Tuesday, August 14, 2018

DC-area writers: Narrative Memoir Workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore

Front of the t-shirt reads, "so many books so little time" and the back reads the name of Politics and Prose Bookstore. While wearing this t-shirt in a cafe in Reykjavik this summer, a woman asked me where I found my shirt because, she said, "it would be perfect for my daughter!" Here's to celebrating reading, writing and independent bookstores locally and from abroad!

I'm excited to announce that this fall I will be teaching a memoir writing workshop at Politics and Prose Bookstore. Please scroll down for the details and register directly through the bookstore. The class will be held at their Northwest location on Connecticut Avenue.

Spaces filled quickly in the past when I've offered this workshop, so I encourage you to register sooner rather than later.

If you have any questions about the class, don't hesitate to email me: chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com or contact the bookstore directly.

Five Mondays. Oct 15, 22, 29, Nov 5, 19, 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
$175 (10% Off for Members)
Memoir, like all creative non-fiction, relies on literary craft tools such as scene and plot to mold a clear storyline and develop characters. 
This five-meeting workshop will help you to write your memories into scenes for essays or chapters of a full manuscript. Participants will respond to writing prompts and workshop one essay or manuscript excerpt (up to 750 words.) We will consider issues of editing, revising, organizing research and chapters, and publishing. Students will receive feedback from peers and the instructor during group workshop sessions throughout the last four classes.  
This class is open to all levels, from first-time memoirists to experienced writers.
In-class writing prompts will change every session; you are welcome to take this class more than once.
No homework is due for the first day of class. Please bring paper and a pen (or charged laptop) to every class. You will be writing in-class and at home starting with the first session.
We will rely on email for communication and distribution of student writing after the first week.
To participate fully in the class, it is necessary to have an email account that you check regularly. 

Required Reading: 
Current issue of Creative Nonfiction (https://www.creativenonfiction.org/issue)

Recommended Reading:
The Art of the Personal Essay, ed. by Phillip Lopate
Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoirby Beth Kephart
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, by Stephen King
Chloe Yelena Miller has been teaching writing privately and at the college level since 2005, when she received her MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College. Her poetry chapbook, Unrest, was published by Finishing Line Press. Her writing has been published in McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Poet’s Market, Inside Higher Ed, The Cortland Review, and Narrative, and others. Read sample publications and writing advice here: http://chloeyelenamiller.com

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Returning to Washington, D.C.

Geysir steaming in Iceland
My family and I are back home in Washington, D.C., after our academic year in Florence and some travels through parts of England and Iceland. Much like a new year, this moment feels like a good chance to encourage thoughtful habits and live the lives we wish to live.

From a writing perspective, the distance from our usual routines, tastes, sights, conversations - well, everything - encouraged me to look at things differently and literally shake things up. The usual voices keeping me quiet with, "no, you can't write that," or sarcastically asking, "you think you're good enough to try that project," were mostly overtaken by better voices. I hope to continue to give myself this distance from those negative voices, real or imagined, and explore our surrounding world as if it were new. 

It was lovely to live in an apartment in Florence with large windows and a view of the hills. Sure, we couldn't run the dishwasher and the washing machine at the same time without blowing a fuse and the internet didn't always work, but the airiness and having few of our personal belongings gave us space to be together. From counter and table space to closet space, we literally had more space to move about and focus more deeply. This year we hope to continue to live more simply from a materialistic point of view and make room for more important things. 

My first impressions of returning to Washington, D.C., are mostly startling. It was familiar, but didn't immediately feel like home. Of course, I followed the news from abroad and continue to be shocked by what I read and work to counter, but it was the daily life around me that first struck me. Driving for the first time in almost a year felt difficult at first and then freeing. Such wide roads and so much space compared to sitting in the passenger seat of Italian cars and motorini zooming around! The supermarket looked like three stores knitted together after shopping in Florence. The prices seem insanely high after Florence and insanely reasonable after our time in Iceland. Walking through the local Trader Joe's and collecting jelly beans and my favorite cookies felt like a happy dream. I'm trying not to be offended by no one saying, "good morning" or otherwise acknowledging each other's presence, even after sometimes feeling like it was too much talking with strangers in Italy. 

Our child is thrilled to be back in his room with the many things we didn't ship to Italy. While he woke up the first morning needing help finding the bathroom and claimed he never, ever ate oatmeal before, he otherwise remembers this version of life. And, yes, former-Italian-teachers-of-his, we promise to keep up his Italian with a class, books, movies and friends!

I look forward to working in-person as a writing coach and teaching a class at Politics and Prose bookstore this fall (registration should open next week.) Don't hesitate to email me (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com with any questions.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Until September!

Our academic year here in Florence, Italy, is (somehow!) coming to an end. We've experienced so much that I'm sure I'll be writing about it for years to come. We'll be spending the rest of the summer saying, "ciao, ciao," to our friends, city and many "last" bowls of pasta before settling back into life in Washington, D.C.

If you are interested in writing coaching, I will be available to meet with you in-person or virtually after Labor Day in Washington, D.C. Email me to schedule your appointment (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com. You can read more about my writing coach services and packages here.

I'll be back to blogging in September, too. Until then, maybe we'll cross paths on Twitter or my Writing Coach Facebook page.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

New published piece: Do Your Parents Have Amnesia About Parenting? (Hint: Yes)

I'm excited to have a new piece, Do Your Parents Have Amnesia About Parenting? (Hint: Yes), up at Sammiches & Pysch Meds today. I hope you'll read it for a laugh.

PS: This is not memoir. My parents and in-laws are very supportive. But my friends and the internet talk. A lot. I changed the details and braided in some fiction.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Birthday Wish: Donation to So Others Might Eat

So Others Might Eat is an outstanding organization in Washington, D.C., that helps those who need it the most. As my birthday approaches, I ask that you consider donating to this outreach organization. Click through to donate directly.

Here is their Mission:

SOME (So Others Might Eat) is an interfaith, community-based organization that exists to help the poor and homeless of our nation’s capital. We meet the immediate daily needs of the people we serve with food, clothing, and health care. We help break the cycle of homelessness by offering services, such as affordable housing, job training, addiction treatment, and counseling, to the poor, the elderly and individuals with mental illness. Each day, SOME is restoring hope and dignity one person at a time. We invite you to join us.

The Need

There are 8,350 homeless men, women and children in our nation’s capital. Nearly one in five DC residents live at or below the poverty line.

You can watch some of their success stories here

Monday, May 21, 2018

Writing Prompt for Getting Unstuck

A child wearing a hat and vest while looking through binoculars
Some people are afraid to write. Sometimes we are all afraid to write and we feel blocked. That "we" includes me, of course. The blank page can be daunting.

To get unstuck, I might start by looking closely at a physical object and writing down exactly what I see. Grammar, details and insight don't matter at this stage. The goal is to start writing a concrete description of something in front of me by looking closely at the object. How big is it? What color is it? If I were to smell it, what does it smell like? What about tasting it? What if I touched it? What textures are there? If I dropped it or knocked on it like a door, would it make a sound? (Yes, you're right: use your five senses to describe the object.)

You might set a timer and write continuously for five minutes. If you aren't sure what to write, you might simply repeat, "This is a stupid exercise." That should quickly bore you and you'll eventually get down to the business of writing something more interesting.

As you flex your so-called writing muscles, ideas might pop up. The object might appear to be a metaphor for something. Or you might start a scene in which you throw the object into a pool to watch the splash. Or maybe nothing comes of it, but, hooray!, you've written for five minutes and gotten started.

The key to breaking writer's block is to write. Write about anything. Write a list of what you did today and then look back over it for patterns, interesting words or insight into what you meant to do or did accomplish today. Everything is possible fodder for a piece that you can better explore in a later draft. And if you write something that doesn't go anywhere, that's ok, too.

Friday, May 11, 2018

Publications: Lyric Essay and Poems

I'm writing to share some publishing news -

Thank you to Entropy for publishing my essay Cement Foundation, which you can read here. I've been working on this lyric personal essay for years and appreciate the thoughtful feedback that friends have offered on various drafts, as well as Entropy's editor's advice. This essay, built around a clay statue of an Albanian woman churning butter, is about love found, love lost and life lessons that come with the passage of time.

I'm also excited to share that two poems about my miscarriage will be in the next print issue of Room Magazine. Friendship and music (a reference to Jovanotti's song Amami starts one poem) offer a starting point for these poems. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Carrots with Bones

What a ride! Black and white photo of a mural at Pinocchio Park.

Our almost-five-year-old child came home the other day and announced he wanted "carrots with bones." He said that the chef at his Italian pre-school prepares "delicious" carrots with bones. He declared my boneless carrots "not good."

Um, what?

I talked to his teachers to see if there was something, anything?, that might resemble carrots with bones. One teacher explained that since there are carrots in the meatballs that of course he thinks the carrots have bones. Another teacher reassured me that they do not insert bones in the carrots.


Sometimes parenting, perhaps especially while living abroad, is 30% confusion. Maybe all parenting is like that. Writing is at least 30% confusion.

As we approach Mother's Day, I want to send a shout-out to all parents who are working to understand their world, care for their families, work and write. It isn't (always? ever?) easy to balance so many loves and responsibilities.

I wish we could rebrand "Mother's Day" and "Father's Day" as "Parent's Day." So many of us parent a child, whether we are the official guardian, birth parent, relative or friend. Our gender doesn't matter and drawing attention to it only excludes some parents and families. As a friend of ours would say to her child about loved ones, those of us who love and care for children are "their people." We are the ones the child can depend on, laugh with, cry with and and prepare carrots for -  with or without their bones.

For more on writing while parenting, you might enjoy these posts:
Cut + Paste / A Residency in Motherhood Radio Show
Guest Post: Writing Resources for Parents by Dr. DeMisty D. Bellinger

Thursday, May 3, 2018

June Writing Coach Sale (book and pre-pay by Friday, May 11)

View of the sky (wispy white below a darker blue)

Thinking about working with a private writing coach? I'm offering a 15% discount* on June appointments booked and pre-paid between today and Friday, May 11th (midnight, EST.) This offer is valid for the first three new or returning clients who contact me.

Via email, phone or video call, I can offer you feedback on your writing, help you to create a writing to do list or outline and offer you prompts and reading suggestions to get started on something new.

Click through here to read more details about my writing coach services.

Most of you know that I am currently in Florence, Italy. If we schedule a voice or video call, it will likely be during your morning (East coast, USA, time.)

I will have limited appointments available this coming July and August. As of Sept. 4th, I will be available both in person in the Washington, D.C., area and via voice or video calls.

Email me today to discuss and book your first appointment (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com.

*The 15% discount is taken off of the base price per hour. It does not include the usual 10% discount off of three or more hours purchased at once.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Drafting: Seemingly Unrelated Drafts & False Starts

Black and white photo of Florence seen above from Fiesole.
I find endless photos on my phone taken by our almost five year old. He practices and practices until he finds the angle, light and composition that interests him. He was very happy about this one. 

I might sit down to write something new that's unrelated to anything I've written before. What fun to try something new! Those first words seem to glitter in the light. Sometimes, after some work, the results are strong. And sometimes, even after hours of writing, editing and revising, the result is, well, sh*t.

Of course, no writer, perhaps especially busy parent writers, wants to sit down with the goal of writing sh*t. We all wish to write something moving, beautiful and maybe even important to a reader somewhere eventually. But that can't happen in first drafts and it certainly can't happen all of the time.

For those failed attempts, the end result of having written only adds to your writing experience and strengthens your skills. Even if it doesn't feel like it at first, that's ok. (Enter deep breaths and logical thoughts.)

In a graduate writing workshop, Tom Lux would call "extra" writing in a poem the "on ramp." It might be that you needed to write something in order to get yourself to the necessary idea or writing. Eventually, that beginning part that got you there - the "on ramp" - can be deleted (perhaps with some pain on your part) from the final draft of the poem.

I think of failed drafts as "on ramps," too, because they helped you to literally practice writing. 

Like practicing a sport, you need to stretch and tone your muscles, focus your concentration and try new things in order to get back to the core actions of your sport. Maybe you are a runner and you try some yoga. Or you are a swimmer and you spend some time dancing. In the end, using your body differently will help you with your final, perhaps seemingly unrelated goal. 

Writing is the same. You need to keep writing and thinking. You might try writing in different genres or writing on different topics. You might try to tell your memoir in a children's book form in order to see the main ideas quickly and simply. Or you might need to write a resume for a job application and find yourself thinking about your life experiences that relate to a poem you want to write, but don't know how to start. You might decide to write about something upsetting and discover that you don't yet have the necessary emotional distance to tell the story well. 

I find that I have a lot of false starts that never lead anywhere. Sure, sometimes that feels like a waste of time and energy. I try to remind myself that the exercise of writing, thinking and working to craft words in a particular order helps me to be ready to write the next (perhaps even better) urgent thing.

So remember that you will have many false starts. You might write and edit full drafts that never end up published anywhere. You might write lines for pieces that never get written. This is all practice as you limber up your writing skill and hone your editing skills for other pieces. 

And who knows, some of those false starts that feel wrong today might eventually clear themselves up in your mind so that you can approach the subject or idea or key word better in the future. You might just surprise yourself and write something new and different that will have value to readers. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

Writing Resources

Geometric ceiling design in the Bardini Museum in Florence, Italy

I hope that your writing, editing and submitting is going smoothly this spring.

I'm writing to ask how my website can serve as an even better resource for you. If you look around my site,  chloeyelenamiller.com, you'll see that I've gathered resources along the right side of the homepage. I would be happy to add more links based on questions or comments that you might have. To share your thoughts, please respond to this post or email me directly (chloemiller(at)gmail(dot)com).

To learn more about working with me on your project. you can learn more on my Writing Coach page. 

Monday, April 16, 2018

Why Do I Teach Writing?

In some of my online college composition courses, I ask my students to complete a student questionnaire. The final question is, "Do you have a question for me?" In one class, a number of students asked a version of, "Why do you teach writing?"

Why do I teach? Why do I enjoy teaching online to mostly adult students? There really isn't one answer.

Perhaps the biggest answer is that I am a writer and I enjoy discussing the craft and power of good writing. In particular, I enjoy helping students, especially self-proclaimed, "non-writers," to find a way into a subject and present their ideas clearly. Most of my classes are required for graduation. The students might not love writing, but as adults navigating personal, professional and educational obligations, they understand it is an important skill.

We need to regularly communicate with words, if not in writing. We need our words, sentences and paragraphs to clearly communicate our ideas. This is true for journalists, plumbers and dancers. That is to say, everyone needs to find peace with words and use them regularly.

Most of my college students have years of writing experience. They don't see it that way because they aren't professional writers or they think that their writing (by which they might mean any form of communication) hasn't been particularly successful or easy. I see an important part of my job to be encouraging them to gain confidence in what they already know. The classes I teach build on that prior knowledge and help the students to think critically about what they know and want to know. I encourage them to practice the craft of writing in order to be more precise, creative and interesting to an intended reader.

There is (or can or should be) a lot of overlap between teachers and coaches. One of my writing coach clients recently referred me to this article by Jim Sollisch in Poets & Writers Magazine, "Piano Lessons: Do Writers Need a Teacher or a Coach?" I particularly like this section, "The difference between teaching and coaching is the difference between thinking and doing. Teachers are in the concept business; coaches deal in the physical world. Theory versus practice."

I enjoy working with students and discussing writing. There is no doubt that this is a useful skill that I am helping them to practice more regularly and comfortably. I appreciate that the skills are useful and I'm not producing waste.

As the character Lloyd Dobler said in the (troublesome through the lens of 2018) movie Say Anything, "I don't want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don't want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don't want to do that." Teaching writing accomplishes this and much, much more. (And now you know that deep down I am and always will be a kid from the 80's.)

Thank you to my students for their questions that continue to teach me something about writing and myself.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Not Always Writing in Italy: Brief Photo Essay

Easter weekend is taken very seriously here in Florence, Italy. We were wished, "Auguri!' by our child's classmates' parents before the four day weekend, which made it feel like the Christmas holiday all over again. I wish I had pictures to share with you of the endless giant chocolate eggs filled with "surprise" gifts in the supermarkets and coffee shops throughout the town. Our favorite chocolate treats were definitely from our local chocolate shop, Dona Malina.

The town was festive and we enjoyed the holiday with my parents and two friends who were visiting with their families. It was wonderful to all be together, as always.

While our guests have returned home and the stores have reorganized their shelves, the city streets are still full of tourists. It seems that the spring/summer tourist season is definitely starting off strong.

It is time for me to return to my desk and writing. Luckily, we experienced many beautiful moments which might find their way into some poems or essays. The art, food and company felt exactly appropriate for this start of poetry month.

Here are just a few of those adventures:

Mom and I took a fresco making class with local artist Alan Pascuzzi

My parents and I took a walking tour with Signature Italy Tours,
 including visiting the Loggia Del Pesce

Our Signature Italy Tour also brought us into Cecilia Falciai's inlay workshop

Bardini museum

Feltrinelli bookstore's child-sized lookout (Piazza Repubblica)

Changing of the Guard at Palazzo Vecchio

Fresh pasta from Sfoglia D'autore

Smoke from the Explosion of the Cart on Easter Sunday

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Poems Published in Dying Dahlia Review

Thank you to editors Abbie Copeland and Ehlayna Napolitano from Dying Dahlia Review for publishing my poems Meaning to Be and Mammals' Cries. These poems come from a poetry manuscript that discusses my miscarriage and postpartum depression after a second pregnancy.

If you are interested, you can click through to read more poems from this manuscript:
Carrying in All We Can Hold
Short Duet / Dualities in Literary Mama
Figs in Literary Mama
Objects in Literary Mama
Also, composer Lauren Spavelko has set related poems from the same manuscript to music

Monday, April 2, 2018

April is National Poetry Month

National Poetry Month Poster from Poets.org

April is National Poetry Month! This is a month to read, write, listen to and integrate poetry into your daily lives. Of course, you shouldn't limit your poetry to the month of April, but rather jump-start your poetry this month and keep it going all year long.

There are some ideas to get you started:

The Academy of American Poets shares 30 Ways to Celebrate
Read poetry in translation from Words Without Borders
You might write a poem a day all month (Camille T. Dungy gives you tips on getting started)
Read more about Tracy K. Smith, our Poet Laureate
Visit a local, literary place
Read and subscribe to (i.e. financially support) a literary magazine
Buy a poetry collection published this year

Monday, March 26, 2018

'Self-Care' for Creative Types: Finding Time To Create

Sunset in Malta

Someone posted a link to this article, "This is what 'Self-Care' REALLY Means, Because It's Not All Salt Baths and Chocolate Cake," in a Facebook group that I'm in. I like the article's focus on facing your problems, from the personal to financial. I would add that 'self-care" for creative types also includes making time to think and create.

Writing coach clients talk to me a lot about not being able to find time to create.

Wait. That's not exactly true. What I should write is that my female clients talk to me a lot about finding time to create. They are especially busy with full-time jobs (which might be parenting), parenting, organizing things at home, taking care of their own needs and trying to find time to spend with the partner, too. Where does time to create come in, especially when the output rarely generates income?

While I wish for everyone to be able to take time away for a writing residency or create a writing residency at home, that's not always financially or logistically feasible. Here are a few tips that I recommend to get you started - and into the habit of - creating time for creativity:

Start by giving yourself permission to think about something related to writing during the day. You might read a poem first thing when you wake up (or while you are making or drinking your coffee) and then think about it during the day. You might carry around a copy of it and think about the opening line while you commute, fold laundry or wash dishes.

You can use the same approach with something that you are creating. Read the current draft of something before you go to sleep or when you wake up in the morning. Then give yourself a question to think about. Maybe you need to figure out why a character made a decision or you aren't sure about particular verb. Give yourself the day to come back to this question and try to find an answer by the evening.

I find that the best way to use those smaller bits of time, maybe twenty minutes here or there, is to first set up a Writing To-Do list. This document (which admittedly will take some time to create and maintain periodically) will help to give you small goals that you can try to complete in those short periods of available time. This approach helps you to avoid spending the free time trying to figure out what you should be doing and instead simply get to the doing.

This next suggestion is a little woo-woo, but I think it works. When you do have time, use the energy that is coming naturally to you. I know that sometimes I feel very much like creating and other times I feel really good about editing.

What other tips would you recommend? Please share in the comments section. 

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 Hotel Cellai 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 Hotel Cellai's roof garden.

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!