here, Rich Cover shares his holiday reading adventures. What did you end up reading?


I can’t fly anywhere without taking a new book with me. This holiday, though, there would be no flights. We had to postpone a family trip from Michigan to California because my son’s new house, not far from Malibu Beach, wasn’t ready. Workmen were still sanding floors and taping drywall on Christmas Eve Day. So we all agreed to get together in January for our Christmas. My holidays were therefore going to be quieter than planned. Instead of lugging Dan Brown’s Lost Symbol onto a plane, I saw it waiting for me on the end table of my den. What was there to do except dive in? But first, I ran out to buy a few more, in case Lost Symbol wouldn’t fill the days until New Year’s.

Normally, I like books that merely entertain, novels of mystery, suspense, espionage. For unknown reasons, this time I drifted to the aisles of nonfiction. I had too much time on my hands. I picked up The Federalist Papers and Benjamin Franklin. 1776 looked good, too, but a salesperson said it would be too hard of a read. I rejected all three. Moving toward the safer waters of contemporary nonfiction, I bought Highest Duty, My Search for What Really Matters (Captain Sully Sullenberger), The Good Soldiers (David Finkel) and True Compass (the late Edward Kennedy).

I started with Lost Symbol. Professor Langdon faces even more dangerous and improbable dilemmas than in Brown’s other tales of symbolism. The forces and faces of evil are complex and determined. This one measures up to all of Brown’s work and was predictably entertaining. I devoured it first and it was only December 27. Six days to go.

Highest Duty was next. Sully Sullenberger reports a lifetime of dedication to task, duty and honor, starting with his first pilot’s license at age 16, then the Air Force Academy, combat pilot days and career as an airline pilot. He also provides a detailed report of the short flight of US Airways Flight 1549 from LaGuardia to the cold Hudson River from a seat that only he had. The book describes many valuable lessons for any professional and is a fast, easy read.

In The Good Soldiers, David Finkel gives us a firsthand account of Army Battalion 216, Fort Riley, Kansas, which became known as the 2-16 Rangers and was among the first troops of “The Surge” in Iraq. Their leader, Lt. Col. Ralph, The Kauz, Kauzlarich, was educated at West Point and is a completely professional officer. He is also relentlessly optimistic, a trait which eventually became maddening to some of his soldiers. But in Iraq, he was deeply saddened over every casualty. While George Bush was saying Rather than retreating, we sent 30,000 new troops into Iraq, and the surge is succeeding, members of Kauzlarich’s Rangers were being killed by those whom they thought they were trying to help. They had trouble aligning their mission purpose with the results. But they fought on, they did their job. This book teaches the reality of a war against insurgency.

Finally, on New Year’s Day, I started True Compass and wish that it had been first. This is a book of real history. Senator Kennedy speaks with brotherly love of Jack and Bobby Kennedy and gives us an inside view of their legacies. He opens his life for us, with all of the faults, failures, accomplishments and values that made him an historic American. Your political views, no matter what they are, will not interfere with your enjoyment of this great autobiography.

Three great books filled my holidays this year and the fourth will last beyond the New Year’s weekend. The only holiday that would have been better would have been one with a view of the Pacific Ocean from Malibu Beach.

Rich Cover is a freelance writer and management consultant in Rochester, Michigan. Following a career in both the steel and automotive industries, he now owns Richard J. Cover & Associates, LLC, a consulting firm specializing in market research, investment analysis and corporate business planning. Rich writes about business, family and literature. You can contact him by email at richard.j.cover{at}gmail{dot}com.