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.

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