Thursday, March 29, 2012

Never Far From Paradise Pond: D.C.-Area Smith College Alumnae Poetry Reading

With the support of the Smith College Club of D.C. and the Smith College Poetry Center, Smith College alumnae in the D.C. area will be reading poetry at The Writer's Center on Sunday, April 29th. I hope you’ll join us for a free festival of poetry readings and book signings. 

Never Far From Paradise Pond: D.C.-Area Smith College Alumnae Poetry Reading
Sunday, April 29th   
2- 5 pm

The event is open to everyone! To attend, register through Writer's Center here. Help us spread the word through our Facebook event page

Free parking in the lot across the street and a ten minute walk from the Bethesda stop (Red line.) More detailed directions here. The event is listed on their calendar here
4508 Walsh Street
Bethesda, MD 20815
(301) 654-8664

Alums and friends: Please email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com) if you are available to help with the event. 

Poetry Readers:
Andrée Betancourt (1999)
Clara Changxin Fang (2005)
Marilyn Heilprin (1948)
Nancy Meneely (1965)
Chloe Yelena Miller (1998)
Eileen Ivey Sirota (1975)
Ellen Dore Watson (Smith College Poetry Center Director)
Anne Harding Woodworth (1965)
Katherine E. Young (1983)

Each poet will read for about five minutes before introducing the next reader.

Poetry Reader Bios:

Hailing from the Deep South, interdisciplinary scholar and artist Dre Betancourt’s recent creative work explores intersections among memory, collecting, and images (traditional and digital, moving and still).  She received a M.A. degree in film studies from University College Dublin and a Ph.D. degree in communication studies from Louisiana State University.  Dre’s poems have appeared in Smith College’s The Siren, University College Dublin’s All Boys Can Dance, and in performances featured at national conventions; features samples from her portfolio.  Dre has taught undergraduate courses across the communication discipline, and she currently works as a writer and editor for a national consulting firm. (Smith class:1999)

Clara Changxin Fang’s poems have been published or are forthcoming in Pank, Permafrost, Lantern Review, Adirondack Review, Cream City Review, Runes, Meridian Anthology of Contemporary Poetry, Lines and Stars, Verse Daily among others. She received an MFA from University of Utah in 2007 and a Master in Environmental Management from the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies in 2010. She works as a sustainability consultant on issues of climate change, energy, and urban planning. She is originally from Shanghai, China. (Smith class: 2005)

Marilyn Heilprin was born in New York City and has a B.A. from Smith College and M.A. in international relations from The American University. A former research associate, writer and editor for federal agencies and private publishers, she attended writing workshops at Breadloaf, The American University, and Writers' Center in Bethesda, MD. She has published poems in literary journals and was a finalist in the Maryland State Poetry and Literary Society chapbook contests. She co-authored Leo Saal's memoir "Crossings: A Life in Russia and Germany in the Frst Half of the 20th Century." (Smith class: 1948)

Now living on the Connecticut shoreline, Nancy Fitz-Hugh Meneely’s getting the hang of retirement after twenty gratifying/distressing years with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and happy adventures along earlier career paths. Among other wonderfully small-town volunteer activities, she chairs the Guilford Poets Guild. She has published poetry, book reviews and articles in a variety of literary publications and newspapers and has written a cycle of poems about the aftermath of her father’s WWII experience which serves as libretto for an oratorio commissioned by The Greater Middletown Chorale for 2013 performance. Her sister is the composer. (Smith class: 1965)

Chloe Yelena Miller has poetry published or forthcoming in the Cortland Review, Narrative, Alimentum, and Lumina, among others. Her work was a finalist for Narrative Magazine’s Poetry Prize and the Philip Levine Prize in Poetry. Her essays and articles have been published in places such as Poet’s Market and Inside Higher Ed. As an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College, she worked on Lumina and later on The Literary Review and Portal del Sol. Currently, she teaches creative and composition writing at Politics & Prose Bookstore, Fairleigh Dickinson University and privately. She also blogs regularly about writing ( (Smith class: 1998)

Eileen Ivey Sirota attended Smith College School for Social Work, graduating with an MSW in 1975.  Since then she has been a psychotherapist in Chevy Chase, MD, specializing in the psychodynamic treatment of individual and couples.  Eileen is also a potter whose work has been displayed and sold at Glen Echo, at Montgomery Potters and at Teaism.   Writing poetry, a mid-life discovery, has offered her an additional vantage point for observing and commenting on the human condition in all its tragicomic variety.   She has read her poems several times at the performance series Sunday Salons, hosted by Adat Shalom.  She has been published in Lighten Up,  a British quarterly, and on the Smith College alumnae poetry website.  She attends writing workshops at the Writer's Center. (Smith class: 1975)

Ellen Doré Watson is the author of four full-length collections, most recently, Dogged Hearts (Tupelo Press, 2010). Earlier books include This Sharpening, also from Tupelo, and two from Alice James, We Live in Bodies and Ladder Music, winner of the New England/New York award. Among her honors are a Massachusetts Cultural Council Artists Grant, a Rona Jaffe Writers Award, fellowships to the MacDowell Colony and to Yaddo, Vermont Studio Center’s Zoland Poetry Fellowship, and a National Endowment for the Arts Translation Fellowship. Watson has translated a dozen books from the Brazilian Portuguese, including The Alphabet in the Park: Selected Poems of Adélia Prado (Wesleyan University Press), and has also co-translated contemporary Arabic language poetry with Saadi Simawe. She serves as Director of the Poetry Center at Smith College, poetry editor and translation editor of The Massachusetts Review, and is a core faculty member at Drew University’s Low-Residency MFA program in poetry and translation and at the Colrain Manuscript Conference.
(Smith College Poetry Center Director)

Anne Harding Woodworth’s fourth book of poetry, The Artemis Sonnets, Etc., will be published in fall of 2011. She is also the author of several chapbooks. Her poetry, book reviews, and essays appear widely in U.S. and Canadian journals, as well as at sites on line. She has an MFA in poetry from Fairleigh Dickinson University and is a member of the Poetry Board at the Folger Shakespeare Library, Washington, DC. (Smith class: 1965)
Katherine E. Young's poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, Southern Poetry Review, and many others.  She is the author of two chapbooks, Gentling the Bones (2007), and Van Gogh in Moscow (2008).  In 2010-2011 her full-length manuscript was a semifinalist for the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry First Book Award, the De Novo First Book Award, and the Philip Levine Prize, while her translation of contemporary Russian poet Inna Kabysh was awarded a share of the 2011 Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender Prize. She teaches English at the University of Maryland. (Smith class: 1983)

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Guest Blog: How Writing a Book Has Changed Me by Andi Cumbo

Thanks to a great conversation during the recent AWP conference, I am happy to publish guest blog posts by Andi Cumbo and Margaret Rozga. Look for our writing exchanges on each other’s blogs this month and next. You might be interested in my recent post at Andilit, Be Your Own Writing Coach.

First up here is Andi Cumbo. I was happy to meet her and spend hours talking about writing when we were teaching at George Mason University. Andi is a writer, editor, and writing teacher living in Central Virginia. Currently, she is writing a book about the people who were enslaved on the plantation where she was raised and about her process of coming to know them and understand the legacy of slavery in the United States. She blogs daily at Andilit.

How Writing a Book Has Changed Me
by Andi Cumbo

I didn’t think this would happen. Despite all the times I’ve quoted Didion – “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking.” – I didn’t really imagine that writing a book would change me fundamentally.

But it has.

I now understand that the process of writing is long and more arduous than I ever could have imagined. While I have always known writing was hard, the process of writing a book has shown me that it takes a level of patience and fortitude that I didn’t know I possessed.

I now know how to give myself grace because this is an arduous and long road to travel. I don’t beat myself up (as much) when I don’t write as much as I want in a day, and I don’t feel the need to finish something every day.

I now have learned to show grace to other writers because as much as I believe writing requires daily practice, I also know that sometimes life does not allow the kind of schedule that is ideal.

I now know that discipline is fundamental to my writing practice. I can’t rely on a whim or “the muse” to push me to write. This is my job, and I have to honor it as such.

Most importantly, I now own that I am a writer. It used to be very hard for me to say that; I felt like I was faking it. But  now, when people ask me what I do, I say, “I’m a writer,” and I know it’s true.

When I started this project just a year ago, I thought I would come through this year with a book in hand.  I’m well on my way to that outcome, it’s true, but the journey – as it seems it is always the case – has brought me so much more.  It has brought me my identity and the grace to accept myself.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Q: Can Blogging be a form of Procrastination?

A. Yes
B. Sometimes
C. No

Take some time off from whatever you should be doing and share your thoughts below in the Comments section. 

Friday, March 23, 2012

Timed Writing Prompts: Should the instructor write, too?

Underside of the Bean in Chicago: 
Does writing with students distort the view? 

Like most writing instructors, I give timed writing prompts in my (in-person) workshops. Sometimes I write with the students and sometimes I don’t. I’m never 100% sure what’s the best thing to do.

Some pedagogy books suggest that instructors should model every activity by participating with the students. If I write alongside the students, then they know the assignment is something to be taken seriously. This action helps to form community and trust between all of the members in the class. Other books suggest that it is best to remain in the clear role of the instructor by not participating. Perhaps by writing with the students, it suggests that I still need instruction, too. I transform into a peer who can’t be trusted as much as an instructor.

If I’m not writing with the students, I’ll walk around the classroom while the students are writing. This gives them a chance to raise their hand and ask a question more privately. I can also use the time to quickly review materials that we’ll be discussing next. This approach distances me, the instructor, from the students, and gives them a chance to do their work. It also means that I won’t be invited to read my writing, which could be embarrassing or model a sample with expectations that are too low or high.

I recently wrote alongside my memoir writing students at a workshop held at Politics & Prose Bookstore. The energy was really great, the students had brought up some interesting questions, and, in fact, the in-class writing led me to a draft that later prompted an idea for a new poem. After a few students shared their work, I was invited to read my sample. I was a little embarrassed to read something that was more personal that I would usually share at such an early stage. I quickly chose the most appropriate section, and the students had some interesting feedback.

Students, especially in memoir, are asked to share not only their writing, but their lives with the class. In this recent case, I did the same. The end result, in this adult class, was gained trust and intimacy (I hope, at least.)

What do you think? If you teach, do you write alongside your students? If you are a student, what do you think when your instructor writes – and perhaps reads when invited – with you?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book to Movie: Being Flynn

I can't express how excited I was to see Being Flynn, the movie based on Nick Flynn's memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

I remember hearing Nick Flynn read his poetry at Sarah Lawrence College when I was a grad student (2003 - 2005.) Later, I read the memoir that the movie was based on,  which I've since taught, and his second memoir, The Ticking is the Bomb. His subject matter and approach, a snaking between scenes, poetry, personal moments, history, and chronology, draw the reader into a surreal and real world.

Watching Paul Dano as Nick Flynn and Robert DeNiro as the father was riveting. The movie, of course, is a very different entity (mainly because of the form, not the story) from the book. It is impossible, and perhaps ill-fated, to try to make the different mediums identical. I'm so happy to have read one and watched the other. If I ever stop enthusiastically lending out my copies, I might have a chance to re-read the memoir again.

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

For more:
Focus Pictures movie page, with short interviews


NPR interview 

NPR movie review

The Rumpus movie review

Monday, March 19, 2012

Eugene O'Neill Festival: Ah, Wilderness! at Arena Stage

Illustration by Rob Carter

I am happy to have seen Ah, Wilderness! in the Fichandler theater at Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater.

While I have taught some plays in introduction to literature classes, I've sadly seen few of them. Like a poetry or fiction reading, the energy in a room and the actors' interpretations in live performance offer the viewer additional layers of understanding. This theater, which was in-the-round, gives theatergoers the chance not only to see the play, but also to see the audience's reactions. Especially for someone who spends most of her days working alone on a laptop, it is meaningful to be a part of a group experience in that way.

If you visit this theater, don't miss the chance to walk along the waterfront, one block away, and see the view from the cafe's upper level catwalk.

More on the play and festival itself:
From the great American playwright O’Neill, who is better known for his darker stories, comes a joyous and truthful depiction of American family life at the turn of the 20th century. Return to an idyllic age of Americana in Eugene O’Neill’s unabashedly romantic and sweetly funny Ah, Wilderness! As the Connecticut-based Miller clan plans their traditional Fourth of July festivities, their dreamy-eyed middle child, Richard, is wrestling with cultural conventions, political uncertainty, the power of literature and the exquisite pain of love. The memories of family life were never so delicately portrayed as in O’Neill’s only comedy. This play is coming-of-age love letter to a simpler time.

Ah, Wilderness! is produced as part of the Eugene O’Neill Festival at Arena Stage, a two-month citywide examination of the life and work of American playwright Eugene O’Neill. Featuring partnerships with education and arts organizations in the area, the festival runs March 9-May 6, 2012, and features three full-length productions and more than 20 readings, workshops, radio plays, lectures, panels, presentations and art exhibits. For more on the festival, read Sub/Text.

Ah, Wilderness! runs March 9-April 8
Arena Stage at the Mead Center for American Theater 
1101 6th St. SW
Washington, D.C. 20024

Thursday, March 15, 2012

AWP Panel Presentation: Valerie Martinez of Littleglobe

Continuing with the sharing of our presentations and materials from our AWP 2012 panel presentation, Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
, (blog label 'AWP Panel Will Write for Food') today’s post is from Valerie Martinez.

Valerie Martínez is a poet, translator, teacher, playwright, librettist, and collaborative artist.  Her award-winning books include Absence, Luminescent, World to World, A Flock of Scarlet Doves, Each and Her, And They Called It Horizon  and This is How It Began. Her most recent book, Each and Her (winner of the 2012 Arizona Book Award), was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN Open Book Award, the Ron Ridenhour Prize, the William Carlos Williams Award among others.  Her work has been widely published in journals, magazines, anthologies and media outlets including The Best American Poetry, the Washington Post, and the Poetry Foundation’s Poetry Everywhere series. Valerie has more than twenty years of experience as a university professor.  For over seventeen years, she has also worked with children, young adults, adults, teachers, and seniors in a wide range of community outreach and educational programs.  She left academia in 2009 and is currently the Executive Director of Littleglobe, Inc., a non-profit collaborative of artists who create significant works of art & performance with underserved communities. Valerie has a B.A. from Vassar College and an MFA from the University of Arizona.  She was the Poet Laureate of Santa Fe, New Mexico for 2008-2010. 

Memorylines from Littleglobe

Out of Academia
by Valerie Martinez

            In 2009, after twenty-two years of teaching at the college level, after finally staying somewhere long enough to apply for and receive tenure and promotion, after being approved for my first sabbatical , the College of Santa Fe, where I had taught since 2003, closed its doors.  Staff and faculty lost their jobs.  Students lost their college. 

            This was traumatic for everyone involved.  It was particularly devastating for faculty members who had established their homes and families in Santa Fe—the academic job market was, well, like it is now.  Some faculty members ended up teaching in local or regional high schools, scraping together just enough to support their families.  Students had to find a new place to finish their degrees; many dropped out of college for awhile.  For me it was a blessing in disguise.  I had just taken a semester of unpaid leave, to complete a large families project as Poet Laureate for the City of Santa Fe, and over the previous fifteen years I had done more and more creative work in the community.  Two years earlier, I began working with a non-profit artists collaborative, Littleglobe, which makes significant works of art and performance with diverse and largely underserved communities.  I didn’t know it, but I was leaving academia very slowly and very gradually for some time.  The year 2009 just pushed me the last step forward, and I will never go back.

Littleglobe video
            Our work at Littleglobe is rooted in the following core principles:

·     -  We believe in the transformative power of heartfelt, human connection.
·     - We believe in creating safe, inclusive spaces where sharing, witnessing and compassion are paramount.
·     -  We believe in the inherent wisdom, knowledge and capacity of communities that emerges from creative engagement.
·     -  We believe that collaborative art-making deepens human connection, grows relationships, and creates lasting community change.
·      - We believe that artistic rigor honors community work and that artists and communities, working together, are able to create significant works of art.

            At Littleglobe, the center of our creative practice is witnessing.  In order for people and places to reveal themselves, in order to be shaped by the land and its people, we must be receptive, open and humble.  Complex communities (like those in the Southwest U.S. where I live) hold immense knowledge and considerable resources, necessitated and nurtured by hundreds of years of interaction and exchange—sometimes violent, sometimes compassionate, always complicated.  It is only in witnessing and cultivating witnessing that we begin to make space for community knowledge that is the wellspring of social change—that is, we make space for communities to speak their voices.

            For over ten years, Littleglobe artists have been working collaboratively with elders, families, youth, adults and elders in the creation of significant works of art, performance and collaboration.  For the last four years, this work has been primarily with southwest communities (though we have worked elsewhere in the nation and overseas).  Over a period of many months, Littleglobe artists work with members of communities who would not usually share the same space.  These “community ensembles” are gifted with deep connections to culture, land and history while struggling with illness, estrangement, institutionalization, historical trauma, discrimination and/or other challenges.  Again and again, we have seen these ensembles emerge from creative engagement with a new sense of both individual and community capacity. 

            Littleglobe’s approach to community work resists the service or “helping” model of artists “teaching” in communities.  Instead, we find that collaboration is much more honest and generative.  We know that there is great wisdom and creative practice inherent in communities (history offers endless examples) no matter how much they are struggling, and that reconnecting to these forms of knowledge as well as nurturing new capacities is the key to “community development.”

          What Littleglobe artists bring to the collaboration are what we call “relational creative practices” that encourage the emergence of personal and communal stories and perspectives.  During our large community projects, we work with a community for many months—once- or twice-weekly sessions where we eat together and engage in a wide range of creative exercises—movement, writing, music, visual art and more.  With time, these creative “expressions”  generate works of art and performance that reflect issues at the heart of community.  At the same time, the ensemble—individuals and the whole--experience a powerful sense of ownership, identity and self-determination. 

            After the first phase of the project (which includes the collaborative production of a work of art and/or performance), Littleglobe and its partners continue to work with members of the community to facilitate continuing work in the community.  After the art/installation/ performance the community feels a powerful sense of connection and agency, ready and able to move forward with projects that the community imagines, builds and makes together. 

            In addition to my work on these large projects (which has me facilitating all sorts of poetry and writing exercises, co-writing librettos for operas,  scripts for performances, and collaborating with dancers, visual artists, composers and others), my work with Littleglobe  has in other ways expanded my life as a writer immensely.  Collaborating with other artists (especially as intensely as it happens with sustained community work—we spend a lot of time on the road together, on-site together) means a lot of time hatching up other creative projects.   It also means the same kind of connection, friendship and bonding that we see in the communities we work with.  Art, creativity,  collaboration forges lasting bonds between us—it’s a community I much more rarely experienced in academia.

Since I left academia, I scramble much harder to approach the salary that I made as a university professor.  It’s important to say this.  I juggle the directorship of a non-profit with 4 or 5 creative projects.  I spend more time away from home and on the road. It’s more difficult to find time for myself.  This is the truth of it.  Even so, since I left academia, I’ve published two books of poetry, two books about community engagement work, numerous essays, and done as many book readings, workshops and panels as I did while an academic.  I’ve also written lyrics for musical scores, performed the stories of returning women war vets, created a film and performance festival with three rural communities, collaborated with city residents on an opera that takes place on a city bus, and worked with over 300 skilled and inspiring members of communities.  They have taught me, guided me, nurtured my creative evolution and deepened my role as a member of society.  It’s the life I’ve always wanted to lead as a writer and artist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

AWP Panel Presentation: Chloe Yelena Miller, Writing Coach

Continuing with the sharing of our presentations and materials from our AWP 2012 panel presentation, Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
, (blog label 'AWP Panel Will Write for Food') today’s post is from my presentation.

Chloe Yelena Miller is a poet and writing teacher. She studied Italian language and literature at Smith College and after falling in love with Italy, moved to Florence to live and work. She returned to the U.S. to pursue an MFA at Sarah Lawrence College. Since then, she's been teaching composition and creative writing at universities and privately. She currently lives in Washington, D.C., where she teaches for-credit classes online and private individuals, as well as memoir writing workshops at Politics and Prose bookstore. Her poems have been published in magazines such as Alimentum, Cortland Review and Narrative. Most recently, she has been writing poetry book reviews for The Literary Review and Verse Wisconsin

Chloe Yelena Miller

Thinking Like an Entrepreneur : Private Workshops and Writing Coaching
by Chloe Yelena Miller

Two years after completing an MFA at Sarah Lawrence, I was a full time composition writing instructor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey. I was teaching in-person, blended and online courses. When my fiancé accepted a fellowship in the Midwest, I left my job and moved with him. There was little work there and I needed to think outside the box in order to make a living. I started to teach online, for-credit classes through two and four year universities, as well as working privately and offering classes at local adult programs. And I continue to do this today.

The most regular work that I have is the online classes I teach through three universities. These classes are composition and creative writing, as well as literature and Italian. But, as you know, adjunct work is risky. The classes might not fill or you might not be hired back. Therefore, I’ve worked to create my own opportunities privately and in the community. These private jobs make up about one third of my income. I’ll describe those experiences, how I find clients and some tips.

Private Work
I work as a writing coach with individual students. This work is similar to the work I do as a college professor. I give feedback to the writers and help them to improve their writing skills. I’m not writing their pieces for them or editing, although I’ll offer line by line feedback and corresponding exercises to help them with their challenge areas.

I primarily help these groups:
- High school students or adults working on personal statements for college or graduate school applications.
- Adults who need help with their professional writing.
- Adults working on independent creative projects such as memoir, essays, fiction, short stories and essays. These adults are usually not quite ready for or preparing for an MFA program or have been out of one for years.
- I have offered group online classes on Google groups and these classes work like traditional MFA workshops, only online.

There are more resources on the handout at the end of this post. There are also some websites and resources there. 

I meet with these private clients in person, on the phone or via Skype. Since most of my commitments are online, I’m available to meet with clients at their convenience. We usually meet at a local coffee shop during off hours. I don’t give out my home address or meet with anyone there, not that there would be room in our tiny D.C. apartment.

In the community
Currently, I am teaching classes at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C. I saw that they offer the kinds of classes that I teach and I wrote a proposal to teach new ones there. I’m now teaching a regular memoir writing workshop and a handful of related courses. A number of these students have continued on after the classes in order to work with my privately, while also continuing to take classes at the bookstore (which I encourage.)

I have taught in local community centers and through adult education programs in Michigan and New Jersey. While I make more money working privately, these courses help me to build a local name for myself while helping to advertise my services. Clients are more likely to hire someone when they recognize places where they work.  

Unlike the students in my required, beginning composition writing courses, the adults who come to me for private writing coaching sessions or who join workshops at a bookstore, are particularly engaged. They’ve chosen to take these classes and are quite motivated.  

So, how do I find clients? I don’t have an advertising budget and do everything that I can do to advertise for free.

I advertise on craigslist, through social networking and by blogging regularly. I also offer discounted or free workshops through alumni organizations or other groups that I’m associated with. This helps to spread the word. Similarly, I will donate free writing coaching hours to auctions hosted by organizations that I believe in.

It is best to try to think outside of the box. If you start with places that you go – that is to say, places that attract people who like to write – then you will find other like-minded people. I would recommend starting by making a list of organizations you belong to, writing and not, and a list of people you know who run their own businesses or groups. They might be interested in a guest speaker and you can spread the word about your business through these events. Be sure to have business cards, a brochure or something that potential clients can take home. You should have a web presence and have that address written on your cards. I print mine at They are quite professional and customer friendly, even for those of us with little computer skills. These cards are the only costs that I have, besides my laptop and internet connection. Everything else is my time and effort.

Blogging/Social Networking
While I have over 1,000 friends on Facebook, most of whom are writers or writerly types who I don’t actually know, I think I’m a terrible social networker. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn or others as I should. I’m still not 100% sure I even understand how hashtags work. There are probably many other popular social networking sites that I don’t even know about. I’m going one step at a time.
That said, what I do on these sites – that is, mostly Facebook – I enjoy doing. I set up a Writing Coach page and post links to articles that I find interesting. I’m not only posting to advertise my services, but rather building a sincere connection with like minded people. If you hate what you’re doing, you’re unlikely to continue doing it and no one will want to read what you write.

The same is true of my blog. My blog, – that is, my name at Blogspot, has the tagline, “A Writer & Writing Teacher’s Blog: Inside hints.” I blog about things that I know, wish I knew and take a chance to learn about, and things I wish my students understood better. The advantage of this is that I can continue learning, connect with folks, offer resources to my students that I can link to from my online classes and keep my writing self honest by keeping a regular writing schedule. In the meanwhile, I’d advertising my services.

So, how do I get paid? I charge by the hour and the time includes the time it takes me to read the material. I offer discounts for three or more hours paid in advance, as well as offer regular discounts on national holidays.

Clients pay in cash or via PayPal. While there is a slight PayPal charge, I think it is worth it to have clients be able to pay with a credit card. For me, it is easier than dealing with checks that might bounce. I also prefer not to give out my home address. I use my husband’s work address and might open a P.O. box, if necessary. There are few reasons that anyone has to mail me things, though, and we can exchange everything online.

I recommend speaking with a tax accountant regarding what you can deduct for a home office and expenses incurred when you meet a client.

How to manage many jobs and bosses
To keep all of this organized doesn’t need to be a logistical nightmare. Likely or not, you’ll be working on your own (I certainly don’t have a secretary.)

Here are a few tips:
You’ll need to develop a system to keep your calendar and emails organized. I use gmail and color code my emails. I also keep an excel spreadsheet with student names so I can remember who is who. For example, I’ll list their names, schools or that they are private students.

I recommend spending some time each day getting yourself organized and planning ahead. For example, if someone emails me requesting more information, I’ll make a note in my calendar to follow-up in a few days.

Best Part
I’ve been balancing online classes, private work and community work for the last four years or so. And I love it. The main reason is that I love to be free. Yes, I have a million and one commitments and I’m constantly working. But I get to set my own schedule and organize my day the way I want. I can go on writing retreats, conferences and travel while continuing to work, and, perhaps most importantly, getting paid.

Sure, if I had a full-time, well-paying job, I would have great financial security with paid vacation time. But I’m not sure that I would want to give up the flexibility and variety in my day that I currently have.

I do admit that if I didn’t have my husband’s health insurance coverage that this would be riskier. None of the work that I have is guaranteed. My private clients and the schools that employ me might cut my classes at any time. I have enough variety, though, that if I lose one client or one school, I will be ok.

When do I write?
I can write around my commitments. I usually wake up around 5 am, work for a number of hours, take a break and then turn to my own writing, editing, reading and submitting. I’ve completed a new poetry manuscript in the last year that I’ve been shopping around and I’m working on a book proposal for an academic handbook about how to be an online student. I’ve also started an Etsy shop in which I sell postcard poems. This is all possible because of the career that I’ve stitched together by thinking outside of the box. 

Individual and small group writing coach clients:
Students writing personal statements for college or graduate school
Adults who need help with their professional writing
Adults working on independent creative projects

Where to advertise (offer your services or a free/reduced rate for promotion):
Alumni organizations or other groups you are associated with
College counselors at local high schools or local lists / newsletters / newspapers
Social networking (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc.)
Blog and guest blog posts
Nonprofits hosting auctions (donation)
Places you go (libraries, bookstores, yoga studios, etc.)

Free online tools to integrate into your private sessions:
Email: While you probably have a personal account, choose one that allows you to best organize the many emails you will receive. Apple’s Mail and similar programs allow users access to multiple accounts simultaneously. Users can use one program to both receive mail from a number of places and reply with different email addresses. I use Google mail ( and have other emails forwarded there. I then color code the messages and then save them in folders. I (almost) never miss an email.

Phone: Google Voice ( offers a free phone number and voicemail service. Calls can either ring on your phone or be sent via transcribed email messages.

Video Chat & Screen Share: Skype ( provides video chat. There’s an available dialogue box and audio/visual function. The program allows you to share part or all of your screen, which is great when conferencing with students. Jing ( allows users to capture a screen shot, create a video with audio and share it. This is a potentially great way to record your comments on student writing. The free program allows videos to be up to five minutes in length and includes storage space. 

Share Documents: Google (, Dropbox ( and Box ( allow users to upload and share documents.

Powerpoint Share: If you usually assign presentations, the students can develop and share their Powerpoint presentations through Screencast (
Payment: Set up a Paypal ( account and send out invoices. Small cost associated with the service as you use it.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

AWP Panel Presentation: Patricia Lee Lewis of Patchwork Farm Retreat

Continuing with the sharing of our presentations and materials from our AWP 2012 panel presentation, Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
, (blog label 'AWP Panel Will Write for Food') today’s post is from Patricia Lee Lewis. 

Patricia Lee Lewis was born and raised in Texas, where her three children were also born; for over 30 years she has lived and worked at Patchwork Farm Retreat in Western Massachusetts. She holds an MFA degree in Creative Writing from Vermont College, and a BA from Smith College, Phi Beta Kappa. Beloved mentor of many writers, leader of frequent writing retreats both nationally and internationally, she has also been the publisher of The Patchwork Journal. A grant in 2011, from the Massachusetts Arts Council, enabled her to help establish a writing program at her local library. Trained to teach English to speakers of other languages (TESOL), Patricia and friends volunteer in Guatemala.  Her first book of poems, A Kind of Yellow, was awarded first place by Writers Digest International.  Both books are available on High Lonesome, her most recent book of poems, was published in 2011.

2010 trip to Ireland

Patricia Lee Lewis

Creative Writing Retreats : Or, how I left politics to live on the edge
 by Patricia Lee Lewis
                          You know, one thing leads to another in life, and I had worked for years as an advocate for civil rights, for women, for peace, for small organic farms and rural communities, for the health of the earth, when my life took a turn. It was the mid-80’s, my kids were grown, and I had two jobs, director of a rural economic development organization and elected country commissioner in our area of western Massachusetts. One evening between meetings, I was doing my laundry in Northampton, when an old friend asked if I would like to join a writing workshop. I was ‘way too busy, so of course I said, yes. That workshop was led by Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers & Artists, and developer of a remarkable workshop process that encourages writers at all levels to write with courage and to trust their deepest selves.
                        My oldest son had died a few years before and I had done everything I could to avoid the grief. In the safety and community of Pat’s workshop, I found my way to stories and poems that expressed what I hadn’t faced.  It was 20 years ago that I led my first retreat in my own home at Patchwork Farm in Massachusetts. Later, I teamed up with Charles MacInerney, a wonderful yoga teacher from Texas, to offer creative writing & yoga retreats—something we had never heard of but thought would be fun.        
                        I’ve been drawn through the years to hold our retreats in what feel like sacred sites. Sometimes simple and rustic, sometimes luxurious, they are in places where human beings have connected with the earth in special ways for centuries—the verge of mountain and forest, tiny islands, sheer cliffs over oceans, high volcanic lakes.  Writing retreats in beautiful places on earth are inspiring, fun, and rejuvenating for writers; and, they enable leaders to travel to places they could never afford to go.
Actually, this is not the business to be in, if you are looking to make big bucks. It is patient work. It’s important, if you want to offer retreats, to think of yourself as the owner of a small business. Which means: a business plan, financial records, a database of participants and contacts, marketing, and being responsible at every level, even when you are sick.  Plus, to offer a writing retreat, whether at home or abroad, you’ll want to find a site you can afford, arrange for lodging, meals, meeting space, special excursions; help participants make their way through airlines, currency, hotels en route, health and safety concerns and even fear of flying. After you solve the problem of snoring in double rooms, you get to lead the retreat, for which you have planned a program and prepared packets of materials. That—retreat design and schedule—is another conversation, entirely. By the time you sit down in the writing circle you are at the top fifth of what will have been an iceberg of work. And you are so happy.
                        It’s hard to make a living doing this work. Especially now, with so many writing retreat options. We were among the first, and it was an important decision to combine creative writing with yoga on our longer retreats. It gave us a niche, which is what I recommend that you find, too.  But, there have been many years when I’ve barely broken even, without counting the hours I’d put in for no pay at all. Still, it sure is rewarding. My closest friends are people I’ve come to know through writing together. We are now part of a writing community that extends across several countries. I’ve traveled to some of the world’s most enchanted lands, and in some places we’ve become part of the local community, as in these past five weeks, when I have worked as a volunteer in Santa Cruz, Guatemala, the money-poor, and heart-rich Maya pueblo on Lake Atitlan, where we have held retreats since 2006.
                        The guidelines we use in the workshops to keep each other safe enough to write whatever comes, are also good guides for living your life, and so I’ve learned how to keep things confidential, how to treat everything as fiction (i. e., not to take things personally!), how to listen with my whole heart to what others say, how to hear what is working in a story or relationship, rather than going first to criticism, and to experience writing as a healing practice.
                        One of our retreat participants said this work of leading retreats is my life’s ministry, and I think she’s right. Perhaps it will be yours. But it is a choice to support the writing of others, before one’s own. It’s a choice to be made very carefully.  And I’m glad I made it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

AWP Panel Presentation: Alison Hicks of Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio

Thank you to Alison Hicks for organizing an AWP panel that attracted so many attendees. Since the room was filled to capacity, some folks said that they were unable to hear our panel. As a result, we're archiving each speaker's presentation here. I'll be posting one presentation every day this week from Will Write for Food: Writers Working Outside Academia
 (blog label 'AWP Panel Will Write for Food'). Today’s post is from Alison Hicks.

Alison Hicks is the author of a full-length collection of poetry, Kiss, a chapbook, Falling Dreams, a novella, Love: A Story of Images, and the co-editor of an anthology, Prompted. She has twice received fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts; her work has appeared in Eclipse, Forge, Gargoyle, Grey Sparrow, Gulf Stream, GW Review, The Hollins Review, and Pearl, and is forthcoming in Whiskey Island, Quiddity, The Alembic, and RiverSedge. She holds an MFA from the University of Arizona, and is founder of Greater Philadelphia Wordshop Studio, which offers community-based
writing workshops and personal consultation.

Alison Hicks

Leading Independent Community-Based Workshops
By Alison Hicks

I have led independent, community-based writing workshops for 15 years.  I work outside academia by choice.  I love my work. I find it personally and artistically fulfilling.   I’m going to start with my story, then talk a little about the benefits and challenges of this type of work, and some logistical and financial realities.  The main take-away I hope you bring from this, though, is there is a need, a market, for this work, these services. Many people are interested and passionate about writing, but don’t necessarily want to enroll in a degree program, nor do they find an academic setting and structure most comfortable or conducive to their artistic growth.

My Story:

•          If you told me in graduate school that I would end up having my own (micro) business, I would have said you were nuts

•          Did not write for 6 years after receiving my MFA.  My block broke in the middle of a job search, after leaving the “job from hell.”  I wrote a novella in a great creative high.  Afterwards, I decided that whatever I did for living, writing needed to be part of my life.

•          Between college and graduate school, I had taken workshops with Pat Schneider, founder of Amherst Writers & Artists (AWA), which I had found nurturing to my artistic growth, and I ended up taking her training to lead workshops using the AWA method.

•          At the time, I doubted anyone would take a workshop with me. I wasn’t famous, and at that time had only published one story.

•          Pat convinced me of something that I’ve since found to be true:  there are a lot of places you can go to hear someone behind a lectern say “Do it the way I do,” and fewer where one can have one’s work engaged with on its own terms, where the goal is to uncover one’s own unique material.

•          I started my first workshop in fall 1996 with 5 people in a church in Center City, Philadelphia.  I thought of it as an experiment.

•          This then grew to two ongoing workshops, then three. After my son was born, and I scaled back to two.  I now have waiting lists for both workshops.

•          I also work privately with clients who are working on book-length projects.

•          I have found this is a very satisfying way to support myself and my writing.  My income is a second income and I get my health insurance through my husband’s employer.  Yet my income is significant to my family’s resources.  Recently we met with a financial planner and my husband had her crunch numbers without my income for a period of time. We discovered that this drastically changed our retirement picture.


•          For me, has offered opportunities for personal and creative growth

•          It’s your business; you’re in charge. Empowering.

•          Joy of mentoring people, seeing other’s writing take off

•          Supporting and developing your own writing.  My writing would not be what it is were it not for my workshops. I see myself as modeling a writer’s life. I feel the need to “walk the walk”: to actively be creating new work and putting it out there. (I tell my workshops about both my acceptances and rejections and encourage them to share theirs as well. At the end of each session I hand out a sample of my writing in progress.  We don’t take workshop time to discuss, but I welcome any comments they wish to make.)

•          Some advantages to working outside academic structure: grading, department politics, etc.
Logistical and Financial Realities:

•          Need to know your strengths and what you offer and market yourself and your product.  Potential clients need to see your name or logo something like 7 times before it registers.

•          Need to know the area where you plan to offer your services, its particular needs and characteristics. 

•          Know your competitors—both academic and non-academic—and what they offer.  For example, one of my competitors is a well-established and prestigious fiction workshop in Philadelphia.  I did not let myself be cowed by this because we offer different things. His is fiction only, and offers standard manuscript critique. My workshops are different from the standard academic model.  We do offer manuscript critique (typically I write 2-4 page of comments as well as line-editing manuscripts), but we are multi-genre (because I write poetry, fiction and non-fiction), and include a generative component, writing in the workshop in response to prompts or the writer’s own inspiration. This is attractive to those newly exploring writing and discovering their material, and also to seasoned writers looking to make progress on defined project.

•          Need to price yourself reasonably.  You don’t want to price yourself too low; people do equate price with value.  Yet I also want to make my workshops affordable to a range of participants. (I have also offered “scholarships” and reduced fees for those of talent who are also good group members, but I’ve found that most people like to “pay their own way.”)

•          Need to be creative about finding affordable, accessible, and welcoming locations (can be one’s home, if appropriate; others prefer to use another facility).

•          Need to be organized, keep track of earnings and expenses.

•          If you don’t also have a job from which wages are withheld, you may need to pay taxes quarterly.  Also may have to pay your own Social Security taxes (so-called “self-employment tax”).

•          Need to be able to “roll with the punches,” expect some uncertainty, be comfortable with some element of risk.  Your business may be affected by broad economic or area trends not under your control.

•          Need to be willing and able to give your business some time to grow. Nurture the seedling. Helpful to offer services on a regular schedule rather than intermittently (if you offer it, they will come).
Challenges/Opportunities that arise:

•          Group dynamics. Having an MFA is useful, but not necessary. Having publication experience is helpful. What really matters is that you can provide an atmosphere in which people can grow and learn and that you have some guidance and insights to offer from your own writing experience.  I’ve found the structure of the AWA method helpful in maintaining healthy workshops.  It also helps to have someone wise and level-leaded with whom you can talk over difficult or delicate situations. (At same time, joy of having your own business is making your own decisions)

•          Viewing imperfect work in a positive light.  This doesn’t mean ignoring problems or issues in the writing, but keeping in mind the writer’s greater purpose when you point to those problems, what she or he was reaching for, even if it exceeds her or his grasp.  Being honest and helpful at the same time. Meeting the person where she or he is.

•          Working alone/home office can take adjustment. Internet can lessen sense of isolation, but can often be a distraction.

•          Finding colleagues.  Go to readings in your area; participate in literary life.  Make friends with writers in and out of academia. Attending and participating in AWP conferences is another angle. I’ve been pleased to see AWP increasingly defining itself as an organization of writers, not just of creative writers in academia.

Communities Reached:

•          My workshops have included those who are sending out their work and publishing, those who have written for a long time but are just beginning to show their work to others, those who took creative writing courses in college but haven’t engaged in creative work since, and those who have wanted to write but are now giving themselves permission to explore writing in a more focused and serious way.

•          Workshop participants have ranged in age from teenagers to the 80’s, educational levels from high school grads to Ph.D’s, include men and women (skew toward women), and diversity in race and sexual orientation.

•          I don’t select by manuscript. I offer places in a new session first to those currently enrolled who wish to continue, second to alumni who wish to return, and then to newcomers on a first-come, first-serve basis.  This means that there is more likely to be a range of experience that benefits us all.  After all, we are all beginners when it comes to the blank page.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Book Meal: Game of Thrones (based on A Song of Ice and Fire)

Mead selection (honey wine)

Some people work their way through Julia Childs’ classic cookbook and travel to France; I’ve entered a fictional, medieval world through The Inn at the Crossroads. This soon-to-be-published cookbook is based on George RR Martin’s series A Song of Ice and Fire, which became the HBO series Game of Thrones.

Books, especially fiction, create new worlds and in every world, characters eat. What better way to enter their worlds than to eat alongside them? That is, especially when you can eat indoors with running water, electricity for your television and no need for night watchmen. 

Here’s our menu from the cookbook (scroll down for more photos):
Ginger soup: I added extra ginger to the recipe. The soup was both sweet, from the carrots, and spicy, from the ginger.

Salad with a fruit vinaigrette: I used spinach leaves and added in cranberries and pine nuts. I substituted lingonberry jam for plum preserves and left out the lemongrass. It was light and flavorful.

Medieval goat: It may not be easy to find fresh goat in the Washington, D.C. area, but it is possible (thanks to my husband!)

Black bread: Long recipe, but delicious, full-bodied flavor with chocolate, molasses, coffee and more. 

We added in:
Mead tasting

Honeyed locusts (also called "popcorn")

White cheddar cheese (a hard goat cheese might have been a better choice) with rosemary honey and lingonberry jam

Crunchy roasted chickpeas (one spicy batch with garam masala and cayenne pepper and one cooler batch with sage)

Not pictured below: Our guests’ fabulous additions of Bunratty mead and Medieval Lemon Cakes. I’d like to eat those light and refreshing lemon cakes every day.

For more on my obsession with cooking, check out my Italian food and culture blog, Fare La Scarpetta.

Crispy roasted chickpeas with sage

Crispy roasted chickpeas with garam masala and cayenne pepper

Black bread

Honeyed locusts (or "popcorn")

Ginger soup (before adding cream)

Appetizer table

Three meads

Medieval goat and salad