Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy New Year! Setting Writing Goals in 2015

Setting goals for the immediate and distant future is key to continuing on a clear writing path. (We can only call ourselves writers if we're actually writing, right?) I've written about self-evaluation in classes and questions to ask about your writing. Today I'd like to focus on creating a clear plan.

The beginning of a new year is a good time to take stock and set some goals for yourself. Take 15 minutes to half an hour to draft your answers. 

There are five main areas to consider when you plot out your time and plan your writing project:

1. Research & Organization 
2. Drafting
3. Editing & Revising
4. Reading (Craft & Literature)
5. Submiting

Think logistically: What needs to be done? How much time to do you have every day, week or month to work on these areas of your project? Be truthful and honest about what's possible. Allow yourself to set goals that you can truly meet. 

To follow-up, take a look at your goals and your progress every three months or so.

I'm available to help you to set goals and deadlines. I'm also happy to send along weekly reminders and check-ins between appointments. Learn more about my private writing coach services. 

What's your writing plan for this new year?

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Pro-tip: Write it Down

Between writing holiday cards and planning your New Year's eve menu, write down your ideas. Title for a new poem? Write it down. Plot twist for chapter five of the novel you've only written one chapter of so far? Write it down. New word you learned that makes you smile? Write it down.

The holidays are busy. Too busy. You may have a few days off from work, but suddenly family is town, the supermarket trip takes an extra hour and you still need to buy wrapping paper. Of course it is the happiest time of the year and you were looking forward to it, but it doesn't mean that you don't want to write, too. You're a writer, after all, and writers write.

Take the few minutes you have while the sugar cookies are cooling to jot down the notes you have been repeating so you can memorize them. You don't have to write in full sentences, but write enough so you'll remember what you meant on New Year's day when everyone else is sleeping and you're up early to fulfill that New Year's resolution to write daily.

Use your phone audio or video recording function. Email yourself. Text message yourself. Keep a notebook in your bag or use that paper napkin. But write it down before you forget. Stop worrying and just write it down.

And then give yourself a break to enjoy your visitors and this time together eating, laughing and wrapping the presents you spent so long wrapping. You can sleep soundly knowing you won't forget anything since you wrote it down.

Next: Post-Holiday Pro-tip: Read your notes. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

Early Bird Holiday Season Writing Coach Sale

Happy (almost) holidays! To celebrate, I am offering a Fourth Free Hour to writers who book three hours of private writing coach services by midnight EST, Sunday, November 30th.

During your four hours of private writing coaching, I will read your writing and discuss it with you. You are welcome to write something in response to a prompt or submit previous writing.

Beginning to experienced writers can benefit from my services as a writing coach. We will meet in-person in the Washington, D.C., area, on the phone or Skype video conference.

Email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com) before midnight, November 30th, and you’ll be eligible for a Fourth Free Hour!

The cost for three hours is $300.00. You are welcome to purchase the hours for yourself or a friend. You can also split the hours between yourself and a friend.

If you book by midnight EST, November 30th, and receive a free fourth hour, you are not eligible for the usual 10% discount on booking three hours at once. This sale ends at midnight EST, November 30th. Limit two discounts per customer.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Upcoming Reading @ Sunday Assembly

Thanks to a kind invitation from Laura Barcella, I’m looking forward to reading poems about wonder on Sunday, December 7th at the Sunday Assembly: A Global Movement for Wonder and Good.  I’ll be reading some poems by others and original poems, too.

Sunday Assembly: A Global Movement for Wonder & Good
2111 Florida Ave NW, Washington, District of Columbia 20008
Sunday, Dec. 7th, 3:30
RSVP through Facebook

More about the Sunday Assembly: 
The Sunday Assembly started on a car journey to Bath when two comedians, Sanderson Jones and Pippa Evans (pictured), realised that they wanted to do something that had all the best bits of church, but without the religion, and awesome pop songs.
The first version of this was in January 6th 2013, and though they weren’t expecting many people, the entire place was full. At the next Assembly there were 300. Then they had to go to two services a day.  And then it went viral.
Now there are 28 Assemblies across the world, and it looks like there’ll be 100 by the end of 2014. It is the most exciting thing in the world.
People across the world were drawn to our simple values, clear message and excellent mission.
We are a godless congregation that celebrates of life.
We have an awesome motto: Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More.
A super mission: to try to help everyone find and fulfill their full potential.
An awesome vision: a godless congregation in every town city, or village that wants one.
We are dedicated to helping the people that attend, and the folk in the wider community, to make the most of this one life that we know we have. We harness fun and joy and wonder to build communities and to help others

Friday, November 7, 2014

Upcoming Class @ Georgetown University: Joining the Political Blogosphere

I'm excited to be co-teaching a short course this June at Georgetown University with my husband, Dr. Hans Noel. We'll be discussing and practicing political blogging. Details below. Register today through Georgetown University.

Georgetown University
McCourt School of Public Policy
Executive Institute Short Course

This course will provide you with the tools necessary to transition from a writer with great ideas to a connected, potentially influential political blogger. We will cover every step of the blogging process, from the creation of the blog, including buying a domain and choosing a platform, to the promotion of your blog with social media and through guest blogging. Extensive time will be spent on writing for the blog format. Blog posts are unlike other writing, and to be successful, they need to embrace the medium. Guest speakers will discuss the experience of blogging about politics in DC.

This course is designed for anyone interested in starting a blog. No prior experience is expected.

By the end of the class, students will be able to set up a blog, write posts that fully make use of the blog format, and promote their blog.

Dr. Hans Noel is an Associate Professor of Government at Georgetown University. He is one of the founding members of "Mischiefs of Faction," a blog about political parties. He is also an occasional contributor to the award-winning "Monkey Cage" blog, published by The Washington Post. Chloe Yelena Miller is a writer and writing coach who maintains blogs on parenting as a writer and writing. She teaches writing at Politics and Prose Bookstore and at Fairleigh Dickinson University.

June 1 (Monday) and June 3 (Wednesday), 2015
9:00 a.m. to 4:45 p.m.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Melanie Figg's Upcoming Poetry Class in Silver Spring, MD

Attention D.C. area friends - my friend Melanie Figg is offering a poetry class that sounds fantastic. I hope you'll consider it. Details below.

Melanie Figg has been teaching creative writing for 25 years. She has won many awards and fellowships for her poetry including a 2014 grant from the Arts & Humanities Council of Montgomery County. Her poems, essays and reviews have been published in The Iowa Review, LIT, MARGIE, Colorado Review and other journals. Melanie also curates Literary Art Tours in DC galleries. She lives in Maryland and offers creative coaching to artists, and is a fundraising consultant for a variety of nonprofits.

Class details: 
I am developing a series of special poetry classes and workshops that I will offer in my Silver Spring home. The first class will be a four-week class on Mark Doty's great little book on craft called The Art of Description.

Four Wednesday evenings – Nov. 12, 19 & Dec. 3, 10
7:30-9:30pm in my home

Intermediate to Advanced writers are welcome

$150 for the course
Bring a friend and get half off!

Student bring a copy of the book to the first class

Register by Friday, Nov. 7

Full Seminar Description: In this flexible, ongoing series, we will use a series of slim, college-lecture-style volumes as our textbooks—six books about poetry from The Art of… Series (a series of books on the craft of writing from Graywolf Press, one of the country’s best independent publishers of award-winning poetry). The Art of… Series explores the craft of writing—written by writers, for writers. These tiny texts are smart, rich, and accessible. You’ll love this nifty addition to your bookshelf, and return to these books again and again for inspiration and guidance.

We’ll spend four weeks on each book—using the text to deepen our understanding of craft, study selected poems to see the magic in action, and inspire new work of our own with writing prompts. This seminar will run in blocks of 4-week sessions, each devoted to a book in the series (there are 6 so far published about poetry), that will run consecutively for a total of 24 weeks.

Location: I am pleased to offer a series of workshops and seminars in my home in Silver Spring, Maryland—2.5 miles from the Silver Spring metro, and just a mile from the beltway. Email for the address.

To Register for a Class: Email me (melanie.figg(at)gmail.com) to register and I will hold a spot for you. Once I receive your non-refundable deposit (check or cash only), you’re good to go!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Dear Parents of High School Seniors During Application Season: You'll Make it Through

Dear Parents of High School Seniors During Application Season,

You and your child will make it through the application period. I promise. It may not seem like you will, but you will. You will.

I know, early applications can be due as early as Nov. 1st and you're nervous. You've been talking about and planning for college for years. You've visited colleges, talked to friends, reminisced and read everything you can online and in print. You've met with college advisors, your child's teachers and everyone else you can imagine doing.

You and your child will make it through. Wherever your child goes to school will work out. And while you may not want to consider the option, if the chosen college doesn't work out, your child can transfer. Every problem can be solved with some planning and forward thinking.

Hopefully your child will be accepted into his or her dream school. That is to say, presumably your child has a dream school. And a projected career and life path. But she may not and that's ok, too.

Every school can potentially work out. There are many classes, professors, clubs, sports, volunteer and internship opportunities that your child can try out as she learns about all of the various paths in life. In fact, she will (perhaps even mostly) learn outside of the classroom as a college student, too.

There are endless paths in life. And those paths can change, starting with high school dreams.

Many students enter college with an "undecided" major. The students take classes and try out disciplines that either weren't offered in high school or are now taught differently. Suddenly a student who thought she was an English major might fall in love with Chemistry. Or vice versa. Students should enter college with an open mind to discover new things. After all, college is the time to learn how to learn and what there is to learn. Learning won't end with a college or even post-graduate degree.

Many adults will change their career path a number of times throughout their lives (maybe seven?) Students should study many different things in college not only to discover what they love, but to learn facts and skills that can serve them in many fields. Remember that a post-graduate degree is time to specialize, but an undergraduate degree is to learn broadly.

Some parents say that their child is "different" because she wants to go to medical school or law school, so she doesn't have time to take a variety of classes. Some students indeed have a projected path and they continue to remain interested in that path throughout college. Remember that all people - regardless of fields - should be well-rounded in order to lead full lives (and, frankly, to be accepted into those specialized programs.) As a result, the students should still take a wide-variety of classes, in addition to the required or suggested pre-med path.

Today, take a deep breath. Take a break and go for a walk. Better yet, take your child on a walk under the trees changing colors this beautiful fall day. Enjoy nature and each other. Talk about something other than her applications. After all, next year she'll be away at college learning new things. Think of all the things you'll be able to talk about together in the near future.

Best, Chloe

To help with the application process, I'm available to help your child with his or her college application essays and short responses. For more details, please read more here and email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com). 

Monday, October 20, 2014

What's Happening, Literary D.C.?

While you could spend all of your time talking about politics in D.C., you could also immerse yourself in book and writing discussions. Here are my two favorite listings for events:

Beltway Poetry Quarterly's Poetry News: monthly listings of upcoming events, as well as Kudos (recent publications and awards to D.C. writers), New Releases and Competitions, Grants, and Calls for Entry.

Facebook group DC Lit: Event organizers and writers post announcements about upcoming events, competitions and more. (It is a "closed" group, but if you simply request to join, you'll quickly be accepted to join.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


I joined goodreads this summer and I'm starting to really enjoy it, even if I still haven't done as much with it as I'd like to. It is a great way to keep track of what you're reading or have read and share your thoughts with friends. The reviews are particularly insightful to read, especially by writer-friends whom I admire.

Find me (Chloe Yelena Miller / chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com), friend me and let's share our thoughts about the books we're reading.

What do you like best about goodreads? 

Monday, October 6, 2014

Copyright & Writing

Copyrighting your work isn't as complicated as it might seem at first. You can decide to rely on your previous drafts (a printed or electronic history that shows the work was created by you), or you can submit your work to the Copyright Office at the Library of Congress

As the Copyright Alliance states on their very clear worksheet, "As soon as the idea for your novel, poem, or manuscript is written down in a fixed copy, the work automatically has copyright protection. Though registration with the U.S. Copyright Office is not necessary for your written work to be protected by copyright, there are a number of benefits to registering your work," and the worksheet continues to outline what those benefits are. For more information, visit the U.S. Copyright Office (a department of the Library of Congress), and their Factsheets

Especially for poets, the Poetry Foundation has put together information on fair use in poetry (using work created by other people in your poetry.) The U.S. Copyright Office's Circulars are helpful, including one on how to investigate the copyright status of a work.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Where to Start?

Writing students, especially beginning memoirists, will often ask me where they should start writing: The beginning, middle or end?

I always suggest starting with what interests you the most. After all, if you're excited about a scene, moment or description, your reader will be, too. You can build the rest of the piece or manuscript around these beginning moments (or not, if they don't work out.) Sure, you will likely return to these first lines and have to make small and large edits and revisions, but start there.

Once you have a sense of what you want to write, you can write an outline and use it to help organize your materials. But in the beginning, use your excitement to your advantage. After all, if you're bored as your writing, the reader will be bored. Or, as Robert Frost wrote, "No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader."

You don't need filler or background information to bring your reader up to date. Work to integrate the key pieces of information in your sentences, paragraphs and chapters. Dive right in and trust the reader to follow along with you.

How have you successfully started a new writing project? 

Monday, September 22, 2014

Submit! Submit! And Submit Again!

If you have work that you feel is ready, it is time to send it out. Right. Now. Many journals closed their submissions over the summer and should be open at this point. It can take a while for a journal to respond to you, so the earlier the send it out, the sooner you'll hear a response.

Research the literary journals that seem like the best fit and then follow their instructions when you submit your work. If the piece comes back to you, send it out to the next magazine on your list.

Poets & Writers Magazine has a great database of literary magazines and journals, as well as calls for submissions online and in the print magazine. NewPages lists calls for submissions regularly, too. Lynn Barrett wrote a clear piece in The Review Review about what editors are looking for.

For more on submissions, read what I wrote about submission spreadsheets (keep yourselves organized!), guest blogger Faye Rapoport DesPres' piece on Submitting to Literary Journals, and why rejection letters might be cause for celebration.

What's your favorite literary journal?

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Brainstorming Identity for your Personal Statement: Who are you?

Your personal statement for undergraduate or graduate applications should help fill out your application by giving a sense of who you are. The admissions counselors don't want to see a list of your achievements (those should be clear from your transcript and the rest of your application), but rather a piece of writing that expresses you.

Who are you? 

I still ask myself this question (most ridiculously when I'm clothes shopping; do these jeans represent my inner self?) and it isn't an easy question. You don't need to - and can't - express every aspect of yourself. But you can give a sense of yourself through a focused essay. You might choose a single experience, describe it clearly and offer some analysis that connects the experience to your mindset and the world around you. You might explain a blip on your transcript in the same way (did your grades go down one semester because of something that happened?) What about yourself - your history, goals, aspirations, experiences - is missing from the short answer questions throughout the essay?

To brainstorm ideas, you might start with your resume. Then, expand your resume by adding in other achievements that might seem smaller (and irrelevant to a formal resume), but help to show the reader who you are. Did it take particular courage to try out for the improv group? Even if you weren't selected, did you learn something from the tryouts? 

For more help, you might find it helpful to work with me as a private writing coach. I can ask you questions and provide writing assignments that will help you to brainstorm, draft, and edit your essay.  I look forward to hearing from you. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Fall Fresh Beginnings

I love the fresh start that September implies, even if I'm not standing at the corner in new clothes waiting for the school bus. Give yourself a fresh start this fall with permission to set writing goals and take some time to self-evaluate. Now's the time to readjust and make the necessary changes for the new semester (er, season?)

You might set up a new, fall writing schedule. Don't forget to include attending fall literature festivals and readings in your schedule. You might join a writer's room (like this one in D.C.)

What do you have planned for your writing?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fall Literature Festivals

It's that time of year again: fall literature festivals! Your favorite writers reading their work as you listen surrounded by other writers and readers? Yes, please.

The National Book Festival, held this year at the Washington Convention Center, will be on Sat., August 30th. Sponsored by the Library of Congress, it is completely free.

The Fall for the Book Festival, organized by George Mason University, has many free events on campus and throughout the D.C. area. The festival runs from Sept. 11 - 18th.

The Dodge Poetry Festival, held at NJPAC and throughout historic buildings in Newark, New Jersey, will be held Oct. 23 - 26. Be sure to purchase your tickets ahead of time.

For monthly listings of literary events in the Washington, D.C., area, check out the Beltway Poetry Quarterly's Poetry News.

Monday, August 11, 2014

AWP 2015 Minneapolis (or bust?)

Thanks to Rachel Simon, I'm looking forward to presenting on a panel at the upcoming Association of Writers and Writing Programs Annual Conference (AWP) in Minneapolis, April 8 - 11. See you there?

For more information, here's an overview of the conference, full list of accepted events and our panel:

Poets Paying the Bills: Balancing Your Writing and Moneymaking. (Rachel Simon, Chloe Yelena Miller, Hila Ratzabi, Shradha Shah, Mary Austin Speaker) “Poetry” is often synonymous with “poverty.” How do we afford groceries and other necessities? Panelists from diverse professional backgrounds will discuss how they balance their paying jobs (emergency room doctor, freelance editor, adjunct professor, poetry press editor, online instructor, and book designer) with their writing practice and families. Two panelists have small children at home.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Starting Early: Writing Your Personal Statement

Why not get started on your college or graduate school applications this summer? Once school starts in the fall, you'll be busy with the current semester.

Most early applications (early action, early decision or single choice early action) are due November 1st or November 15th and the regular application deadlines are between January 1 - February 1st. That is to say, applications are due right before or after the fall/winter holidays and exams, so now's a good time to get started on your essays.

While schools might have different essay questions or numbers of essays, your goal is to tell something about yourself. It makes sense to choose one specific question about yourself and start brainstorming ideas and drafts. Remember that writing is a process that takes many, many drafts (and time in between them.) The earlier you start, the stronger your final essay(s) will be.

For additional help, I'm available to work with you as a private writing coach. I will help you to brainstorm ideas, organize them and present them clearly. We can work on the Common Application essay, essay questions particular to schools and short response questions.

Remember: Your job is to display your writing skills, critical thinking skills and creativity. The admissions counselors want to learn more about you and what you can do. We can make sure that your skills, experiences and interests are fully represented in your application as a whole. Remember to value your creative side - you might click through to this article on the subject from Harvard.

I am available to meet with at convenient times in person, online or on the phone.

Email me {Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com} to sign up today.

Click here to read more about what happens during a Writing Coach appointment.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Call & Response in Pank

Thanks to Nicole Rollender, I recently participated in a Call & Response in Pank Magazine. She presented a poem by Jon Anderson and I responded with a poem I'd written from my series Italian Vocabulary. 

In the introduction to the Call & Response, Nicole writes, "Michèle Foster defines call and response as “spontaneous verbal and non-verbal interaction between speaker and listener in which all of the statements (‘calls’) are punctuated by expressions (‘responses’) from the listener.” Call and response has a long history, documented in sub-Saharan Africa as a working way for groups to govern themselves democratically and participate in religious rituals; this tradition survived on slave ships over into the New World, where it has come through centuries in gospel music, folk music, military cadences, rock and roll (...)"

I hope you'll read the piece and spend some time reading Pank.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Cross-Pollinate Literary Art Tour Reading

dress by Donna McCullough

I am looking forward to reading poems at the Smith Center for Healing and the Arts on Saturday, August 9 at 3:30 as a part of the Cross-Pollinate Literary Art Tour. Curator Melanie Figg invited poets, including Genevieve Deleon, Melanie Figg, Steve Godwin, Whitney Gratton, Danielle Kuczynski, and Reuben Silberman, to write in response to the current exhibit, Altered Ego.

I visited the exhibit and was moved by the variety of materials. There were bobby pins, toy cars, prints and more. The idea of having a writing assignment was initially intimidating, especially one that I'd read in public. After spending some time with the pieces, I found myself connecting with three sculptures. The intimacy of the pieces, one including human hair, brought me back to particular memories. While the first drafts of the response poems are very memoiristic, future drafts will (probably) move away from some of those personal details. I've been re-reading the poems every day, tweaking them and returning to photographs of the art to reconsider the relationship between the poems and the art. I look forward to seeing how the poems develop.

Click through for more: 
Cross-Pollinate: Literary Art Tour
Altered Ego exhibit (including a video and images)
Facebook invite

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Pledge to Support The Singapore Literature Festival!

I encourage you to pledge to support the upcoming - and first - Singapore Literature Festival in New York City. Details below from the co-chairs, including Jee Leong Koh, who has been featured on this blog before:

For three days in October (Oct 10th to 12th, 2014), sixteen Singapore writers will converge on New York City to share their exciting works. It is a wonderful opportunity to hear and engage with the most distinctive voices of the island-state, which celebrates its 50th year of independence next year. The Singapore Literature Festival will help deepen the dialogue between East and West, between Asia and America.

The festival will take place in various locations around New York City including 92nd Street Y, NYU Writers House, Book Culture, and McNally Jackson.

Ten writers will be flying in from Singapore, to be joined by six writers based in the US. The exciting line-up: Alfian Sa'at, Alvin Pang, Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan, Christine Chia, Colin Goh and Yen Yen Woo, Cyril Wong, Haresh Sharma, Jason Erik Lundberg, Joshua Ip, Kirstin Chen, Ovidia Yu, Pooja Nansi, Tania De Rozario, Verena Tay, and Wena Poon.

We need your support to make this dream come true. We are a group of volunteers, Singaporean writers and creatives who are proud to call New York City home. We have secured sponsorship for the costs of mounting the festival. The writers have received partial funding for their airfare and are willing to make up the difference, even if it means crashing on someone’s couch. As the organizers, we want to help our writers by raising funds for them. Your donation will go toward paying the writers. It will also pay for professional video recording and photography, so that the readings and conversations will be preserved and made available for future use.

Please contribute generously to our Kickstarter campaign. We have come up with some fantastic rewards for various levels of sponsorship. How would you like to own a piece of art by one of our writers? Or have your name written into a poem or story? You can show your support by contributing an amount as large as $1000 or as small as $10. Every dollar counts.

Please feel free to forward this appeal to family and friends. You can follow us on the festival website or on Facebook.

Make history with us by supporting this independent literary venture!

Yours sincerely,
Paul Rozario-Falcone and Jee Leong Koh
Co-chairs of Singapore Literature Festivl

Monday, June 23, 2014

Minerva Rising: Memoir Lessons from Poetry

I encourage all prose writers to read poetry. There are inherent writing lessons in all genres, and poetry offers examples of how few words can create great ideas and images.

In this month's guest post for Minerva Rising Literary Journal, I write about just this from a memoir perspective. Hope you'll spend some time on Minerva Rising's website while you are there. 

Monday, June 16, 2014

Writing Prompt: Organization

There are many ways to organize your manuscript (poems, chapters, essays, etc.) that it can be overwhelming. Here's an exercise I offer in my memoir writing workshop at Politics & Prose bookstore in Washington, D.C.

Memoir Manuscript Organization:

You've started writing a number of scenes that don't immediately fit together. How do you order and connect these scenes? You might choose to order them chronologically, chronologically with flashbacks, character, place or theme or something else.

Start by writing a list of 8 - 10 main "things" in your memoir. These "things" (such a bland word, but you are meant to define it for yourself) can be any characteristics that you already have in mind: chapter titles, main characters, main events, central research or other related ideas. List each item on a separate index card.

Spread out the index cards in front of you and move them around to see what your options are.

Answer the following questions in writing:
Write a short paragraph that summarizes the list.
This leads you to the ultimate question: What is the coherent, unifying idea that connects each item? This is your thesis. Can you write it in a single sentence?

Now you know how these items connect. The next goal is to determine how they can be best presented and in what order.

Items put next to each other change based on their proximity and relationship to something else. For example, placing a plastic drinking cup next to a gas can might suddenly make the cup look cleaner and smaller.

With that in mind, move your index cards around on the table. Put them in different orders and see how the relationship between each item - and the item on its sown - changes based on its location.

Write a short paragraph that explains the (or "an") order that you might follow.

Congratulations! You now have a potential, skeleton outline for your memoir. Remember to keep your outline updated as you write since writing is a form of learning and you'll better understand your purpose (thesis) as you continue to write and better understand your project.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Reading Lists?

It is summer and many students are looking at their summer reading lists, either for specific classes or a campus-wide read. I'm looking at the piles of books I've bought and hope to settle into some of them this summer under a tree. (Or in the air conditioning, since we live in D.C.)

What classics or contemporary collections haven't you read? Rebecca Makkai wrote about this topic for Ploughshares and David Ebenbach responded on his blog. I'll comfort myself with the excuse that it would be a waste of reading time to list the books I haven't read. Or that I've read and forgotten.

Makkai describes why there are so many "great" pieces of literature she's missed:
Of course, I know I’m not actually deficient, any more than you are, or any more than anyone who reads widely but only has ninety years on the planet. You and I could spend our whole lives reading great literature and never overlap on a single book. We’d try to converse and both come away feeling like under-read slobs. If we were lucky, we’d remember that the problem isn’t our ignorance or apathy but our embarrassment of riches.

Ebenbach focuses on the books he's read, but can't exactly remember:
But what about the books that I can’t even recall? Well, literature affects you in all kinds of ways, some of which might be subtle and hard to recognize but nonetheless important and lasting. Who knows how a book changes your sense of language and life, even if you can’t name the main character two years later? Years later, Eudora Welty’s stories are somewhat hazy in my memory, but I know I learned important things about storytelling from her (and the same goes for Chekhov); I can’t quote too many different Emily Dickinson poems from memory, but I know she’s changed the way I think about sound. And even if I don’t remember what happened in To the Lighthouse I know how powerful it felt to settle into the minds that Woolf helped me inhabit.

It isn't possible to read every great piece of literature, just as it would be unlikely that we'd settle on one list of "great" literature in any genre. It does take more than one reading, hopefully at different phases of life, to have a deeper understanding of a piece. As an undergraduate Italian major who learned the language in college, I was reading novels, short stories and poems in Italian with a dictionary by my side. While I might have understood (most) of the individual words, I missed many of the finer literary and cultural points. I hope to have time one day to return to those and English-language, as well as books in translation, that touched me years ago.

What books do you remember reading? What's next on your reading list and why?

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Memoir Writing Prompt: Writing from your enemy's point of view

It is easy to write someone you dislike into a one-dimensional villain. While this might be initially satisfying, this approach doesn't serve your final manuscript or help you to sound like a reliable narrator. 

Try this writing prompt to better understand those you haven't (yet?) forgiven:

Write about yourself from the point of view of someone who disagrees with you. Maybe you hold a grudge against this person or haven't forgiven the person for something. This exercise is meant to help you see that person's point of view and present the person as more of a three-dimensional character. Try to sympathize with this other person and show that person’s motivation.

Do this for ten minutes without stopping and then re-read what you've written and underline the main ideas. Don't worry about grammar or punctuation as you're writing. You might even simply write down a list of words or sentence fragments. Focus on the ideas, rather than the sentence structure.

Perhaps this won’t fit into your memoir, but it will help you to better understand the situation. You don't have to forgive the person; after all, I'm not a therapist doling out free (and maybe bad) advice. In order to develop the character, you do need to try to find some insight into his or her motives and emotional state. 

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Monthly Memoir Manuscript Workshop

I’ll be leading a private memoir manuscript workshop starting this July. In addition to dedicating class time exclusively to each manuscript, we’ll discuss editing, revising, narrative arc, possible ethical and moral concerns, ordering of chapters and submitting a manuscript for publication. These discussions will emerge from student manuscripts. By offering feedback on someone else’s work, your own editing and revising skills will strengthen.

The class is limited to eight students, and two manuscripts will be discussed during each class. You’ll be expected to carefully read and prepare feedback for the other students’ manuscripts. The first class will be dedicated to a discussion of craft, drafting, revising, and more.

If you are considering this class, you should have a manuscript that is about 75-150 pages long. Please send me 10-15 pages (Times New Roman, 12 point font, double-spaced) by June 1st to be considered for the class. Email your materials to: Chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com

Monthly Memoir Manuscript Workshop
5 sessions: 2nd Tuesday of every month, 7-9 pm
dates: July 8, August 12, September 9, October 14, & November 11
Cost: $250.00 per student (payable by cash, check or Paypal invoice)
The class is limited to 8 students.
The class will share materials via email.
We will meet in a private conference room near Dupont Circle

Monday, May 19, 2014

Guest Blogger Seth Masket on Writing in Your Academic Discipline

Thanks to Seth Masket for today's helpful post with tips on writing in your academic discipline while considering your audience. You might be writing for other academics or, as I call myself when I read my husband's papers, civilians. 

Seth Masket is an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science at the University of Denver. He writes about political parties, state legislatures, campaigns and elections, and social networks. He is the author of No Middle Ground: How Informal Party Organizations Control Nominations and Polarize Legislatures (University of Michigan Press, 2009), as well as a forthcoming book on anti-party reform movements with Oxford University Press. Masket is a founding member of the Mischiefs of Faction blog and contributes weekly at Pacific Standard and occasionally for The Monkey Cage. He also tweets a lot.

Writing in Your Discipline

Many academic disciplines have been accused in recent decades of receding further into the Ivory Tower, writing in increasingly arcane and technical language, prioritizing quantitative analysis over intellectual insight, and just generally making themselves less relevant to and understandable by the world they seek to describe. Political science (my field) seems particularly susceptible to these charges. However, over the past decade, a number of political scientists have pushed back against this trend by writing for broader audiences in the news media and in blogs.

This is certainly an encouraging trend, but it presents a new challenge for academics. Social scientists are not really taught in graduate school how to write for a mass audience. If anything, the training is on how to write technically. This is to be expected; graduate students are learning advanced research techniques and new material at a dizzying pace, and the only audience for their writing is a few experienced faculty members and, to some extent, each other. 

One might think that technical writing is difficult. In my own experience, it’s incredibly easy. Learning a new statistical method or making a new discovery is terribly exciting, and it's tempting to spend a large percentage of a paper or dissertation just describing the contours of what was just learned. And, to be sure, there's a proper place for that in academic texts -- scholars should be able to state in detail what they've done so that others can investigate those findings and build upon them. (Hans Noel has a great post on this topic.)

Once out of graduate school, however, political scientists are increasingly expected to also be able to write for a broader audience of journalists, activists, practitioners, and other interested individuals. This is much harder than writing technically. You need to be able to communicate a new finding in a way that non-academics can not only understand but care about. 

A few years ago, I looked back on some of my papers from my first and second years of graduate school. They were hopelessly technical, buried in obscure jargon and detailed descriptions of statistical methods. Learning how to describe my work in a way that people other than my dissertation advisor would care about took many years to figure out, and it's something I still work on.

My advice to those academics interested in reaching out beyond academe in their writings is really pretty basic. In general, good writing comes from good reading. Read outside your discipline. Read blogs on topics you care about, particularly those written by reporters, rather than other academics (although read those too). Figure out how people are talking about other scholarly work in your area and what makes it interesting to them. 

I’d also encourage practicing terse writing. Don't just try to write for Twitter, although that can be fun. (If you can summarize an academic paper in 140 characters, that's a great skill.) Learn to sum up a paper or a book in a paragraph. This is usually not the same thing as an academic abstract, which typically focuses on process and situation in the literature. Rather, find the one thing that makes a study interesting and relevant to the world outside your discipline, and develop that.