Monday, March 19, 2018

Writing To-Do List

Sunset view in Florence, Italy, across the Arno

Most of us keep calendars marked with deadlines and upcoming activities. We know the value of writing something down to remember. My most important list, my Writing To-Do list, is the one that keeps my writing organized and helps me to be more efficient with my time.

I encourage all of my writing students and clients to create a Writing To-List which should accomplish three major tasks for you: 1. It will help you to see all of your projects in one place, including the ones you are working on, the ones that are taking a break and the ones that you hope to write soon. 2. The list will break down a large project into smaller pieces for you. 3. It will save you time by helping you to be able to accomplish small tasks quickly.

My Writing To-Do list begins with the big category Large Projects. Here I list my very big goals and projects (for example, I will name my current poetry manuscript, name a children's book project and remind myself to work on individual poems and essays. I will also list the projected title or a quick summary of something that I hope to write next.) This is like a very vague outline to remember what I'm working towards.

The next section, Individual Sections To Write Or Edit, will list the above larger projects followed by chapters, research, back stories, etc., that need to be written. For example, I might include something like:
Novel Y (Finish Thanksgiving scene, edit birthday chapter, research holiday music in 1950 and write backstory for Aunt E.)
This is the section that breaks the larger project into smaller pieces. If you find that you suddenly have one hour to do some work, you can look at your Writing To-Do list and choose something to write, research or edit. (This is different from each individual project's complete outline.)

The next two sections deal with pieces that are ready for submission: Individual Projects to Submit/Resubmit and a list of submission ideas organized by due dates: Submission, Grant or Residency Deadlines. This is another good place to look when you only have a small period of time to accomplish something related to your writing. (Another vital list to keep organized is your Submission Spreadsheet.)

The final section of my Writing To-Do list is less urgent or specific, but rather a loose gathering of places that I'm considering submitting my work to under the header of Submission Outlet Ideas. The places are organized by theme or type (for example, I have one section for creative non-fiction outlets and one for poetry.)

Every Writing To-Do list will look different, depending on where you are in your project(s) and what your goals are. Create the headers that make sense for you. You might also include Writing Prompts, Daily Goals, Reading Ideas or Research. 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Dear Young Neighbor Who Complains About My Baby

Picture of a woman and her baby illustrating my article on Scary Mommy

Thanks to Scary Mommy for publishing my humorous piece, "Dear Young Neighbor Who Complains About My Baby." Two apartments later, I can laugh about our experience. Here's to making lemonade... 

Click here to read, "Confessions of a "Former" Go-To-Parent," published earlier by Scary Mommy. For more parenting humor, you might enjoy my piece, "Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just A Little Bit Older Than Yours," recently published by McSweeney's

Friday, March 9, 2018

ICYMI: Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just a Little Bit Older Than Yours

In case you missed it, my humorous momsplaining piece, Accumulated Wisdom From the Mom With Kids Just a Little Bit Older Than Yours, was published yesterday in McSweeney's.

Maybe most of this piece is memoir, overheard or imagined. Maybe I've been on both sides of the momsplaining. I'll never tell, but I'm guessing that if you parent a child of any age that you might recognize something.

Monday, March 5, 2018

Thursday is International Women's Day!

Looking up at the yellow mimosa blooms in front of a blue sky

In Italy, women are often given mimosa on March 8th to celebrate International Women's Day. In honor of holiday, I'm celebrating a few favorite groups that support women's literature. I encourage you to visit the sites, support the organizations, buy books and subscribe to literary journals that support women writers:

PEN International's The Women Writers’ Committee 

Lit Mags for the Ladies (from The Review Review)

Monday, February 26, 2018

Write, Edit, Write, Edit (Repeat)

Olivetti typewriter

Good writing requires endless rewrites. (Ah, early overwriting.)

As we head into mid-semester for traditional classes, early drafts are due. This is a good time to think about editing and revising. Here is a guide with links to earlier posts that consider each idea more thoroughly:

Focus your editing with lists: It is nearly impossible to catch every error, inaccuracy or overwritten line in one reading, even if you slowly read your work aloud. Make a list of things you are usually good at and a list of your trouble areas. Your lists might include things like punctuation, organization, word choice, etc. Next, read your work with one issue in mind to focus your editing.

Read your work backwards: Start with the last sentence, then the next to last sentence and continue on like that. This approach will help you to focus on the individual sentences.

Verbs give muscle to your ideas: Always start by editing your verbs. Verbs must be as precise as possible if your work is going to move forward with any action or ideas.

Precision and concision: Cut extra words. Don't give the reader any room to misinterpret your work. In fact, make this your motto: Precision and concision.

Outline your work: Keep your outline by your side. Your outline is a "legal cheat sheet" because it reminds you where your paper has already been and where it is going. Since writing is a form of learning, your ideas might change as you continue to research, write and revise. Keep your outline up to date as you work on your piece.

Think about your energy: This can seem a little woo-woo, but it can help. Sometimes you feel creative and sometimes you feel more critical. Use your creative moments to write and your critical moments to edit.

Everyone needs an editor (or a peer editor): Here's an informative guest piece by Amy Bucklin on this topic (specifically for memoirists, but it really pertains to all writing.)

What else has or hasn't worked for you? I hope you'll share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Monday, February 19, 2018

Cut + Paste / A Residency in Motherhood Radio Show

I recently participated in Stella Fiore and Amy Shearn's group of 50+ women creating art during An Artist Residency in Motherhood (read more about my experience here.) As promised, they shared our collective experience in a recent episode on Stella Fiore's Cut + Paste radio show on Staten Island's Maker Park Radio (listen here.) The residency, the radio show and the aftermath continue to be supportive and illuminating.

I started listening to the show at five a.m. two days after it aired. I listened to more of it as I walked home from dropping our child off at school and then finished listening to the program over lunch. I was surprised that I was able to finish listening in one day. That "interrupted" listening followed the very nature of writing while parenting and working.

Screenshot of Stella Fiore and Amy Shearn
during the Cut + Paste Radio show

Stella and Amy brought up many important issues regarding mother artists' sense of permission to create and our feelings of validity around the work that we produce. Since most of our work will not (immediately or perhaps ever) support our families, how do we quantify or qualify our creative time? How do we see our creative time as valid? Amy put it well when she asked, "How (do we) assign a value (on our creative work) to the outside world?"

Stella noted that writing as a parent is "all about the economy of time." Later she added, "by continuing to be a writer, you are setting an example for your children that you can continue to self-actualize even when you are a parent." She noted that in graduate school, her burning question was about how to continue writing after grad school or a residency or any period of focused time generally unconnected to everyday life. These - and more - are the questions addressed on the show.

Amy noted that balance looks different for different writers. There are ebbs and flows, stops and starts. And that's what this group and radio show was about: the many ways that a writer, especially a parent writer, can carve out time and attention.

I am pretty sure that someone told me about An Artist Residency in Motherhood sometime after I gave birth. Did I remember when I heard about Stella and Amy's group? No. And that's a bummer. It is hard to juggle/remember things as a parent and sometimes we miss out on important things and ideas literally in front of us. Below, I'm gathering resources here for you with the hope that you can refer to it when you are ready and refer back to if you forget something.

I encourage all parent writers and friends of parent writers to listen to the show for the community, wisdom and music following the show. (You can hear a line or two about my experience at the 53 minute mark.)

Here is the link to the show and some additional resources mentioned in the show:

Stella and Amy discussing the residency on Cut + Paste Radio

Cut + Paste ARIM 2018 Facebook Group (Stella Fiore will approve mother writers who are interested in joining the conversation and next residency)

Cut + Paste Radio's website

Cut + Paste on Twitter

Stella Fiore's website

Amy Shearn's website

Amy Shearn on Cut + Paste radio this fall discussing motherhood and writing

An Artist Residency in Motherhood

Commonplace podcast with Sheila Heti and Sarah Manguso (which refers to this earlier conversation between Rachel Zucker and Sarah Manguso and Sheila Heti's book Motherhood)

Making Art During Fascism (download a pamphlet from Beth Perkins)

The Baby, the Book, and the Bathwater: an essay in The Paris Review by Heather Abel


Poem Advice to Myself by Louise Erdrich

Let's Talk About the Fantasy of the Writer's Lifestyle: an essay in LitHub by Rosalie Knecht

100 Essays I Don't Have Time To Write: book by Sarah Ruhl

For more parenting / writing related resources, scroll through the resources on the right side of this website and click through the section, "Residency & Funding Resources for Parent Writers".

I hope you'll add your own favorite resources for parent writers in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Collaborative Piece with Cheryl Moskowitz on Artists Re_Solve

Thank you to Artists Re_Solve for pairing me with Cheryl Moskowitz to create something new this last year. We chose the prompt Draw from a crack and emailed each other lines that became a collaborative poem.

You can read our creation, Cracking the Spectrum, and process, here. I encourage you to spend some time on the page reading through the many wonderful creations.

If you are interested in creating your own collaborative or solo work, their list of prompts are really fabulous.

More about Artists Re_Solve:
Following the election of Donald Trump, U.S. artists Geoffrey Cunningham, Mary Lamboley, Tracie Lee, Maya Pindyck, Reem Rahim, Carla Repice, Rebecca Szeto, and Angela Voulgarelis connected to try to figure out what they could do in response to the violences and divisions they saw intensifying in their communities. The artists have known each other through mutual teachers that affirm interconnectivity and the transformative powers of the creative process. In an effort to disrupt dividing lines and to work towards a common good, they developed this online platform for artists across the United States to creatively collaborate in the spirit of resistance and resolution.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Confessions of the (Former) Go-To-Parent in Scary Mommy

I'm excited to have my first 2018 byline appear in Scary Mommy. You can read Confessions of the (Former) Go-To-Parent here.

I drafted this essay last May on a self-created Amtrak writing residency It wasn't until a writing retreat last month in Florence, Italy, that I finished editing it and submitted it for publication. Yes, writing - and everything else - definitely takes longer once adding parenting duties into the daily juggling act. But thanks to a supportive and encouraging partner and Cynthia Kane's book How to Communicate Like a Buddhist, writing does eventually happen.

Monday, January 29, 2018

Writing Retreat

Thank you to my husband for helping me to coordinate a three night writing retreat. It was such productive, creative and restful time!

I joined virtual forces with Stella Fiore and Amy Shearn's group of mother writers organizing their own residencies following, at least loosely, An Artist Residency in Motherhood. Stella and Amy will be discussing the collective experience with input from the participants across the globe on Stella's radio show, Cut + Paste, on Feb. 17. I hope you'll listen in!

View of the Santo Spirito facade from the Airbnb apartment
with the camel stuffed animal that our child sent with me on my writing retreat.
View of the side of Santo Spirito as the sun started to set.
I love those round windows and the light.
I booked an airbnb apartment in Piazza Santo Spirito, one of my favorite piazzas in Florence. After one freezing night without heat and using an emptied dresser as a desk since there was only one window in the four room apartment, I was able to leave early and move into a hotel in the center of the city. Listening to my gut, instead of staying put, really helped to make the rest of the time as successful as possible. Thank you to my husband for his quick help with that.

View of the Duomo from the hotel's roof garden.
Yes, I used the zoom function. A lot
Our child's camel on the second night in the hotel.
He was very encouraging.
Even with this little set-back, I was able to accomplish more than I'd hoped. I drafted, edited and submitted poems, essays and children's picture books. I also spent some time reviewing what I had, notes that were scattered in documents and email and updating my writing to-do list. I was particularly thrilled the second night to receive an acceptance to an essay submission I sent out the night before (stay tuned!)

I'm still feeling high from this great experience. Even the preparations for the residency were fruitful as I spent more time thinking about what I had drafted (or abandoned) and what I wanted to work on. I am hopeful that I will be able to rely on this "reset" button for a while and stay on path.

If you are thinking about creating your own retreat, you might start with this Residency Kit from An Artist Residency in Motherhood.

I haven't spent a lot of time away from our four-year-old (not a single night away for over eight months) and decided to find a location in our city.  I figured I'd "waste" less time traveling and be nearby just in case. I talked to our child about my leaving and left him a little clue and hidden treat each evening. We video chatted every evening and morning, which was lovely. I will admit some heartbreak when I opened up my toilettries and found his toothbrush. It wasn't easy to leave him, but he was brave and busy both at school and with Dad.

Closeup of the Porcellino in the Mercato Nuovo
which was cast in 1998 by the Ferdinando Marinelli Artistic Foundry. He is the subject
of a children's picture book I am drafting, so we spent some time together.  
The Porcellino at night in the market.
You can see the plaque about Hans Christian Anderson's
children's book about the pig. Read the story here
The original bronze Porcellino cast by Pietro Tacca,
(1634) is in the Bardini Museum.
This was a copy of the Hellenistic marble Porcellino
now in the Uffizi Museum.
My husband and son came to pick me up at the end.
Here's our son writing where I wrote.

Additional thoughts on do-it-yourself writing workshops and retreats that you might enjoy reading:
Guest Blog Post: A Do-It-Yourself Poetry Workshop
Alliance of Artists Communities

Sunday, January 21, 2018

One Semester Later

Four-year-old exploring the Ear of Dionysius in Sicily. 

As a teacher, I think in semesters. And here I am starting my second semester living, teaching and writing in Italy this time around. This is also the final semester of this particular adventure, which feels mostly like too little time.

Of course, sometimes I wish I could hop in our car and drive to Target for something that I miss (mostly Cheetos, since we've found just about everything else - and more - in Florence.) There are waves of homesickness or culture-shock, like the other day when it took two hours and an appointment at the Apple store to buy a nine Euro replacement part for the phone. (I miss you, smooth-running Washington, D.C., Apple store, no matter how much you intimidated me.)

Mostly, thought, I wish we never have to leave. We are comfortable with our routine and challenged by new words and many adventures to historic and cultural sites. I remain thrilled to reconnect with old friends here, even if we are all more busy with work and families than we were over a decade ago. I love that our son pauses to wave to the butcher and the barber through their storefront windows on the walk home from school. I love watching him laugh and giggle with friends at the birthday parties at school (which are brilliant in all regards. On birthday party days, the kids gather with some parents and treats in the lunchroom from 5-6. Such easy fun!)

I love the morning sun through our large windows. I even love watching the laundry drying outside in the wind. (I do remain worried something will blow away since a clothespin broke while holding up a pair of pants. We have no way to access the courtyard below.)

As for my writing, I've done some. I've created some new, experimental pieces and submitted a number of edited pieces. I've gotten a bunch of rejections and one acceptance since we've been here, which means both that I've done the work of submitting and have more work to do on the writing, editing and submitting front. 

We're all comfortable enough with our lives here that I've scheduled a writing retreat for three nights in a nearby airbnb apartment. I look forward to honing in on some writing projects and pressing on. I am thankful to be in this calm space in which I can do something like this with not only my partner's help, but his encouragement. See you on the other side!

Monday, January 15, 2018

You're the (Writing) Superhero

Father and son walking ahead on Halloween.
Our four-year-old is wearing a red cape with an "S" for Superman.

Our four-year-old likes to pretend that one of us is a superhero and the other is the villain. There villain usually "steals the baby to put him in jail," but that's another short story.

Happily, when we think about writing, there's no villain (or jailed baby.) When you hire a writing coach, the superhero is you. You don't have to wear a bright red cape, but you can definitely accept all of the praise for your final product.

The writing coach will nudge your work in the direction it wants to go with questions, reading suggestions and encouragement. She has the necessary distance to look at the piece objectively. You, however, know exactly what instinct or feeling started your piece and where you hope it will go. In the end, you will be the one who does all of the hard work with each word.

When I work with writers, I help them to develop and strengthen their voice. I encourage them to discover something by writing, writing, editing, writing some more and reading, reading and reading some more.

For more on my writing coach services, read this. The page has been recently updated with sample writing coach packages. Remember that you can always personalize our sessions and any package. You might also be interested in reading what happens during a writing coach session. Before our first session, please consider this list of questions

To book your first appointment or schedule a phone appointment to determine if writing coaching is right for you, email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

Friday, January 12, 2018

New Year & Improved Writing Goals

Ancient sculpture of a seated woman from the National Museum of Archeology in Malta
If ancient Neolithic people could 
you can write a chapter this month. 

I love the fresh start of a new year. This is a natural time to assess your progress and set goals for yourself.

It is also a natural time to drive yourself crazy rather than actually set and accomplish goals. Let's avoid the crazy to try a more practical approach this year.

Writing Goals & Plan
First, ask yourself some questions: What are your writing goals for the new year? What do you think you can actually accomplish and when will you do the necessary work? Set your goals down (maybe even in a Bullet Journal) and schedule time to meet those goals daily, weekly and monthly. Give yourself time to brainstorm, write, edit, submit and read widely.

Writing To-Do List
Break your large project into small pieces (for example: research a particular question, write this scene, etc.) In fact, keep a to-do list of the small steps necessary to complete the full project. If you add, "finish my manuscript" in your to-do list, you're less likely to ever cross that item off your list than if you had written, "write backstory for X character." I encourage you to schedule blocks of time in your calendar to complete these particular tasks.

Write Everyday? No
I've heard the mantra to write everyday since I started reading about writers' approaches. As a teacher, parent and human with unscheduled things popping up daily, that's never been a goal I can meet.

Cal Newport writes in "Write Every Day" is Bad Advice: Hacking the Psychology of Big Projects,  "Hard scheduling rules — write every day! work on research for one hour each morning! exercise 10 hours a week! — deployed in isolation will lead to procrastination as soon as you start to violate them, which you almost certainly will do. At this point, the bigger goal the rules support will suffer from this same motivation drop. To leverage the psychology of your brain, you need to instead choose clear goals that you clearly know how to accomplish, and then approach scheduling with flexibility. Be aggressive, but remain grounded in the reality of your schedule. If your mind thinks you have a good goal and sees your short terms plans are working, it will keep you motivated toward completion."

Be Happy, Too
The first book I read this year was The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin, which a kind friend brought me from the States. I like Rubin's practical approach to meeting goals while being gentle to herself. My favorite resource is her 13 Suggestions for Keeping Your New Year's Resolutions.  She includes the possibility of giving up a resolution and asking for help. This is a general approach I can follow, rather than faltering one day and feeling frustrated enough to give up. You can be happy while achieving your goals. Why would you continue to work towards your goal if that work makes you miserable?

More Resources
There are many more fabulous voices adding ways to meet your goals in the new year. Here are some of my recent favorites:
Writing While Parenting by Sara Burnett
Don't Waste Your Time with Bad Resolutions by Tim Herrera

For more from me, I've written previously about Trusting Your Calendar and Setting Writing Goals

If you need help with your writing to-do list and setting a schedule for yourself, as well as individualized writing coaching, I'm available to work with you. You can read about my services here and email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.