Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Build Your Vocabulary

My adult students often ask how they can build their vocabulary without buying an expensive set of GRE prep books or something equally boring.

I always give them the same main advice: read, read and read some more. Read slowly enough that you notice new words and then look them up. No skimming. If you are reading online, you can easily access an online dictionary and read the definitions.

Then, keep a list of new words and their meanings. Besides copying the original sentence where you found them, create your own sentences. By using the word in a different context, you will better understand its meaning. Work to integrate the word into your writing and speech. Look over the list when you add to it and remind yourself of the new words that you’ve learned.

If you read industry-specific texts, you’ll very quickly come across new words. These can also be the basis for a great creative writing exercise. You might even learn new uses for familiar words. For example, I recently took a beading class and learned that the center of the piece is the “heart.” As in, “thread towards the heart.” Paying close attention to vocabulary helps you to see the world in new ways.

Learning new words doesn’t have to be a chore. My husband and I regularly place Scrabble on Facebook. The application allows players to check to see if letter combinations are words. I’ve discovered new words that way, too. I’ve made a rule for myself: if I play it, I have to know what it means. (Now that it sounds like I’m a Scrabble cheat, do you want to play?)

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Poets & Writers’ Conferences & Residencies Database


Summer conference, festival, and residency program deadlines are upon us. If you are interested in applying for one, I recommend searching on the Poets & Writers Magazine’s online database. You can search by state, fee or type. You can also subscribe to the magazine and read their regular printed section.

Have you done a short-term program? We’d love to have your thoughts in the comments section about which ones you’ve attended and if you’d recommend them.

Last summer I attended A Room of Her Own’s retreat on the Ghost Ranch in New Mexico and blogged about it.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep a Notebook

Writers should keep a notebook with them at all times. The notebook isn’t meant to be a journal of your day’s events or a collection of complete writings, but rather observations, ideas, lines, moments, interpretations and more. As something comes to you or you observe something interesting, write it down and save it for later. Invite interpretation into your lines or through your presentation.

Joan Didion writes in the essay On Keeping a Notebook,“The impulse to write things down is a peculiarly compulsive one, inexplicable to those who do not share it, useful only accidentally, only secondarily, in the way that any compulsion tries to justify itself.”

Writers write to understand, to remember and to make connections. I’ve been teaching this Didion essay for years in beginning and advanced writing classes. Didion offers clear prose and insight into the writer while crafting a moving and even useful essay on the subject.

The notebook keeps the writer’s mind alert. I keep a small notebook in my purse and I know others who do the same. (Of course, it can be an electronic version, too.) The purpose is to train your eyes and ears to be attentive to the surrounding world and your inner thoughts. These lines will process themselves later, or perhaps not, into a final piece of writing. If they don’t, don’t worry, but do continue on. Not everything you write will be a part of the final, but it will be a part of the process.

As Joan Didion writes, “So the point of my keeping a notebook has never been, nor is it now, to have an accurate factual record of what I have been doing or thinking.” The notebook is a vehicle for the reader to enter into the world through recording, as Didion suggests in this line, “How it felt to me: that is getting closer to the truth about a notebook.”

Friday, March 26, 2010

Plinky Prompts


Who doesn’t enjoy a good writing prompt? Plinky offers regular, interactive prompts. It also has a cool name that you want to say five times fast: Plinky Plinky Plinky Plinky Plinky (not easy.)

Here’s how they describe themselves:

• Every day we provide a new prompt (like a question, or a challenge), and everyone gets a chance to answer.


• It's simple to add photos, maps, playlists and more. You can easily share your Plinky answers on Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and most major blogging services.


• We know you've got something interesting to say. Plinky is here to help you say it in a fun and compelling way. Sign up below to get started!

Try it out. Do let us know if you post something so we can read your response.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Please Support This Blog

To support this blog, click and order through the Amazon box in the upper right hand corner. You will pay exactly the same amount as you would on any Amazon order while the blog will generate funds to support its daily content.

Easy-peasy, right?

Thank you so much for your support!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Write a Poem a Day to Celebrate National Poetry Month in April

Are you ready for National Poetry Month?

Many poets, seasoned and new, will challenge themselves to write a poem a day throughout the month. The writers who complete the challenge end the month with thirty new drafts to edit and revise. What a gift to have so many new drafts!

Whether the poems end up in publishable form or not doesn’t matter. The goal is to practice your craft: literally, practice writing. Everyone from pianists to long distance runners practice; why shouldn’t poets?

I'll admit that I’ve never succeeded in writing a new poem draft every day, but I’m committed to trying this National Poetry Month. Like everyone else, I get distracted by other things. Not this year. It is said that it takes twenty-one days to develop a new habit and I would like to make a daily writing practice a habit.

Will you join me? Remember that the poems will be drafts; no piece of writing can be completed in one seating. There is no pressure to write about anything in particular or in a particular way.

If you choose not to commit to writing a new poem for thirty days, there are other ways to participate. You can read a poem a day by signing up to have a poem emailed to you from The Academy of American Poets, Knopf Publishing, or other poetry sites. You might decide to attend a poetry reading, browse an independent bookstore or visit your local library’s poetry section.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Support Local, Independent Bookstores

What is your favorite local, independent bookstore?

I have fond memories of the Montague Bookmill, a used bookstore housed in an 1842 gristmill, that I frequented when I was a student at Smith College in Massachusetts. When I return to New York City, I always stop by the St. Mark’s Bookshop, which has a thorough poetry collection.

By shopping at local bookstores instead of large, chain stores, you support your local economy. You will also find a wider selection of literary authors who don’t always find their way into the more commercial stores. Browse through the shelves and be surprised by what you discover. The staff is usually quite knowledgeable about their books and can make suggestions; don’t hesitate to ask.

To learn more about your local bookstores or look them up before you travel, try this Indie Store Finder offered by Indie Bound.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Study Food Writing This Summer With Chloe' (Online at FDU)

I will be teaching Food Writing this summer through Fairleigh Dickinson University’s online program. The course runs from July 12 through September 17th and will be fully online.

You can earn three credits upon completion of the course. Here is the course description:

Food Writing
Do you enjoy reading food magazines and talking about what you ate or are planning to eat? This course will focus on how to write precisely about food. Taste, restaurant environment and the history of the dishes will be considered in the pieces. (No cooking skills required!) Ultimately, good writing is the basis for any strong piece of writing and the skills developed in this class can be transferred to other subject. Readings will include published magazine articles as well as a current book on the subject.

For more information or to register for the course, search FDU’s Webadvisor for Summer Session II. You can look for the course by typing “Miller” into the instructor box and clicking “Distance Learning Classes only.”

I invite you to learn more about FDU’s online programs.

Questions about the course? Don’t hesitate to contact me at ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Poem “Cemetery” Published in Narrative Magazine


Thank you to Narrative Magazine for publishing my poem Cemetery. You can read it here. If the poem doesn’t appear in its entirety, please sign in (for free) here.

I’m in great company in this online, literary magazine. Be sure to stick around and read the other authors, such as Jean Valentine and Matthew Zapruder.

Cemetery is one of a series of poems that poses the question, “Should I have answered for you?” The poems represent a dialogue with a friend who I lost to illness in middle school and remains close.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

How Do You Read?

I’ve been considering making my blogs available on Kindle. Would you read them there?

How do you read? There are so many options: Do you download articles to your Kindle or your IPhone? Do you buy books in your local independent bookstore or order them from Amazon? Do you visit your library for audio books or read a literary magazine in a bookstore’s café with a cup of coffee? The many ways one can read continues to grow and sometimes baffle.

At least they baffle me. I’ve always been a book-and-pen-in-hand-kind-of-girl. I enjoy sitting in a chair by a window and underlining sections. Sometimes I tag pages with post-it-notes. My bookshelf dedicated to poetry has scraps of paper peaking out of the books I’ve enjoyed the most. I’ve resisted the Kindle and other space savers.

That is, until now. I’m starting to crack and rely more and more on technological advances that are slowly changing my habits. We canceled our Sunday subscription to the New York Times and I’ve learned to read it online. Just yesterday I gave into the IPhone which I learned has an app that allows readers to download books like a Kindle. As we plan our upcoming honeymoon to Greece, I can’t help but be excited about downloading books instead of packing an extra heavy bag of reading to lug around.

Times are changing and I’ve resisted change as long as I could. Maybe our upcoming move to a will be easier with less new boxes of books. I’m not tossing my old books, though, and I do expect to continue to buy print copies of new favorite books. I don’t change that quickly and completely.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

“Adea” Published in PoetSpeak

Thank you to PoetSpeak for publishing my poem, along with an audio reading, of my poem “Adea.”

This poem tells the story, as my great aunt has so many times, of how she was named by a midwife. Her mother requested one name to be written on the birth certificate, but she didn’t know how to spell it. Therefore, the midwife wrote her own mother’s name which sounded similar to her.

My great aunt’s mother always called her Adea, but everyone else called her Dora. Eventually, she became known as Dora. My great aunt turns 102 this June. Our birthdays are only two days apart and we always celebrate together.

I have written many memoir poems which narrate my family’s emigration from southern Italy to New Jersey in the 1800s. If you are interested in working on your memoir, in prose or fiction, I encourage you to consider taking my online, two week memoir writing class this May.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

William Zinsser: Writing To Learn

Most of us have been assigned (or assigned) William Zinsser’s On Writing Well. I recently finished reading his later book Writing to Learn and have renewed enthusiasm for writing and teaching writing.

Here are a few great lines to keep in mind while you are writing, editing and teaching:

“It {writing across the curriculum} establishes at an early age the fact that writing is a form of thinking, whatever the subject.” - i

“Writing and thinking and learning were the same process.” – ix

“Writing is thinking on paper. Anyone who thinks clearly should be able to write clearly – about any subject at all.” – 11

“We all need models, whatever art or craft we’re trying to learn. (…) Writing is learned by imitation.” – 14

“A piece of writing must be viewed as a constantly evolving organism.” – 15

“One of my principles is that there is no typical anybody; every reader is different. I edit for myself and I write for myself.” – 25

“Writing is a tool that enables people in every discipline to wrestle with the facts and ideas. It’s a physical activity, unlike reading.” – 49

“But failure isn’t the end of the world, in football or anywhere else. In writing – and therefore in learning – it’s often the beginning of wisdom.” - 50

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Union League Civic & Arts Foundation Annual Gala, Over the Rainbow


If you live in the Chicago area, I hope you will consider attending The Union League Civic & Arts Foundation's Annual Gala. The evening of gourmet dining, an auction, live music and dancing will take place on April 24th. The event is a fundraiser which will benefit their programs for young artists.

Look for my donation at the auction, one hour of private coaching on your writing project.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Online Memoir Writing Workshop (Prose & Poetry) in May: Sign up today!

There are still spaces available in my upcoming online Memoir Writing Workshop.

An online class, one that doesn’t ask you to drive or even fly somewhere, will help to integrate writing into your daily routine. After two weeks of writing regularly and discussing writing in the class, you will have developed a writing habit. You’ll be a part of a community of writers. By responding to the assigned prompts, you will stretch your creative mind and shake up your usual rhythm and subjects. In other words, you’ll create something new.

The class will run from May 17 – May 28th and the deadline to sign up is May 1st. If you are interested, please send me an email at ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com. Looking forward to working together!

Here are all of 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 due May 1. 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 visit Chloé’s writing blog: http://www.chloeyelenamiller.blogspot.com/
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, March 11, 2010

Answers To Your Questions: First Or Third Person in Fiction?

A reader recently inquired if it is better to use first or third person point of view in fiction.

Definitions

First person point of view is when the author uses “I” and writes from the point of view of one character. It allows the author to share the character’s thoughts and feelings, even when s/he doesn’t speak.

Third person point of view allows the author to choose to be omniscient and expand the narrative to include more than one character’s actions and possibly even thoughts.

There is also the second person point of view. The author may be speaking directly to the reader by addressing him or her as “you.” This is a very directive style of writing.

Which POV to choose?

Is one point of view better than the other? No. It depends on your particular narrative and goals for the piece as a whole, as well as the individual characters.

How do you know which point of view to use? My suggestion is to try different points of views and see which ones reads better. You can save your drafts with different file names and experiment. How does the plot change if you put the third person narrative into a first person narrative? Does it become stronger or weaker? Perhaps you learn something new about the character by writing about her in first person, but decide to complete the piece in third person. You can integrate that knowledge into the third person point of view.

Changing the point of view of your writing is a good exercise to challenge your writing skills. Do you find that you always write in first person? Write a short story in the third person and notice how your writing (subject, tone, narrative, etc.) shifts. Try writing from the point of view of someone incredibly different from you (gender, age, culture, etc.) This will also help to shake up your usual writing style and try something new.

Have a question related to writing? Post it below in the Comments section or send me an email (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.) I’ll let you know when the answer is published.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Essay on Marriage Published in the series "This I Believe"

Thank you to the series This I Believe for recently publishing my essay In a Month I Will Be Married.

My husband and I had a less traditional engagement and wedding. In this essay, I explore some of our decisions. I began writing the essay over the summer, submitted it in September, married in October, and learned it was accepted a few days ago. (As I always say, writing, revising and submitting is a long process.)

The essay begins, “In about a month I will be Chloé Miller. That is to say, the same person I am now, with the same name. Without a “Mrs.” and wedding band, my marriage will be invisible to outsiders.”

If you’d like to continue reading, please click here.

After only five months of marriage, the wedding planning and this essay already feels distant. A few details changed since I wrote it. What hasn't changed is that it seems as if my husband and I have been married for years. In fact, we’ll be celebrating four years since our first date next month!

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Answers To Your Questions: How To Start Writing Poetry?

In a lifetime of reading, I have ignored poetry. I think I like it, but don't know what to like. I know I want it to rhyme and to speak to life's lessons of love, forgiveness, triumph, and other heavy stuff that becomes clarion by the poet's pen. Where should I start? - Rich

Ah, poetry! My favorite topic. The major task of the poet, just like any that of an author working in any genre, is to simply read and write.

Read, read, and read some more. Start with anthologies and then follow up with full collections by the authors who move you. Try a variety of voices from different cultures, eras and styles of writing. Read authors’ first and most recent books to see where they began and how they developed as poets. Read contemporary literary journals to see what is being published today. Listen to poetry on DVDs, online or at live readings.

And write. Write, write, and write some more. You don’t need a fancy computer or notebook, you just need to write regularly. Continue the process by editing and revising your work. The more you learn about craft, the easier it will be to notice aspects of your writing that could be improved and pushed further.

Finally, share your work. Take classes, work with a writing coach and/or share your work with friends. Listen to their responses. Writing is a part of a conversation. If you never share it with anyone, it becomes a monologue. Let your poetry come to life. Try reading at open mikes and eventually submit your work for publication.

Before you submit your work for publication, however, be sure to know the literary journals well. Read them regularly and study what appears on their pages. I encourage you to not only buy a copy or two of the magazines that interest you, but also subscribe to them. Literary journals are often run by small groups of people who volunteer their time or are paid small stipends. They depend on sales to keep running. Support poetry by buying the journals.

To study poetry, below are resources to help get you started. Of course, there are many other wonderful books, websites, magazines and journals. These are some resources that I enjoyed when I started and continue to learn from. I’ve used most of the texts in writing classes that I’ve taught.

Books on the Craft of Poetry
Best Words, Best Order: Essays on Poetry by Stephen Dobyns
The New Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics by Alex Preminger, Terry V.F. Brogan, and Frank J. Warnke

Books on Formal Poetry
The Making of a Sonnet: A Norton Anthology edited by Eavan Boland and Edward Hirsch
The Making of a Poem: A Norton Anthology of Poetic Forms edited by Mark Strand and Eavan Boland

Poetry Anthologies To Start
Poetry Speaks: Hear Great Poets Read Their Work from Tennyson to Plath (Book and 3 Audio CDs)
The Best American Poetry Series
The Norton Anthology of Poetry

Daily Poems Culled Selected From Top Literary Magazines
Poetry Daily
Verse Daily

Additional Resources To Search For Literary Magazines
Duotrope
New Pages
Browse your local bookstore

Poetry Events Near You
Academy of American Poets’ “Poetry Near You”
Poetry Foundation’s “Poetry Tours”

Writing/Creativity Exercises
Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within by Natalie Goldberg
What else would you, readers, recommend?


Have a question related to writing? Post it below in the Comments section or send me an email (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.) I’ll let you know when the answer is published.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Answers To Your Questions: How to Avoid Boredom When You Write

You’ve done the research and now you have to write it up. The idea that seemed tantalizing and fresh when you first started to gather material has started to sour and bore you. You have the answer to the question that drove your search and it seems obvious. You want to work on a new project.

We’ve all been there. Today’s question is from a writer who has something she must write, but she’s bored by it. That boredom leads to a lack of focus and poor writing.

It is said that writers write to discover. We uncover something about the world or ourselves through the practice of writing. In turn, when we are surprised by our discoveries, so are our readers.

The trick to conquering your boredom is to move beyond the reporting aspect of writing and continue to delve into the subject and the manner in which you are presenting it. Ask yourself, “What else is there is to uncover?” or “How can I write this more precisely?” These challenges will help to stimulate your brain and you’ll be immersed in your subject again.

Sometimes, especially when you are working on an assignment, you just have to plow through. There is nothing left but to finish the work given to you by someone else. In this case, set daily (or hourly, if you’re on deadline) goals for yourself. Be sure to take breaks; edit and revise after the work has sat for a while so you can look at it more critically. If you try to complete the editing and revision process immediately, it might all blend together and seem perfect simply because you want to check it off your list of things to do.

If you aren't completing an assignment and you are truly bored, maybe it is time to let it go. The research and notes might come in hand for later pieces. Perhaps you’ll be re-inspired by the topic at another time. It was good practice, which is a vital part of writing: practicing the craft. What artist doesn’t need to practice?

Have a question related to writing? Post it below in the Comments section or send me an email (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.) I’ll let you know when the answer is published.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Interview with failbetter’s Publisher & Founding Editor Thom Didato


Thom Didato, the publisher and founding editor of the online literary and arts magazine failbetter spoke to me about writing, reading, publishing and the online literary scene.

The former Program Manager at The Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, Thom currently teaches fiction workshops and literary editing and publishing courses at Virginia Commonwealth University where he serves the Graduate Programs Director.
Thanks, Thom, for the interview!

***

failbetter. Emphasis on the better. And the fail.

First, Beckett wrote, “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” Then David McLendon started a Brooklyn reading series called “failbetter.” Next, Thom Didato and David started the online literary magazine failbetter. Recently, I spoke with Thom recently about the magazine, his writing and technology. And there is so much more to come.

The idea of failing better has been mis-popularized with self-help books and mantras. Thom emphasizes that instead of being a motivational phrase, “it is in the doing and in the failing that you will find success. What makes writing strange and different is that attempt. If it is weird or different enough, sooner or later you find something original. In failing, you will be more original.”

Remember the ‘90’s when we didn’t Tweet about waking up and buying groceries? In that low-tech world, Thom approached David about starting a literary magazine. Their friends’ print magazines in had mostly gone “belly up” and Thom and David wanted to created create something that wouldn’t be, as Thom described it, “relegated to dustbins and used bookstores.” Thom laughed when he mentioned that they were both “absolute luddites.” In fact, a friend gave them the idea of starting it online.

Thom, who teaches at Virginia Commonwealth University, sees more and more students willing to read online as textbooks are available online. As screens become more readable and the technology allows the text to be better organized, he expects that readers will become more and more accustomed to reading longer pieces online.

Thom noted that in the beginning, shorter pieces were clicked more often than the longer pieces. The trend has turned on its head. In the last three years, longer works are read more often, including novel excerpts.

failbetter has started serializing some novels, based on the idea that the readers enjoy reading longer pieces. In this way, contemporary technology is mimicking the 19th century concept of serialization. Look for the first two chapters of Jess Row’s forthcoming novel, as well as others.

There are many approaches to designing online lit magazines. Editors decide how technologically advanced their readers are and how complicated the site should be. Some are more simple, like McSweeney’s, and others focus on the technical possibilities. Thom notes that whatever an editor decides to do, he should use technology to advocate for the best possible audience experience. As web literacy advances, he’s been able to add more (mostly behind the scenes) advances to the magazine. In the beginning, they simply focused on “readable, good material.” Luckily, they haven’t strayed far.

There is much that readers don’t see in an online literary magazine. While the technology looks quite simple and straightforward in failbetter, the behind the scenes work helps to make the experience not only easier, but more enjoyable for the reader. For example, Thom says, “if you read a story in an issue and we see that you like the second person point of view, the database will show you another story that you might like.” That’s not something a print magazine could ever do.

Thom describes failbetter: “We are a strange and significant publication. I think we are taking what are the best of traditional literary concept from a print form and executing it far better in an electronic form.”

As so many writers are also teachers and editors, I ask Thom about how his own writing and reading interacts with the magazine. Thom immediately asserts that there is a “big difference between what you write and read.”

He admits that a personal aesthetic “must have an influence,” but since a number of people are involved (the main cohort being Andrew Day, two poetry editors, two fiction editors and readers), the aesthetics are varied. When editors change, aesthetics shift somewhat. That said, no one person makes all of the decisions and no one aesthetic rules the publication.

Thom’s writing doesn't influence the magazine's choices, but rather, the magazine influences him. “If you talk to a publisher, they greatly learn about writing process from their role as an editor and you realize the subjective nature of it all. A beginning writer doesn’t necessarily understand that you could be shot down somewhere, but then loved elsewhere. As a publisher, you see that something you rejected might win the best short story in Glimmer Train (that’s happened.) It is the subjective nature of it all.” Thom adds that it is “empowering in terms of your own writing, as you are not concerned with approval. What effects the writing is you are exposed to a multitude of writing styles and the reaffirmation that it isn’t something you do, and then you look at how that simple sentence was so incredible.”

Editing has had a major impact on his writing. “It is very difficult to write and work as an editor. To be perfectly honest, my writing ceased three or four years ago, maybe because of my first kid or failbetter.”

“The days of pleasure reading are ending,” Thom concludes with a sigh. “Of course I get pleasure out of this, but the days of walking into bookstore and randomly picking up books are gone. Books are sent to me.” He does a lot of reading based on who they are interviewing for the magazine. Kevin Young is coming up soon. He helps with the interviews. He is also reading books by writers they’ve published: Buffalo Lockjaw by Greg Ames and Love Park by Jim Zervanos.

Thom advises writers who might be considering submitting their work. “Traditionally speaking professionalism is considered a four letter word in the arts community, but it isn’t. We are always shocked by grammatical errors. Writers should be very wary of submitting online. It seems so easy, so people don’t proof their cover sheets. Much like there is an awkward form of email in emotional value (sarcasm), people don’t proof online and that is really weak off the bat. That sounds no different from other philosophy, but given the immediacy and transparency, that’s shocking… that people haven’t taken the time to proof.”

Readers must read the magazines to which they are submitting work. “There is no excuse with an online magazine because you should be able to educate yourself and see if it is something up your alley. At failbetter, we still get genre related material, westerns, etc. It is free, check it out and see if it makes sense. You have no excuse not to. Also, see if you want to be associated with the publication.”

failbetter changed the issue format from a quarterly publication to a cumulative approach. They release pieces every two weeks until it culminates into full issue. More than 50 percent of the accepted material comes through open transit. In each issue, they publish 4 stories and 4 poems and receive about 3,000 fiction, 5,0000 poetry submissions a year. As a result, less than 1 percent of the submitted pieces are published. For the aspiring writers, know that they are sure to always include a new writer.

Go forth and fail even better than last time.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Writing Prompt: Imagine & Look Closely


For today’s writing prompt, look closely at a photograph and imagine being in the scene. Use your five senses to describe the setting. For example, what would it sound like? If you bend down, what would the ground feel like? What does the air feel like? Is there a taste or perfume in the air? What are the details you notice? What do you think the photographer decided not to show you? For example, what is outside the frame?

My mother is a photographer and I grew up always being reminded to look around me. This is an important skill for an artist working in any medium. Here is a poem I wrote about my mother teaching me to look closely at the world.

My mother, Melabee Miller, keeps a monthly photoblog that would work perfectly for this exercise. Start with the series of images she shares that create a narrative for the reader/viewer this month. Rebelling against the terrible snow storms that have hit the East Coast recently, she shares photographs from Puerto Rico. Even if you’ve never been there, look closely at the photographs and imagine the setting.

I invite you to share your drafts in the Comments section below.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Three Things You Can Do To Help Michigan: Poet Keith Taylor

As a means to encourage economic and cultural growth in Michigan, poet Keith Taylor  encourages us to support the arts on NPR’s “Three Things.” In this radio show, Michigan Radio's Morning Edition host Christina Shockley interviews people about three things we can all do to support Michigan.

Poet Keith Taylor’s list of three things was thoughtful and close to my writer’s heart. I encourage you to listen to the entire piece.

He describes the first thing as a “Cultural version of ‘Buy Local’” He encourages residents to go to see local cultural events and visit cultural venues (theater, readings, bookstores, museums etc.) His list would support all incomes.

Then, he suggests supporting public school systems as this will have lasting effects on the town, as well as the students educated.

Finally, he reminds us that the rest of the state cannot forget Detroit. He says, “The urban environment is a part of the world culture and this is our urban environment.” Admitting that more non-Detroiters going into Detroit might require a “shift in attitude,” he reminds us of the importance of this city.

Help Michigan. Help the Arts.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Writing Resource Book: Will Write For Food by Dianne Jacob


How to write with precision. How to pitch an article idea to an editor. How to describe food while limited adjectives. How to write a recipe. How to write about food in fiction. How to… this book covers a wide span of information. While the focus is food writing, Dianne Jacob stresses the importance of strong writing. She offers magazines, texts, websites and associations as food resources. She quotes experts in the field and offers reasonable advice about how to get started.

As a writing teacher, I took notes as I read this book. I will integrate chapters into future classes. Jacob includes writing exercises that can help jump-start a beginning writer and rejuvenate a more experienced one. I wasn’t just reminded about how to write well, but rather I learned some new approaches and ideas to consider.

Here is one of the many gems from the book: In the chapter “Characteristics of a Food Writer,” Jacob writes, “Veteran writer O’Neill keeps rampant and vague adjectives at bay by evolving her taste vocabulary, even after decades as a food writer. Her main tool is a taste diary she kept for ten years. One of her mentors suggested using a diary so that later, if she was writing about a raspberry, she could go back and consult her earlier impressions.”

For more information on Dianne Jacob and her book Will Writer For Food, see her website and read her blog.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Your Questions

Do you have a question about writing? Submit it below in the comments section or email me at ChloeMiller(at)gmail(dot)com. I will answer your question in a future blog post.

If you have a very specific question about a piece you are working on, be sure to include a summary or the paragraph surrounding the question.