Thursday, August 30, 2012

Writing: Plans & the Buddy System

One of the many great places to sit and write/read at Bread Loaf

Back from Bread Loaf, I’m both excited and overwhelmed with everything I want and should/have to do for my writing. This is particularly challenging at the beginning of a new semester. 

When I work with writers as their writing coach, I know what advice to give. I recommend sketching out an outline of what needs to be done and setting goals for the writer. Like with any project, working in smaller chunks is helpful. We discuss the writers' available time and make attainable deadlines and goals.

It is always hard to take your own advice.

Luckily, I had an awesome roommate, poet Shradha Shah, at Bread Loaf and we’re committed to keep each other honest with our work. We’re setting monthly goals over the next 12 months that include writing new poems, revising, submitting and reading. We’ll workshop (virtually) and discuss poetry books together. The first step is to email each other our plans and make our first deadline.

It is always more fun to complete a project with a buddy.

How do you set goals and complete them when it comes to your creative writing?

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Guest Blog Post: Electronic Publishing

Thanks to Katherine E. Young for sharing her thoughts about online publishing.

Katherine E. Young's poetry has appeared in Prairie Schooner, The Iowa Review, Shenandoah, and many others. She has published two chapbooks and was a finalist for the 2012 T.S. Eliot Prize (U.S.).  Her translation of Russian poet Inna Kabysh won a share of the 2011 Joseph Brodsky-Stephen Spender Prize.

The Secret Life of Poems

            Publishing these days almost always means that your work will end up online; even the most persnickety poetry journals generally publish a digital version.  Readership for poetry is limited at the best of times, so who wouldn’t want to find his or her work bouncing around the net, “liked,” tumbled, blogged about?

            Having had all those things happen to my poems, I’m not so sure I’m pleased with the results.  For one thing, while it’s great that people are sharing the work, nobody ever seems to remember to let me know they’re doing it.  A few years back I picked up a neat little “best of the net” award for a poem, but didn’t find out about it until I happened to google myself – it would have been nice of them to let me know.  I’ve also had a poem savaged by a blogger somewhere out there – the poem was not very good and deserved what it got, but still.  It would have been kinder if he’d let me know, better yet, let me respond.  It’s a lot easier to trash someone while hiding behind an online persona.  Who are you, Language Hat? 

The most interesting experience I’ve had online, though, is with a poem I wrote some time ago about the collapse of the Soviet Union, where I lived off and on for years.  The poem is fairly bleak (it includes a suicide attempt) and ends with the line “I’ll become a fish:  bones like these.”  The poem – sometimes just its final line – has somehow made its way into the community of folks who converse online about eating disorders; I’ve found it on multiple sites that have to do with anorexia.  My poem is not about anorexia; I’m a bit unnerved by what others seem to be reading into it.  It’s as if the poem has developed a persona all its own, like Gogol’s nose, and is gallivanting about the net without me.  I expect to meet it one day at the symphony, whippet-thin and wearing a nicer dress than mine. 

Back before the net existed, I found my fifteen minutes of fame in the Soviet Union.  It was a rather frightening experience, actually, that included autograph seekers and even a stalker – nothing to do with poetry (although Russians like poetry better than Americans do).  So I’m grateful that American poets, even the finest ones, get to live in relative obscurity (I’m not sure our most eminent poets share my gratitude for that, but I digress).  I have to ask, though:  isn’t my poem still my poem, even if I’m an obscure poet living in greater suburbia?  Meaning:  why don’t people ask permission to use my work?  At the very least, why don’t they let me know when they use it?  I’ve got another question, too: what if, god forbid, people are reading my poem as an invitation to starve themselves?  Don’t I get a say in how my words are interpreted?  What’s a writer’s responsibility in this case?  Even if I have some responsibility, can I possibly exercise it on the net?

Of course not.  No one can control what happens to work once it’s out there, whether in print or online:  that’s my point.  In my non-poetry life, I teach first-year college students how to write better papers.  Every semester, one or two students choose to write about the internet and recording artists, which requires them to look at things like illegal file sharing.  Almost all of my students eventually decide, based on the evidence and the opinions of marketing experts, that letting the music flow freely online is ultimately a smart move for recording artists because it grows their audience.  Hm.  Maybe I’m looking at this all wrong.  After all, any audience is better than no audience, right?

Move over, Kanye and Jay-Z.  We misunderstood artists need to stick together.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Back from Bread Loaf

View from an adirondack chair overlooking the meadow

I agree with Penny Edwards who joked on the last day at Bread Loaf that while the conference was filled with writers, we kept failing to adequately describe our experience. Participants kept describing the 10 days as “great.”

And it’s true: Bread Loaf was great and somehow hard to describe. A few days later, my head is still spinning with ideas and suggestions for revision, new poems, and reading.

A typical day: Throughout the day, there was a craft talk, workshop, a meeting with an editor or someone from my workshop (the instructor or a fellow) and many readings. I usually found some time for some online teaching and email each day, as well as drafting new poems and starting to revise individual poems. I took walks on the nearby paths and sat facing the sun on a meadow in an Adirondack chair. There was something to do until late into the night every night.

There were bonfires and impromptu readings. There were barn dances and a hayride, not to mention a bar in the barn most evenings. There was star gazing. There were outdoor receptions at sunset and a tour of Robert Frost’s writing cabin. There were picnics and delicious meals three times a day at the Inn.

Perhaps most importantly, there were many discussions about what we’ve read, what we’re working on and craft issues. We debated and encouraged each other. The brochure promised life-long friends and, well, many of these folks have lodged themselves into my heart. Where else do printed promises come true?

Each day seemed long, since there was so much happening, and short, since suddenly it the ten days had passed. And now those ten days are impossibly over.

Thank goodness for electronic communication. Some of us are working to organize a local D.C. – area list in order to be able to get together to chat, workshop, attend readings, and maybe give a reading. Let us know if you’re in the area and interested in joining our informal group.

You can hear this year’s, and past, readings and lectures online.

For a thorough review of this year's conference, read Michael Bourne's article, Keeping the Faith: Ten Days at Bread Loaf. Lisa Ampleman blogs about her experience for the Cincinnati Review, and both Margaret DeAngelis and Laura Maylene Walter remember their time at Bread Loaf on their author blogs.

Scroll down for more photos.

Sunset over the meadow

There were butterflies everywhere (thanks to Shradha Shah for this picture)

Inside Frost's cabin

View from the Inn's porch

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Off to Bread Loaf...

This month I'm off to the Bread Loaf Writer's Conference in Vermont and will be back the last week of August.

I'm looking forward to participating in Natasha Trethewey's poetry workshop. I've printed out and read the manuscripts of everyone in my class (here's to hoping that my poems hold up in workshop.) I can't wait to sink into the Bread-Loaf-literary-immersion that I've been reading about for years: workshops, lectures, readings, talks with agents and publishers and more. I've been listening to some of the past lectures and readings here.

I've packed the recommended bug spray, quarters for laundry and phone calls (limited to no cell phone coverage on campus) and a flashlight to get back to the dorms at night. Brings back memories of packing for summer camp...

See you later this month!

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Fall Memoir Writing Workshops @ Politics & Prose Bookstore in Washington, D.C.

I’m looking forward to teaching a Memoir Writing Workshop at Politics & Prose bookstore in September and again in October. These classes fill up quickly (there’s always a waiting list), so register today through the bookstore

If you have any questions about the workshop, you’re welcome to email me: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Sign up for one – or both! - of two four-week sessions:
Session 1: 4 Thursdays, Sept. 6-27, 1:30-3:00 p.m.
Session 2: 4 Thursdays, Oct. 4-25, 1:30-3:00 p.m.
Price: $100 ($80 members)

Class Description:
It is never too early or too late to start fashioning your memories into words.

This four-week workshop will offer you the tools to write a memoir by breaking it down into pieces: linked personal essays. The class time and take-home writing assignments will primarily focus on student work. Participants will also respond to writing prompts, workshop drafts, and discuss on-going projects. We will consider issues of editing, revising, organizing research and chapters, as well as some strategies for publication. Students will receive feedback from peers as well as from the instructor.

This class is for you if you are thinking about starting a memoir or have already started to draft some chapters. Or maybe you simply want to try a new writing genre. In-class writing prompts will change every session; you are welcome to take this class more than once.

Please bring paper and a pen (or charged laptop) to the first class. Student writing samples for in-class workshop will be distributed weekly via email, therefore it is necessary to have an email account that you check regularly.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Let's be Friends: Follow Us on Facebook

Maybe we are friends in real-life, the one with natural light and less "lols," or maybe we haven't met yet. Do you also follow Chloe Yelena Miller, Writing Coach on Facebook? I hope so. If not, come on over. The water's fine.

On our Facebook page, I regularly post articles of interest and start writing (craft, reading, education, etc.) related conversations with our Facebook friends.

I also give away one free hour of writing coaching to one randomly selected follower each time we welcome another fifty new friends. 

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Buying Gifts: Children's Books

Great website to use to find good reading for all kids

My husband and I often buy books as gifts for our friends' kids. But since we are old by kid (and other) standards, it is hard to remember what books fit which reading levels.

Here are some great resources to help find the right book for your favorite child:

A Mighty Girl
Scholastic Book Clubs
Newbery Medal Award Winners
Candecott Medal Award Winners

Re-reading your favorite piece of children's literature as an adult and noticing the racist, imperialist and homophobic messages? Stephen Marche's article, How to Read a Racist Book to your Kids, addresses this difficult issue.

What are your favorite places to search for children's literature?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Help Support this Blog: Visit my Amazon Store

A favorite book you can find in my Amazon Store

I have an Amazon Store with recommended books. Click through to find some of my favorite books on various subjects like manuscript submission help, poetry craft books, fiction / short story collections and more. Looking for something else? Click through the Amazon search box on the right-hand side of the blog.

Each purchase that you make through the Amazon store helps to support this blog. And I thank you for it.